If you were reading these words on newsprint, you'd be looking at a page that had been machine-produced for a large audience — something manufactured, as most everything is, with efficiency and cost-effectiveness in mind.
But not everybody who puts ink to paper operates that way. A vibrant community of commercial printers in Kansas City has purposely adopted labor-intensive methods, sometimes using decades-old equipment that has fallen out of fashion, collateral to printing's digital revolution.
The entrepreneurial artists, designers and craftspeople spotlighted here have found a profession that they say is a means to self-expression and a way to improve their surroundings. They share a passion for process, and their missions are simple: impeccable craft, outstanding design, high-quality products. Arguably, they're making something else, too: a KC indie-press boom.
110 Southwest Boulevard, 816-421-1929, hammerpress.net
Proprietor: Brady Vest
Services: design, letterpress
Specialties: wholesale and retail paper goods and wedding invitations
It would be hard to overstate Hammerpress' role in the development of Kansas City's hive of small, artist-run print shops. Owner Brady Vest got hooked on letterpress as a student in the printmaking department at the Kansas City Art Institute (where his senior thesis was the production of 1,000 CD covers for a local band).
"When I graduated, I had to figure out a way to keep doing it," Vest says. So he purchased equipment he found advertised in a trade magazine, which he had picked up on campus (this was pre-Internet), and then he set up shop. Nearly 20 years later, Hammerpress is a Crossroads retail staple, shipping its original-design paper goods (stationery, posters, calendars, greeting cards) internationally.
The company's aesthetic has maintained the look of the original handset type, though plates today are usually produced from digital files rather than assembled by hand. And Vest has come a long way from the pre-Internet world. Hammerpress' website and social-media presence attract customers from all over the world — customers whose digital routines have perhaps inspired a renewed appreciation for the handmade.
"The Internet and Martha Stewart" revived the letterpress, Vest says. "I'm serious. Ten years ago, she was highlighting letterpress wedding invitations. Ten years ago, you'd have to explain to people what that is." Thanks to artist-run print shops like Hammerpress, an explanation is no longer necessary.
Two Tone Press
3121 Gillham Road, 816-719-7270, twotonepress.yolasite.com
Proprietors: Michelle Dreher and Angie Dreher-Bayman
Services: design, letterpress
Specialty: wedding invitations
For now, Michelle Dreher and Angie Dreher-Bayman hold most of their client meetings at the Filling Station, just down the street from the building they've been renovating to house Two Tone's studio, offices and retail space. Purchased from Truman Medical Center two years ago (in a deal partly financed by bartered prints), the building holds the partners' three vintage Vandercook letterpresses and a Chandler & Price platen press.
Dreher fell in love with the letterpress process as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute. She says, "It takes a certain kind of person to get grease on your fingers and want to work with machinery. I love it."
Her sister's zeal, on the other hand, is for lists and spreadsheets. After joining the business in 2011, Dreher-Bayman streamlined the pricing and revamped the business's Web presence. She also convinced the reluctant Dreher to court more wedding work, a portion of their business that has since blossomed. When they're not designing or printing for clients, the two produce their own line of fine-art prints and stationery, which they sell at craft and print fairs and on Etsy.