Letterpress hot foil type holder.

Recently I came across an online auction for “Hot letterpress foil” which was riding at the seemingly low price of a couple of dollars, after doing a little bit of research I decided that this might be something interesting to have a play with and worked out how I could at least do straight lines in book covers etc. So with this (limited) knowledge in hand I confidently put in a bid for three dollars and forgot all about it.

Well I won, obviously, or I wouldn’t be telling the story (well I might, but I digress), and the seller asked five dollars for postage, which seemed a little bit steep for a roll or two of the stuff, but i paid and promptly forgot all about it again. A few days or a week later I had a package arrive, it contained about 10kg (20lb+) of letterpress foil in all different widths and colours. Now I really have to find a use for it, like urgently, as I don’t like having big boxes of stuff I don’t understand clogging up my studio.

Soon enough I had a brilliant idea which was on topic (I have an average of 11.75 brilliant ideas per week, but most involve utterly impractical things, again I digress). This idea was to build a holder for some lead type and use a food warmer I acquired for $5 to heat the text up to the correct temperature (reportedly 98 degrees Celsius).  So I sat down and started drawing, planning, and generally making like a pretend engineer until I had something that I thought would at least illustrate my concept. (I’m an art school student, thus generally using the schools workshop and tools a fair bit)

Well, I threw the idea out and made something different as I realised that I could clamp things into place with bolts rather than making accurate measurements and that this way it’d actually be a little more extensible too. I wound up making this using almost no measurements what so ever, just judging by eye and file finishing where stuff didn’t fit proper like.

My Brazing is a bit dodge, I’m well out of practice, but it’s still massive overkill in terms of sturdyness, I bent the top bits to make handles as I’ll have to wrap it in cloth or something when I use it (‘Hot’ foil stamping – yeah). I finished the metal with a beeswax/turpentine finish (painted on and then heated to near red so that it carbonises).

And the working end looks like this;

The small screw clamps a metal plate down on the text and the big one holds the type in place, Pretty simple but as far as I can tell it seems to work just fine.

Oh yeah – I did a sneaky flip on the image so the text is more readable, the long screw is actually on the other side (any printmakers will prolly have realised this straight away).

[Note to self] – In future dust the photography background before photoing stuff.

Photographed with one flash and a bounce, I trod on my other units connector a few days ago and need to get the soldering iron out.

[Update] Well, a few weeks later it turns out that my understanding of the physics involved in hot letter press stamping is somewhat sub par.

The letterpress foil in fact applies at a temperature between 140 and 160 degrees Celsius, I could have found this out at any time just by searching for tech sheets, but doing it my way seemed much more viable. Therefore the holder didn’t work whatsoever, not even slightly at 100 degrees, and I have no reliable way of heating lead type to 150 degrees without risking melting it, so the holder concept is temporarily somewhat useless.

I had a show which needed the lettering, I had to find another way (commented in my next post), for now the holder is an ornament, however i have had an idea involving a clothes iron, aluminium sheet, and an etchant which I think may well be viable, it’ll have to wait till my next holidays however as I’m now deeply involved in typesetting a book which I’m not sure I’ll get finished in time for my final hand in for my batchelors.

[Edit] A year and a half later I swapped what was left of the hot foil rolls with a bookbinder in exchange for half the cost of binding my masters thesis – nice little savings there 😀


2 thoughts on “Letterpress hot foil type holder.

  1. I came across your post and was wondering if you had more detail information on this holder you made. I understand it wont work for the heating, but I need a type holder for some hand printing work I will be doing. I am gathering ideas to create a useful type holder that can accommodate different typesets.

  2. I have used if for printing with printing ink and a stamp pad – the second image essentially describes how it operates – the type is laid in and then a metal plate is laid against the top of the type and clinched down gently with the shorter screw – thus ensuring the vertical alignment of the line of type.

    It’s then clinched gently from the side to press them together thus ensuring horizontal spacing from character to character.

    I’ve use a tap and die set to thread the drill holes so that the screws screw in, this was also why I used metal (3mm (1/8th”) or so thick) – the screws are done up with a screw driver – it’s all very low tech.

    Beyond that you’d have to ask a more specific question if there’s something I’ve missed.


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