Type Design: 3D Print Letterpress (Part 1)

In my New Media Studio classes I have been exploring the combination of digital and traditional art forms. The idea? 3D print a hand drawn type design for use in a traditional letterpress. So the medium goes from traditional (drawn) to digtial (vector and 3D extrusion) to physical (3D print) and back to traditional (Inked and printed.)

1) Draw a typeface design
2) Trace the letterforms in illustrator
3) Extrude the letterforms in Maya
4) Export and 3D print the letters.
5) Compose, ink and run the letters through a traditional press.

To begin, I researched traditional letterpress lettering and payed a visit to Asheville Bookworks to get a feel for the components of a letterpress letter.  I gathered up graphs and diagrams from online resources and studied type specimen (fig. 1 -3.)  I began experimenting with letterforms, drawing my inspiration from the vintage type sets.


fig. 1

fig. 2 & 3

fig. 2 & 3

fig. 4 & 5

fig. 4 & 5

Once I had selected a favorite from my sketches,  I began scanning and drawing the letters in illustrator. Testing with phrases and names, I developed a unified alphabet, preserving as much of the hand-drawn character as possible, with the use of Wacom Cintiq (fig. 6-9)


fig. 6


fig. 7 & 8


fig. 9 (Final Character Set)

Once I had a final set, I decided on now many vowels and consonants I would need in order to create the desired words and phrases for my poster prints. I also made some fun catch word such as “and” and “the” and also two ampersands. Since the letterforms contained too many paths to be uploaded into Maya all at once, I broke up the letters into 4 printable sheets, and imported them separately  into 3D Space.  (fig. 10 – 12)


fig. 10-12 (3D Extruded Letters)

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