Kim Bentley and Kyle Van Horn of Baltimore Print Studios. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Print Studios.
Walking into the studio space of Baltimore Print Studios on North Avenue is a bit like traveling back in time. It’s not every artists’ space that has 13 letterpresses, machines there were considered “high-tech” a century ago, according to Kyle Van Horn.
Van Horn, 33, is the technician for the printmaking department at the Maryland Institute College of Design, as well as the cofounder of the Baltimore Print Studios. Three years ago he and his spouse-to-be, Kim Bentley, 39, opened up the letterpress and screenprinting space in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Since then the studio has grown larger — it’s now 1,800 square feet — but what distinguishes Baltimore Print Studios is that it’s a public-access letterpress studio that rents out its machines by the hour.
“The public access aspect was novel,” said Bentley, a freelance graphic designer who received her master’s in graphic design at MICA. The closest similar type of shop, they said, is the nonprofit Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring.
During their peak season, which runs from about September through December, as many as 40 people will stop into the studio per month to use their letterpress and screen printing machines. Baltimore Print Studios has about 60 different kinds of metal-type fonts, and about 75 different kinds of wood-type fonts.
But what explains the use of technology today that traces its origins to the 1400s when Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type to the printing press? A combining of modern font-types with old printing techniques.
“The modern letterpress industry has been revived because people have figured out how to print modern on old machines,” Van Horn said, a process that generally involves creating a custom font or a custom design in a program like Adobe Illustrator, and then putting that design onto a polymer plate.
“The polymer plates are photosensitive. After exposure and developing, you’re left with a raised surface in the shape of your image,” he said. “This is put on the press, just as the type would be, inked and printed.”
Van Horn and Bentley hold open studio hours four days a week, in addition to running workshops twice a month. They also do some of their own commercial business from their shop. When Technical.ly Baltimore visited, they had just finished the printing for a poster for Baltimore band Wye Oak.