Apple puts letterpress in the cloud

It was the new MacBook Airs that dominated discussion in the wake of Apple’s most recent product announcement. But another rollout mentioned at the event caught my attention: the addition of a letterpress printing option to the photo-customization products one can order via iPhoto.

Classic technology, hard to put in the cloud

The Apple publicity video above shows artisans at work in a light-filled studio, turning Apple users’ wedding announcements and baby pictures into keepsakes featuring the classic, deeply-incised look of letterpress printing. It’s tempting to wonder whether Apple is outsourcing the jobwork to overseas sweatshops—but some in the letterpress world suggest that a Bay-area craft printer, Julie Holcomb Printers, who won the contract. Certainly the photos at the Holcomb web site depict a shop similar to the one in the Apple video—featuring an Original Heidelberg Press prized by craft printers. (Personally, I’m hoping someone comes up with a way to use industrial robots to letterpress-print books for another kind of ebook altogether.)

Apple’s foray into craft printing should come as no surprise; Steve Jobs has always been an aficionado of classic typography, claiming that a calligraphy class he took at Reed College inspired the focus on fonts that distinguished the original Macintosh. This latest iteration of that enthusiasm produces a quirky, almost-Steampunk vision: Apple’s streamlined technology reaching out of the cloud to turn the crank on Gutenberg’s machine.

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