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Old Machines Make Modern Products


In 2012, two friends in their 20s made a brave decision. They left their jobs as graphic designers for an American magazine to open their own printing business. Then a third friend decided to join them because the idea seemed just too good to be true.

The three young artists are now using traditional printing methods and machinery to create modern designs for their business.

The business, called Typecase Industries, serves the Washington, D.C. area. The company uses a 360-kilogram platen letterpress machine to make its creative designs. The letterpress is nearly 100 years old and lacks a motor. That means artist Emily Doenlen has to use pressure from her foot to add the design to the paper.

“We print mostly coasters on it. When we first started doing orders, it was 100. When you get up to 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 coasters, it’s a lot of work!”

Emily Doenlen and Stephanie are co-owners of Typecase Industries. Their company has three letter press machines. None of these machines are made anymore. The Vandercook-4, for example, was first manufactured in 1935 and produced for about 30 years.

Everything at Typecase Industries is done by hand. Workers mix the colors, feed paper into the machines, add oil to the letterpress and clean it.

But why choose to work with old machines? Why not just print from a computer? Stephanie Hess says she likes the older equipment.

“It offers a very different service than the digital does now. For me, it really goes back to the tactile quality of being able to like feel the paper and feel what you’re printing or making. Each print can be a little bit different. You get out of your comfort zone because you’re working in a different capacity. It’s not a computer screen. There is no undo button.”

Alessandra Echeverri is also with the company. She says she enjoyed taking the old printing presses and giving them a new purpose.

“First, we had to learn how to use the machine, which was a different style than what we were taught at school. It gives you a higher level of appreciation of craftsmanship and mechanics and stuff that’s usually outside of the realm of fine arts. It’s a new world. Then once you understand how it works, what prints work best, what looks best on it, you start to design specifically for that.”

She says learning how to operate an old machine and repair it, if necessary, was not the most difficult part of the job.

“I’d say it’s been learning how business works versus how creative art works. We didn’t know business practices particularly. That has been the biggest learning curve.”

But Emily Doenlen says they learned.

“It’s a total dream come true, being able to own your own business, have your own schedule. All of the work is personal. We try to keep everything we do very hands-on, very intimate with our clients.”

Typecase Industries serves both businesses and individuals. It has produced everything from restaurant menus and colorful posters to business cards. The goal is to creating something that makes the clients happy.

That is what happened when Anne Han and Joshua Garcia went to Typecase Industries. The two were busy making plans to get married, and asked the company to design their wedding invitations.

“My style tended more towards like vintage kind. I love the letter press designs. I love feeling like the texture on the invitation."

As the three friends learn more about their repurposed machines, they are using the old technology to create new designs and business success.

I’m Mario Ritter

This report was based on a story from VOA’s Faiza Elmasry. George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

brave - v. having no fear

business - n. one’s work; buying and selling to earn money; trade

modern - adj. of the present or very recent time; the most improved

company - n. a business organized for trade, industrial or other purposes

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