On a March evening in Brooklyn, Donatella Madrigal is standing at a Vandercook Universal press, wiping her ink-stained hands on a denim apron. She has just run off several hundred greeting cards, which she’ll sell online and in neighborhood gift shops for up to $5 apiece. By day, the Madrid-born 27-year-old is a graphic artist who designs ads for clients such as Bobbi Brown Professional Cosmetics, working mostly on a computer. In the evenings, she goes analog, printing cards at The Arm Letterpress, a former garage filled with vintage printing presses rented out by the hour to artisans.
Using hand-set type or plates of her own design, Madrigal places paper stock on the printer bed. She lifts a heavy crank that rolls her card stock across the inked plate with a satisfying thunk. “It’s an excuse to get down and dirty and to get away from the computer, and I’m always learning from the paper,” Madrigal says as she runs her hand across the deep grooves that the image carves into sheets of all-cotton card stock.
In the past decade, letterpress printers have grown into a thriving community. Many of the most devoted members are graphic designers who, like Madrigal, are seeking an alternative to their digital day jobs. An online group called Ladies of Letterpress, “dedicated to the proposition that a woman’s place is in the print shop,” has nearly 1,500 members (including 50 men) and an annual meeting that draws more than 100 people for a weekend of workshops and schmoozing. “It’s almost like artisanal breadmaking,” says Sarah Schwartz, editor of Stationery Trends magazine, a trade publication. “People are returning to things done by hand, and it’s a very tactile art form.”