out & about | Arion Press | San Francisco, CA

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

I have always been a very tactile person, whether it be the texture of fabric or an imprint on paper. So, when I received the opportunity to visit and tour Arion Press, a letterpress company in San Francisco, CA, I was ecstatic!

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Founded in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press is one of the finest letterpress companies in the nation that crafts and publishes limited edition fine-press books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with letterpress, letterpress is a printing technique in which words and/or designs are printed with ink while simultaneously making an impression into thick, soft paper.

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Two to three limited edition books are published per year at Arion Press, and the one they were working on at the time of our visit was being sold for about $600 each!

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Arion Press shares its building in San Francisco’s Presidio with M & H Type, which is the oldest and largest hot metal type foundry in the United States for letterpress printers.

Letterpress Letters Room

This room was filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of metal type of all sizes and shapes.

M&H Type

There were also drawers upon drawers replete with letterpress letters, and pages of thick books with everything you’d want to know about a particular type.

Letterpress Cabinet

Letterpress Drawers

Letterpress Files

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

In the early days, all the letters were painstakingly created individually out of molten lead and put together to form each and every word. Nowadays, they use computerized casting machines to produce text for whole pages. Either way, I find all the care and precision incredible.

Letterpress Machines

Letterpress Metal

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Making Letterpress Type

Metal Letters

Letterpress

Truthfully, I can’t remember exactly what all this stuff below was for, but it looked cool, nonetheless – ha! I believe it had to do with a keyboard operator that perforates a tape with text which runs the casting machine. Luckily, I stumbled across these videos about Arion Press that explains things much better than I could ever have.

Letterpress Rolls

Monotype Keyboard

Letterpress Metal Filament

Letterpress Papers

We also saw how the plates were used with the machines to actually print the pages of the book onto large sheets of paper.

Letterpress Work

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Letterpress Printing

Arion Press Machinery

Letterpress Book Page

Letterpress Page

And then finally, the binding room, where books were being hand-bound — a laborious, yet inspiring process.

Book Binding Seam

Book Binding

Handsewn Book

An attached museum held various antique letterpress machines and old printing tools, as well as some letterpress plates from various projects. The circular plate at the bottom was my favorite.

Vintage Letterpress Machine

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Vintage Letterpress

Letterpress Machine

Arion Press | Neely Wang Photography

Overall, it was such a great experience, and it made me realize how much these artisans truly love their craft! Now on to take a modern letterpress tour where invitations and stationery are printed! Any suggestions in the San Francisco Bay Area?


36 comments

  1. Exhilarating!! I got ever so excited from this, your excursion! The words and the feelings attached to the textures in the images are impossible to separate. That might be due to my own feelings about books. Thank you for sharing it!

    • I’m so glad you felt a connection to this post and this place, Elisa! It’s really a wonderful place to visit with such great history and craftsmanship!

  2. Great photos…you captured a lot of good shots! I turned one of my photos (the single metal letters scattered on a tray) into a canvas…haven’t gotten it back yet, but we’ll see how it goes…

  3. Everyone here at the Arion Press loves these images! Thank you Neely for posting them. If you would like to see our facilities, please note that we will be having an open house (with free tours of our facilities) on Saturday, October 5th and Saturday, December 7th. See our website for more information. Also, we have regular tours every Thursday at 3:30. Those tours cost $10.00, and you’re welcome to take as many photographs as you like!

    • You’re so very welcome! I’m so glad you all enjoyed the images! I had a wonderful time visiting and learning all that you do there. Your books are beautiful, and the care you take in creating and making them is so evident and inspirational.

  4. Wonderful tour and beautiful images Neely…. always a joy to come visit your blog! I’m keeping one of the images on my pinterest board for awhile.

    • Thank you, Laurie! Yes, the care, labour and craftmanship that went into these books, in particular, were really unbelievable. I was curious to know who bought them or who could afford them, and the tour guide said mainly private collectors.

      • Yes ! It helps me a lot. I’m trying to but a better camera and I understand quite nothing to lenses… The only thing I know is that I want a nice bokeh and your pics are exactly what I’m dreaming to do ! At least your answered simply to me question so thanks.

          • Yes ! I saw that, thanks again. In France, it’s 100€ so more in dollat but still cheap in comparaison to 1700€ lenses I was checking… An other stupid question : are they manual ? Or automatic ? Are their easy to use ?
            Have a nice day.

            • Do you mean is it automatic focusing? There is a switch on the side of the lens which allows you to choose between automatic and manual focusing. I think they are relatively easy to use and provide sharp images with pretty bokeh. I normally shoot in aperture priority, which allows me to adjust the aperture and depth of field. I would just be careful not to set the aperture too low because then only a sliver of the subject will be in focus. Please feel free to let me know if you have any more questions!


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