Los Angeles InDesign User Group

The Old and the New: InDesign for Letterpress

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Los Angeles Valley College, Fireside Room, 5800 Fulton Ave., Van Nuys, CA 91401

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By Alan Bell


 Rebecca Chamlee began the evening by announcing that September 19 was just a day after Type High Day. Type High Day, she explained, takes place September 18, or 9/18 which matches up with .918 inches, which is the top-to-bottom height of printing type in English-speaking countries. Whew! We had to jump through some hoops, but we got it. Talk about inside baseball.


But it was a fitting introduction because Rebecca was about to begin a presentation on her activities related to the unlikely combination of InDesign and hot metal. She has mastered a sophisticated process that allows her to create limited edition fine art letterpress books sought after by collectors around the world. She is an associate professor at Otis College of Art & Design where she teaches bookbinding, letterpress printing, and artist’s book classes; and heads the Book Arts minor program. She also holds workshops at her studio and book arts centers throughout the country.


Rebecca uses newfangled InDesign to plan a layout, and old style letterpress technology to execute it. Who wants to assemble a page full of 10 point individual metal letters, pull a proof, and then discover that 12 point would have been better?


Matching InDesign generated type to handset type isn’t as simple as it might first appear. It’s more than just dialing in the same point size. Kerning must be turned off since you can’t kern metal type. Tracking is part of the mix, but so is set width since the characters might be ever so slightly different. Once she achieves a close match using these global tools, she still might have to tweak at the individual glyph level. But once it’s done for a particular font in a particular size, it doesn’t have to be done again.


Rebecca’s work is marked by the use of layered imagery. She prints images using photo polymer plates rather than the metal engravings that were used in the past. She uses InDesign to test color combinations or see what a layout will look like after successive passes through the press. In this regard, she explained the difference between transparent white ink (which you can see through) and opaque white (which you can’t). Combined with translucent paper, she can come up with quite a few intricate and striking effects. Among the ways she tests effects in InDesign is with the multiply blending control.


InDesign isn’t the only Adobe app she uses of course. She said she loves Photoshop’s vibrance control. “Images don’t have to be flat,” she said.


She prints using a Vandercook Universal IIIABP motorized press, an upgrade from the Vandercook 4 she had previously. And speaking of “previously,” she spoke of her early computer which had 8MB of RAM, of working with InDesign version 2, and of doing work for non-profit organizations including KCET. In 2007 the new chair at Otis was instrumental in her attending the CODEX international book fair which accelerated her interest in letterpress printing and opened up an opportunity to make her work available to the public. In 2011 she received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation.


In addition to the craft involved in the production of the printed pages, a significant part of Rebecca’s craft is their assembly, i.e., bookbinding and, for some projects, the creation of slip cases. As with the other elements of the book creation process, bookbinding involves particular materials, cut in particular ways, using particular glues, cements and stitches. It’s a complex, multifaceted process.


Rebecca surprised the crowd and one lucky winner in particular by adding one of her limited edition books to the evening’s raffles. Perhaps fittingly, it was won by Jeffrey Schimsky, one of LAIDUG most steadfast and loyal members.


But the most unexpected event was yet to come. Just before the raffles, Co-Manager DeShawn Burton dropped a bomb when he announced that he had accepted a new position in Kansas City and would be moving to the Midwest within the month. The surprise announcement caught everyone unawares. Deshawn is a 2005 founding member of the Los Angeles InDesign User Group and remained its public face following its 2010 reboot. Once the announcement had sunk in, the members of the advisory board who happened to be present discussed the consequences both for this user group as well as his own user group energies. DeShawn checked – something he hadn’t done before – and Kansas City does have an InDesign user group. The KCIDUG is about to get a burst of new energy. The Los Angeles InDesign User Group appreciates DeShawn’s many years of service and wishes him well in his new position.



Farthest Attendee Prize Winner


Mighty Deals—Quiana Hairston



Raffle Prize Winners


Super bloom, a Limited Edition Book Signed and Numbered by Rebecca Chambee—Jeffrey Schimsky

GoProof from Oppolis Software. 3 month subscription for 2 users—Adam Khalid

PDF2DTP from Markzware. 12 month subscription—Chris Meyers

Expo Creative Asset Manager for Mac from Insider Software—Robin Schiff

Suitcase Fusion 8 from Extensis. 12 month subscription—Helen Jun

Font Agent Pro from Insider Software—Robin Schiff

InMotion Hosting. Web hosting and free domain—Robin Schiff

DTP Tools Cloud for InDesign. 6 month subscription—Chris Meyers

Adobe Stock. 15 image licenses—Robin Schiff

InDesign Magazine. 6 month subscription—Robin Schiff


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