Maker: jess bennet
Jess Typography

What made you decide to start your business, Letterpress Jess?

I’m a graphic designer by trade and have always been a big supporter of the local art scene and art in general. And, you know, everything I do is mostly digital on the computer, which might not be considered super traditional art. So I always wanted to be part of the art world, you know, versus the commercial graphic design world that I’m in by day. And so I started getting interested in printmaking as a way to take what I do on the computer and translate it more into an artistic practice, and that’s when I started to m interested in typography. And it’s a story as old as time, just a girl who falls in love with a 2,500 pound printing press, like we do.

Jess Bennett poses with “Big Sal”, a Chandler & Price 12×18 printing press, manufactured in Cleveland, OH in 1963. [Jess Bennett]

Could you introduce us to your printing family?

So we have Big Sal, which is our original press and our main press, and the one we use every day. It’s a Chandler & Price, 12×18 letter press, made in Cleveland in 1963. But the technology, the current model dates back to the 1880s and hasn’t changed too much. We also have the one we call Lil Die, which is the second press we acquired. And it’s also a Chandler & Price, also a platen press, but it’s 10×15 so one less model size and it’s not motorized and is closer to the turn of the last century. And then we have Long Limbs Lenore, which is a Challenge Proof press.

Big Sal handles most of the work at Letterpress Jess. [Jess Bennett]

Describe the printing process. And how do you print with multiple colors?

Each card is fed into the press one at a time and one suit at a time. So anytime you see multiple suits on a card, that means it’s been hit by the press that many times, which can get, you know, arduous at some point. So we print, say yellow, then we clean the press. We put a new form on the press. We put new ink on the press. We test it. We ensure that the impression is uniform. We make sure color consistency is consistent and registration is correct. And then we print the cards again. It’s great fun, but there’s a reason it’s old school.

Prints with more than one color go through the press multiple times. [Jess Bennett]

What are your hopes for the future of your business?

We have worked very hard, pandemic aside, to grow our wholesale business. It’s exciting to not only have customers choosing your products for themselves, but to have store owners who have a vested interest in choosing only the best, only the things they think will sell the most. so they can keep their business afloat. And being part of this chain of small businesses where it’s not just Letterpress Jess that we’re trying to keep the lights on, but all of these businesses that trust our products, that’s an exciting thing. And that’s something we’ve worked to develop.

Now the hope is that we don’t become a household name, because I feel like that’s probably not realistic. But the idea that more people in more places can laugh at my cards is the most a girl can hope for. Currently, we are present in approximately 150 stores in 36 states and Canada. So we’re slowly getting to where being in all 50 states would be a secret dream, like a conceited dream. I don’t know why, it just sounds exciting. Like all 50 states on Letterpress Jess. This would be an important step that I hope to achieve in the next two years.

A pair of cards from the “Gibson Girls” illustration series. [Jess Bennett]