A little more than a year ago, three friends decided to start their own letterpress design company. They found a workspace, a light-filled room at 52 O Street Studios, and they had big plans to create handmade letterpress prints, greeting cards, invitations and stationery. But in addition to all the issues that pop up when starting a business, there was one unique hurdle.
They had to get a 50-year old, 1,300 pound Vandercook 4 press from a boat yard in Florida to Washington, DC.
Photo by Lena Landegger
"That probably took 10 years off my life," said Emily Doenlen, who founded Typecase Industries with Stephanie Hess and Alessandra Echeverri. To get the press to DC, Emily and Stephanie (who've been friends since high school) ended up driving the press in a U-haul in during a hurricane. After the harrowing journey, they then enlisted all their friends to get the thing into the basement studio, via hand-cranked freight elevator, one of the oldest elevators in the District of Columbia.
Now that the press is in place at Typecase Industries' studios, it's staying put. And the designers have been cranking out all sorts of prints, invites, business cards and greeting cards in the past year. They knew they had the design skills when they started, and the rest is falling into place. "Say yes, figure it out, and give them something beautiful. That was the only business plan," Emily said.
Luckily, they had a customer base for cards and invites from day one. "The good thing about starting a business like this in your twenties is that all your friends are getting married and having babies," Emily said.
Asides from completely personalized cards and invites, the Typecase Industries designers are also working on corporate stationery for companies like Counter Culture Coffee, as well as greeting cards for every holiday under the sun and anytime, too. Like this cute "Love You Little, Love You Big, Love You Like a Little Pig" card.
Stephanie, Emily and Alessandra all have their own style, but the overall look is definitely modern, with a bit of whimsy in there, too. And some snark.
"We’re all a little snarky when left to our own devices, so the cards can get a little snarky," Emily said.
But the designs can also be quite elegant too, thanks to Stephanie and Alessandra's background in book binding and artistry. We flipped over a gorgeous miniature recipe book made to celebrate the first anniversary of H Street restaurant Boundary Road.
The end results are lovely, but it takes so much hard work to get there. Each color requires a separate run through the machine, and the paper must be perfectly aligned. "It’s super old school," said Emily. "The previous generation of letterpress printers are burly old men. The letterpress artists of today are cute young women who dug these things out of basements to make cute cards."
To create your own cute card or super special personalized invite, schedule an appointment with the designers at Typecase Industries. You can find their greeting cards at Salt and Sundry in Union Market, the DC MEET Market, Trohv in Baltimore and soon, Pulp on 14th Street. You can also sign up for one of their workshops and learn the ins and outs of letterpress design. You might end up wanting a press of your own.
Photo by Lena Landegger
Note: the designers at Typecase Industries can help you learn how to use it, but they probably won't help you move it anywhere.