A23D: a 3D-printed letterpress font

capital K of the font A23D with a slightly inky surface
A few years after its realisation, A23D is well used and at home at New North Press

A23D is a 3D-printed letterpress font commissioned by Richard Ardagh of New North Press. The font is a prototype, connecting the newest and the oldest forms of print technology, and looking to the future of letterpress in the 21st century.

A project such as this requires expertise at every level. A font needed to be designed for 3D-printing, materials had to be tested. Letterpress is a precise science. A printable surface must be 23.32mm or 0.918″ high – type-high – and withstand the pressure and consistent wear of the printing press and process.

On-screen wireframe of a capital A
Wireframe drawings of A23D

Collaboration is key in a cross-disciplinary undertaking involving old and new technologies as well as the art of type design. When Richard had conceived the project, he approached renowned type designers Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel, of A2-Type, to design a font that ended up referencing the production method of 3D-printing. A23D SOLID became the starting point, and hidden core for the design of the A23D wireframe font.

part of an alphabet of capital letters in the font A23D, a hand is inserting a slug for spacing
The alphabet set up and ready for its first impression

Testing and production of the font was handled by Chalk Studios. Considering the demands set to the finished font, many tests had to be conducted in search for the right process and material. The letters were produced using polyjet 3D-printing, where layers of photopolymer liquids are built up and cured by UV light.

A23D letterpress setup, being inked in fluorescent green
A23D set up on the press bed for the initial specimen posters, designed by A2-Type

Since its creation in 2014, A23D has gone on to win an award for Typographic Excellence from Type Directors Club, New York and has been exhibited at V&A, London and Pompidou Centre, Paris. It has also been used as the basis for live project briefs at Chelsea, LCC and Plymouth art colleges. The font is now part of New North Press’ library and enjoys regular use in print projects.

Watch Adrian Harrison’s video documenting the project below to learn more about the design and production of A23D.

A23D: A 3D-Printed Letterpress Font, film by Adrian Harrison

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