Just a postcard?

By Francis Atterbury

Every month we like to send a printed postcard to friends and clients. This month we were focussing on storytelling and we immediately thought of asking the artist Sarah Gillett as some of her work is based around story-making. Sarah chose a few art works she thought might fit and allowed us to reproduce a piece she’d made using a vintage French postcard. The card was overprinted with pink letterpress type and Sarah had used the technique of découpage to add an arm emerging from the fireplace. This element of the work had been cut from more modern printed page produced on thin magazine type paper.

We print our postcards digitally, partly because each is addressed individually, but also because the run is only around 300 copies in total. However as we discovered this month digital can still present challenges, not least because you are limited to process colours (special colours are available, but this is a small run).


Think like an artist

When working with an original – or any work really – it can help to think how the artist made it and, if possible, to try to make it in the same way.

This was, in essence, a postcard with another (different) piece of paper attached to it and a few lines of letterpress type printed on the face so it made sense to split out these three elements. We then had to work out a way of making them distinctive within the same printing process which we did by printing the ‘card’ and the ‘arm’ in separate passes through the machine.


a new original

The original part of the card was a vintage self-coloured lithograph (non-process inks used to make a coloured image) and the colours used then were never going to lend themselves to cmyk process inks. Now faded in their different ways, they were now harder still. We tried three different separations, each tested on press before agreeing on the best compromise (i.e. least worst!). The image was very difficult to get right and, for once, the calibrated screens couldn’t accurately reflect the nuance of the colour. The main problem was the yellows which veered from red to green hues without ever being cold (just like the wonderful, but now sadly gone, Basingwerk paper). To make matters more complicated still, the yellow looked completely different under different light sources (known as metamerism). However, it’s important to know where to draw the line in any project as there’s a point when you will lose sight of the overall job and find yourself concentrating on a tiny detail to the detriment of the object. This is, after all, a ‘New Original’ and not a museum facsimile.


Working within limitations

It would probably have been best to print the letterpress type as letterpress but, a) there was a budget and, b) we were enjoying the challenge. So the type elements were also cut out in Photoshop and coloured up differently before being placed back into the main card but fractionally out of register. This helps to capture the ink squash (halo effect) of letterpress type.


reproducing découpage

After printing the main card and the variable data on the reverse we moved onto the arm. The original was printed in modern process colours on a thin wood-free coated paper. Using Photoshop we cut this element out from the original scan, leaving only a skeleton black to help define the detail and, to make the element ‘stand away’ from the card we then printed five hits of white ink followed by four colour process, and finally five hits of a spot gloss varnish on the top.


So to recap

Main card printed cmyk both sides; then overprinted 5 whites, cmyk and 5 varnish. However, so much ink piled onto the card resulted in some picking (where the ink is pulled off the card as it goes through the press) which meant we weren’t able to put as much varnish down as desired and the sheer volume of ink on the card (14 passes for the arm on top of 4 passes of the card) left a particularly fragile surface which was more easily damaged by the post.


Did it work?

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’. Personally, I’m not entirely satisfied that we’ve done justice to Sarah’s work and given the job again would tackle it in a slightly different way. Interestingly, the variable data element was a cinch; it was the printing that was difficult. C’est la vie.


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