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Letterpress Goes 3D

An example of the letterpress by Ryan Cordell and Kenneth Oravetz.
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Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

Letterpress Goes 3D (LG3D) seeks to investigate modes of media production, the materiality of historical texts, and the relation between old and new media by reverse engineering nineteenth-century woodcuts and creating new press materials using 3D printing and laser cutting. 3D modeling has been recently taken up as a means of replicating fragile historical artifacts for public and scholarly digital viewing. LG3D seeks to go beyond this recent work by re-creating materials that have been lost to time for pedagogical, scholarly, and creative usage, not just viewing. Starting with scans of woodcut prints, the project’s multigenerational research team uses Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Solidworks, and Sketchup to convert designs from the printed page into 3D models, which can then be 3D printed or laser cut, and finally used to create letterpress prints in the Huskiana Letterpress Studio in the Northeastern English Department. In addition to historical recreations, LG3D seeks to create printing blocks for fonts and symbols that did not exist in the times when letterpress was widely used, such as QR codes, accessibility-oriented fonts, emojis, integrating present and past media technologies. Through this process, LG3D hopes to answer questions like: how can current technology shed new light on and enhance past technology? What role can 3D modeling play in restoring, preserving, and displaying archival materials? What new expressive possibilities are available when integrating 3D printing into the letterpress studio? In addition to answering these research questions, LG3D, as part of the Huskiana Letterpress Studio, strives to be a pedagogical and creative resource for the Northeastern community and the Boston-area letterpress community writ large.

Letterpress Goes 3D received a multi-generational research teams grant in Spring 2020.

Principal Investigators
Ryan Cordell, Faculty, English and Kenneth Oravetz, Project Manager

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