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Visiting Smudge Ink!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was closed on Thursday? Guess what I got to go do. GUESS! GUESS! GUESS! Ok fine. I went to visit Smudge ink in Charlestown!! YASSSS!

If you know me, you know I make a thing about getting to know the people and artists behind my brands. The Stationery Show is just as much of a hang-out for friends I only see once a year as it is a buying trip. For a while now, I have wanted to know more about the processes behind actually MAKING cards, and even though I had a letterpress for a short while (before getting so fed up with it that I sold it in a frustrated huff) I don’t really have a full grasp on what a large, busy print shop with a TON of card designs really has on its plate (haha) on a day-to-day basis. I thought about all my brands and where I’d have/get to go if I wanted to visit them, but what better place to start than an established brand right here in Boston?

Enter, Instagram (obviously.) Smudge Ink posts a pic of their Vandercook with a silly caption in a personals ad format that “Cookie” was lookin’ for love and new friends. So I said I’d love to meet her and Smudge said, “Well, come on in!” A couple of exchanged emails later, I had a date with Miss Cookie herself.

Rob and I partied on down to Charlestown one sunny Thursday, Union Square donuts in hand, and got ready to learn some letterpressin’.

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What is this face I’m making.

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We learned we were going to be learning how to operate Cookie and actually print an envelope job! Yikes! #responsibility

The nice lady in yellow stripes up above is Deb, and she showed us how the Vandercook worked and walked us through the printing process.

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The plate with the address we’d be printing was already set up, but as Deb got going, she realized the zip code was not printing quite right. She tried a few things, a few adjustments, and long story short, in trying to make the zip code look JUST right, I got a full explanation of almost every part of letterpress printing and just what goes into the finished product.

While Deb tried to zero in on the print problems…I nosed around…

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Ink storage.

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Smudge’s Heidelbergs

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It’s printing cards!

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Colored edges! Hello indeed…

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Back to the task at hand…because of a dip in the plate the address plate sits on, the zip code wasn’t coming through as crisply as the address. And there are about ten thousand ways to adjust the press to try and fix it! We went through about all of them as Deb made sure this thing came out perfectly. Next time you pick up a letterpress card or get a letterpress wedding invitation, think about the possibility it took a human being an hour to make dozens of small adjustments to get the beautiful finished product in your hands!

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Deb replacing the tympan paper that protects the roller from getting inked. If tympan gets overused, it can affect the quality of the print, but it can be layered (“packing”) to get the surface of the roller “closer” to the plate. Kinda like stuffing your bra.

Once we got the address plate positioned, it was time to print! Time for ME to print! Eek! Deb printed one envelope after another with one smooth motion that was SO much harder than it looked! You have to make sure it’s lined up correctly so the little grabby things (technical term) take it straight, and guide the envelope through so it doesn’t flip forward and hit the ink drum. Once you crank it all the way over, a click tells you you can grab the envelope, you can check it, but you have to be able to drop in a tray underneath the roller before it comes all the way back. And you can’t roll too slowly back the other way otherwise the plate will get too inky and your next print will look gross. Deb could grab it, check it, and drop it in the tray while cranking the press back to the starting position in a timely fashion without breaking a sweat.

Let’s just say I was glad there were extra envelopes.

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Aforementioned Grabby-things.

I did a few where I’d stop the roller and end up inking the tympan (ugh) or over-inking the plate resulting in a mushy next print. But after a few, something clicked and I got the hang of it!

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Soon I was printing envelopes like a champ.

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If I do say so myself.

I banged out a whole box of ’em and they looked pretty good! Hopefully Deb didn’t have to toss out like half of them after I left. She was checking to make sure not only the zipcode was coming out clearly and correctly, but that the numbers at either end of the address line weren’t too inky or too faded, or pressed unevenly. This included peering at a number 4 under a lamp to make sure there wasn’t too much ink in its triangular center. She would say things like, “If you were too look at it under a loop…” but who would do that?? This lady wanted nothing but the best for the client.

After my afternoon of manual labor, I sat down with my pal, April, the new owner of Smudge with whom I go wayyy back. I met April when she worked at Smudge and also had her own stationery line called Everything Little Miss, which was recently merged into Smudge’s offerings. We were both still in the craft market circuit and met at Snow Mall, a now defunct (but awesome!) holiday show at the armory in Somerville. I ran into her again at my first NSS in 2011 when I was just walking the show, then when I opened my online store, she sent me her unbelievable no-show mailer that included a zip pouch printed with hedgehogs! We kept in touch and when Smudge announced she’d be taking the helm I was super excited to hear all about it! We chatted at NSS this past Spring so I could hear all about her new adventure and while I was at Smudge this day, I got to see super secret new things coming down the line for 2018!

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Why are all my friends so tiny?

It was so much fun to visit a shop like Smudge and get to learn all about printing on a large scale. Getting to see (and hear!) a Heidelberg do its thing was SO cool. I could have watched them go all day long. And everyone was super nice and VERY TRUSTING haha. I still can’t believe they left me alone to do a legitimate print job.

Thanks to April and Smudge for having us during a busy time of year!