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Going back to the roots of printing

Clawhammer Letterpress owner Michael Hepher using a historic printing press machine. - K. Dingman
Clawhammer Letterpress owner Michael Hepher using a historic printing press machine.
— image credit: K. Dingman

In our modern day society, immediacy is expected. From fast food restaurants to commercial printing, this type of consumerism tends to distance individuals from the product they are purchasing.

But Fernie business owner Michael Hepher says there are drawbacks to this.

“We’re distancing ourselves so far from the production of the printing of anything that…as a culture we have no understanding of how that works,” he stressed.

Three years ago Hepher opened Clawhammer Letterpress and Gallery—the only letterpress shop in Western Canada that operates in full view of the public.

With two vintage printing press machines in the store, costumers can see how greetings card, business cards, posters, journals and wedding invitations are made.

“The process that we use is virtually identical to the process that Johannes Gutenberg synthesized in 1450ish, and was the default commercial printing process for pretty much 500 years,” Hepher noted.

“Part of the reason we set up here…is to reconnect people with the origins of their printing piece, so people can see it happening and understand the value of it in a different way.”

The products made with the vintage printing press are three dimensional, using pressure to apply the ink and compress the paper fibers.

And this process is something Hepher has never taken for granted.

“There’s a whole other dimension to it that I kind of fell in love with,” Hepher admitted.

After learning the craft of graphic design in University, Hepher said he became interested in typography.

He worked as a graphic artist in Cranbrook B.C. for several years and began exploring the history of the printing process.

And while working in Cranbrook, Hepher said he was given a printing press machine.

“I realized that everything I loved about digital design, I could do in a tactile world,” he said.

And despite an increasing demand for alternative surfaces like pleather and laminated flooring, there is still some demand for authentic products.

Hepher said the majority of his clients are based out of Calgary.

“What I find is that people are actually looking for that tangible quality now in a lot of their lives.”

“Those are the people that we see coming in and saying, ‘we want it to be unique, we want it to have some character’.”

And that added character requires a lot of work.

Pieces with more than one color can take several days to make because the ink has to dry after being processed.

Because of this lengthy process, Hepher said custom work made with the printing press is not cheap.

“It all has to do with the set up and care,” he said.

“I think being here and people seeing the difference is really how we can assign value to it.”

And unlike modern day printing, this technique requires someone handling each individual piece, something that Hepher values.

“I get a kick out of it,” he said.

“I think our lives are so fast and immediate…I appreciate that process of seeing people step out of the busy.”

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