Website: Bangkok Online (http://bk.asia-city.com)
Topic: Nirut Krusuansombat Talks Old-School Letterpress Printing Ahead of Bangkok International Typographic Symposium 2013
Nirut Krusuansombat is successfully breathing new life into the 600-year-old letterpress technique, where one manually arranges blocks carved with letters, covers them in ink and presses them down onto paper. Despite his background as digital designer for CNN.com in New York, where he worked for a decade, it’s this handcrafted technique which is getting him the attention of numerous clients and an invite to speak at the Bangkok International Typographic Symposium 2013.
How did you first discover letterpress printing?
My aunt owned a printing shop and, as a child, after school, I used to spend most of my time there. Seeing the process every day, I had always wanted to give it a try. But it only happened six years ago. My first piece of work was designing and printing my own wedding card, which I decided to create using a letterpress.
How does it compare to working digitally?
Sitting in front of the computer and clicking is boring. I prefer manual printing where I get to exercise my brain by doing the work step by step, right from mixing the color by myself to the cutting and printing. This helps me practice my patience and concentration. I control the machine instead of it controlling me.
Who are your customers?
There are two types. We have small businesses who still use old-style receipts that they fill in by hand. Those need to be printed with incremental numbers on them, which is actually hard to do by computer. The other group are those who come for the design, as we also do graphic design for business cards, greeting cards and wedding cards. But we don’t take all the customers who approach us. As you know, everything vintage is popular these days. So many people walk in and expect that they will get handcrafted products easily and for cheap. Well you can’t do that. The letterpress is an old way of printing and the metal letters used for printing are very limited. So I tend to look at this from an artistic perspective rather than making it commercial.
How difficult is letterpress printing?
You need to be extremely delicate in making it. You start from picking up the right fonts and then have to arrange them backwards without making any typos. Then you have to mix the color that you designed in the computer. It has to match and you have to paint it on the letter types by hand. Then you need put the mold in exactly the right position because when you print it in other colors, the colors must overlap perfectly. This work requires a lot of skill. I’ve learned to appreciate traditional printers a lot more.
Does this technique have a future?
It will probably be lost with time, even though these machines were considered high tech about 100 years ago. That’s no longer the case and the process is very difficult for people to follow, as it is 99 percent by hand. The biggest problem, though, it that there might be no more letter making factories in this country anymore. The only two factories I’ve known have shut down. Since I can’t find steel letter makers anymore, I’m now looking at creating wooden letters.