The self confessed ‘letterpress junkie’ fills us in on the future of the industry

Tom Boulton has been freelancing for around 14 years. His introduction to letterpressing came in the early days of self employment, when he received a commission to make gift certificates for a bookshop. They told Boulton they wanted the certificates to be printed “properly”, so he rushed out to buy a small, tabletop press machine and gave it a go. “We did the first job in my back bedroom in a house in Twickenham. After that I was hooked and just wanted more and more letterpress.” He tells me, “basically I’m a letterpress junkie.” Now, Boulton’s press collection includes machines dating as far back as the 1880’s.

For Boulton, letterpressing is about “using and utilising” what we already have instead of constantly reinventing. “It’s funny in a way that the world has really changed a lot since I left University,” he tells me, “people were not really that interested in letterpress, I remember in the early days having to explain to a lot of clients what letterpress is – now it has gone way beyond cult status.” But the more popular letterpressing gets, the more expensive the equipment becomes until suddenly it’s inaccessible for an entire generation. “If I was starting fresh out of university today, I would not be able to afford to start up in letterpress,” says Boulton, “this worries me greatly, as the question is what is the future for letterpress? And where
will the next generation come from?”

His creative process is a little unusual, being that the structure of letterpress machines are so limiting. “You are incredibly restricted, in the basic sense that you have a set amount of fonts and they are the size they are. You can go into printing a new design and have the idea or form in your head and the process forces you to adapt the design, so you create something completely different.” But Boulton tries to think less and “create with the natural flow” He’s at his most inventive choosing the phrasing and words of his pieces. “I like the way words feel. I usually start with how words feel rather than how they look.”

His advice for young creatives is similarly low-key: “sometimes just giving something a punt brings the best results.” For Boulton, Type Tom was born out of a passion. “Do something you really care about and believe in and don’t be scared to just put stuff out there,” he tells me, “doing things that interest you isn’t a waste of time.”

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