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.
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.