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Letterpress Internships

Although there is a thin line between an apprenticeship and an internship, there are a few things that help differentiate the two. An apprenticeship is typically associated with an individual working to learn a particular trade or craft, and is is usually completed in exchange for the student’s continued work after they have become skilled. The apprenticeship is often unpaid, and the time involved may be indefinite or unspecified. An internship is an opportunity for out-of-the classroom, on-the-job training. Internships are a chance for a student/interested party to test the waters before fully exploring a career.


There is an ever-growing number of printers opening shop all over the world. Some, but by no means all, of these printers were at one time interns, and may now looking for interns themselves. An internship is one of the most exciting and important ways of transitioning into becoming a professional printer. An internship can provide structure and direction to an early career in printing, whether sweeping the floors or working on actual client projects.

Duration of an Internship

There are a wide variety of internships around, but the time spent at an internship is just as important. The longer time spent at any given shop, the more opportunities will present themselves to showcase the knowledge gained. Trust is a very important part of printing in someone else’s shop, especially when using antique equipment. As that trust grows, so do responsibilities and opportunities for creative freedom.

Real World Experience in Letterpress Printing

Letterpress printing can be a lot more than a traditional class assignment or a make-ready style type print created in a one day workshop. When working in a production environment, there are other factors involved in printing letterpress. Often times in a workshop or academic environment, there are few concerns about deadlines, or feasibility of printing a full edition of prints. It is important to think about these factors when considering working as a professional printer. There are very direct applications of a print, whether to advertise for a concert or event, make an announcement, or just create a beautiful broadside for an author. Many times this involves communicating with a client about the process of letterpress. Being knowledgable yourself about this unique process is very important in making sure the client (and the printer) is happy with the final product.

Clients or other buyers of letterpress are not familiar with letterpress, and therefore are not aware what is involved on the production side. As the designer and printer of any given letterpress job, being able to discuss the benefits and limitations of letterpress are going to help you create successful work. Learning how to negotiate good, clear communication with a client can be one of the most important aspects of an internship.

Pricing is another important factor when making the leap from personal work as a student or hobby printer to working as a professional. To understand the cost of paper and ink, or knowing an approximate amount of time it takes to typeset and print a job becomes very important. From trimming paper to mixing ink, learning how to be an efficient printer should be a very large part of any internship in letterpress.

Internships allow for a lot of networking with clients and professionals, however, some of the most important people to meet are the other printers that you are working with. As an instructor, it is important to not only train interns in the art of letterpress, but also to share the community and culture that surrounds it. This wider community of printers may have potential work after a given internship ends, but they may also offer a different approach to a specific area of the process you are interested in exploring further. Some communities even have meet-ups, or even guilds, that get together to discuss techniques and ideas. These events spark conversations that are an im important component of your ongoing letterpress education, in addition to an internship or classroom experience.

Creating Focus Through Internships

Letterpress studios print using different techniques and styles from hand-setting type to working with polymer plates. Working in letterpress is a great way to step away from the computer, but letterpress may also dictate the digital work you create. Learning design on such a tactile basis allows for a fresh approach when you do return to the computer, or if you are designing digitally to print on a letterpress, you will think about the limitations and advantages of the process with a new light. An internship is not intentionally meant to lead to a career, it is a chance to implement theory and practice in a hands-on environment. Letterpress is not for everyone, and an internship can persuade you to go in a different direction, or it can fuel the passion to print letterpress even more.

Finding the Right Internship

When selecting a shops where you’d like to apply for an internship, consider the type of work you will be producing. Letterpress shops use many different techniques to produce many kinds of products, and it is important that the prospective intern finds a shop that focuses on the aspects they are looking to develop or sharpen. An internship can range from relaxed to much more professional; it is important that the intern be aware this, and prepared to work in that particular environment. A potential intern should also consider the practicalities of an internship: will you be paid? will you have to move to a new town?

Selecting Interns

Having potential interns go through the process of applying (with a resume and cover letter) is just as valuable as the skills acquired through the internship. Honing and developing interview skills and being able to explain how you are valuable is always an important part of becoming a professional. A potential intern who may not have a strong portfolio or resume may learn from the process of rejection and come back more prepared the next year. By beginning the selection/interview process in a professional and serious manner, the potential intern will understand that this will be a business relationship.

Benefits of Interns

The right intern does a lot more than bring you coffee, and print the job you were avoiding doing on your own. The extra pair of hands is a big bonus, but interns bring a lot to the table. Having someone new in a print shop is always a great thing, because they are looking at the process with new eyes. Young students, or anyone new to the process, typically have a fresh approach to something you do everyday, and may help keep you relevant.
Teaching will also help you better articulate the process of printing letterpress.


History of the Apprenticeship in Printing

Masters of trade have long been guides to those willing to learn. Apprentices would live with their master craftsperson in order to gain as much knowledge as they could. Historically those apprentices who would learn through mixing ink, distributing type and other tedious jobs in the print shop would be called printer’s devils. There are several explanations to the origin of the term, however the most plausible seems to be related to the “hell box.” The “hell box” is where printers would throw worn out or broken type to later be melted, and later recast. It being the apprentices’ job to take the box to the furnace for melting, the nickname “devil” seemed suitable. The apprenticeship would last for several years, and would rarely be paid, however the student would obtain priceless amounts of knowledge that would then make them employable after their apprenticeship was complete.

Today apprenticeships typically don’t start at age 10 or require you to move away from home for the better part of a decade. An apprenticeship is not something to be taken lightly; it takes a lifetime to become a master craftsperson, and that knowledge should be passed to a worthy cause. To show this sort of dedication a craft is showing your willingness to be taught, and continue the craft in a correct and responsible way.

Apprenticeship Today

There are several opportunities for apprenticeships in letterpress today, however, not many are actually advertised. As letterpress continues to gain in popularity, there is a desire among mentors and master printers to insure that younger generations are going to continue to print with the same level of quality and craftsmanship.

M & H Type, the oldest and largest surviving type foundry in the United States, offers training in typography, typecasting, and Monotype composition that could lead to long-term employment. Commitment is for a minimum four years of employment: two years in apprentice status, followed by at least two years in journeyman status.

The Dale Guild is group of craftsmen dedicated to continuing the craft of casting type. Theo Rehak worked as an apprentice under William C. Gregan at American Type Foundry learning just about every aspect of type founding. These skills allowed Rehak to continue to implement his skills after ATF closed in 1993. The Dale Guild is in operation today, and is continuing to work with a younger generation, to insure Rehak’s priceless knowledge will be passed on.

Letterpress Mentorships

A mentorship is a relationship in which a more experience/knowledgeable person (mentor) offers guidance to a less experienced person (mentee). Creating a mentorship in letterpress printing can be invaluable to the learning process. Letterpress is a skill that takes much longer than a month-long internship. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, or just to help with troubleshooting, can ease some of the frustrations of printing. A mentor will lend advice to their mentee through conversations and lessons over many years.

Forming the Relationship

There are many printers out there who are more than willing to share their knowledge with eager learners. Connecting with these people may be as simple as calling them or making an appointment to stop by their shop. Oftentimes mentor/mentee relationships are created by proximity and expressions of interest. Offering to help, and being willing to listen, can be the beginning of a long-lasting mentorship

Importance of Mentor/Mentee Relationship

Letterpress is a lot more than letters pressed into paper with ink in between. It is a slow and beautiful process, the type and presses tells stories, and so do the printers. Hearing those stories, learning how to print, but also learning why to print are reasons to study letterpress under a master printer.

Benefits for Mentor

  • reason to keep printing
  • understanding how to stay relevant
  • knowing this craft/knowledge is being passed on
  • learning different approaches to their processes

Benefits for Mentee

  • Learning techniques to be a more efficient printer
  • Hear good printing stories
  • Everything you print poses a new problem as well as solution
  • Exposure to things you may never learn in a class
  • Advice beyond printing

Most printers out there are printing because they love to print, but at the same time there is someone who instilled that love in them.


Experience gained from an internship or apprenticeship can be invaluable, however, it may also be hard for a potential mentee to work for nothing. Instruction and supervision are integral in making the experience positive for both parties. Having an extra set of hands around to clean a press or sort type is just as beneficial as learning about proper cleaning etiquette, or a better understanding of typography, and much can be gleaned from simply working along side a printer as he or she goes about the day’s work.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee (or intern/apprentice) or an employee for purposes of the FLSA:

  • The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
  • The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
  • The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
  • The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  • The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.



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