Type Essays

Printing with Real wood type

August 18, 2015 by
Ferdinand Ulrich
Ferdinand Ulrich

The recent release of FF Real™, designed by Erik Spiekermann and Ralph du Carrois, marks the first time a digital typeface immediately became available as wood type as well. In a collaborative project Spiekermann’s letterpress gallery P98a and FontFont printed a limited edition specimen poster in two colors with the first font of original FF Real wood type.

Erik Spiekermann with one of the limited edition posters of FF Real, printed in letterpress using Real wood type.
Erik Spiekermann with one of the limited edition posters of FF Real, printed in letterpress using Real wood type.

Last year Spiekermann created the typeface HWT Artz specifically for the process of cutting with a pantograph at Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Since then he has been experimenting with the production of new type for his printing machines at P98a for a while, as one of the gallery’s aims is to research how letterpress can be redefined in the digital age. Reproductions of old type have been cut for P98a from pear wood by Michael Linke, but the gallery team has also tried other methods: 3D-printing, CNC routing and laser cutting. In a recent experiment FF Real was cut in Resopal® at Fab Lab Berlin; however the technique still lacks a certain precision in maintaining consistent stroke widths. Some of Spiekermann’s research results are summarized in the P98a blog article Making new large type for letterpress.

Determining the character set for Real wood type, starting from the files for the digital version.
Determining the character set for Real wood type, starting from the files for the digital version.

Experimenting with different materials for the letterpress version of FF Real Head. Clockwise from top left: pear wood, maple wood (with wobbly outlines), second run of maple wood (sharp outlines) and acrylic letters, below: a proof from acrylic letters. The aluminum block on the left defines the exact type size of 16cic (72,2044mm) for comparison.
Experimenting with different materials for the letterpress version of FF Real Head. Clockwise from top left: pear wood, maple wood (with wobbly outlines), second run of maple wood (sharp outlines) and acrylic letters, below: a proof from acrylic letters. The aluminum block on the left defines the exact type size of 16cic (72,2044mm) for comparison.

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Ultimately Spiekermann came across the Bucharest-based Petrescu Press and their Wood Type Customs label. Tudor and Delia Petrescu make letters from maple wood, selling reproductions of traditional American wood type (Gothic Tuscan), ornamental fonts (borders and flowers) as well as type that was never intended to be cut in wood (Bauhaus). Spiekermann provided the press with digital data – in this font each character is framed by a rectangle, 16cic in height – which was a slightly new process for them. Ultimately single type blocks were milled with a CNC router.

FontFont’s lead graphic designer Alexander Roth locks up the Real wood type on the press.
FontFont’s lead graphic designer Alexander Roth locks up the Real wood type on the press.

At the occasion of FF Real’s release Erik Spiekermann and P98a invited FontFont’s lead graphic designer Alexander Roth to print one of his posters of FF Real in letterpress in two afternoon sessions. Roth’s alphabet showing is reminiscent of traditional letterpress specimens, essentially displaying a set of characters and cleverly including the typeface name and label. The first 25 customers who buy a FF Real Complete Suite,FF Real Text Collection or FF Real Head Collection, whether it is a Desktop, Web or App license, receive a limited edition poster printed by Erik Spiekermann in his Gallery P98a and signed by him. There are still a few remaining copies. Free worldwide shipping, rolled in a solid tube. Photographer Norman Posselt documented the printing sessions.

Letterpress gallery P98a in Berlin.
Letterpress gallery P98a in Berlin.

Part of the wood type collection at P98a.
Part of the wood type collection at P98a.

A complete [font](/glossary#font) of Real wood type.
A complete font of Real wood type.

A Real close-up.
A Real close-up.

Locking up the Real rap poster.
Locking up the Real rap poster.

Closer look at a Real capital Ü with integrated umlaut.
Closer look at a Real capital Ü with integrated umlaut.

Discussing the finer details in the Real rap poster.
Discussing the finer details in the Real rap poster.

Annotations on the Real print.
Annotations on the Real print.

Making sure the letters have the right type height.
Making sure the letters have the right type height.

Checking the precise height of a Real capital ‘H’.
Checking the precise height of a Real capital ‘H’.

Ferdinand, Erik and Alexander at work at letterpress gallery P98a.
Ferdinand, Erik and Alexander at work at letterpress gallery P98a.

Alexander and Ferdinand composing the FF Real limited edition specimen poster.
Alexander and Ferdinand composing the FF Real limited edition specimen poster.

Lockup of the Real wood type limited edition specimen poster.
Lockup of the Real wood type limited edition specimen poster.

Alexander Roth locking up the Real wood type.
Alexander Roth locking up the Real wood type.

Ferdinand checking the spacing on the test print.
Ferdinand checking the spacing on the test print.

Annotations on the test print.
Annotations on the test print.

Correcting the spacing in the poster.
Correcting the spacing in the poster.

Alexander and Ferdinand checking and discussing the results.
Alexander and Ferdinand checking and discussing the results.

Ferdinand and Alexander at work at letterpress gallery P98a.
Ferdinand and Alexander at work at letterpress gallery P98a.

Preparing for the Real red print run.
Preparing for the Real red print run.

Lock-up of the red print run of Real wood type at the P98a letterpress gallery.
Lock-up of the red print run of Real wood type at the P98a letterpress gallery.

The limited edition Real wood type poster.
The limited edition Real wood type poster.

Image selection by Yves Peters.
Trademark attribution notice
Real is a trademark of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.