Spark Custom Artwork for Wedding





Letterpress Wedding Suite
Retailer: Michael C. Fina, New York City
Description: This invitation set is letterpress-printed in spring green ink on Crane lettra pearl white 110# cover. Included in the set is the invitation panel, inner and outer envelopes, custom envelope liner on the inner envelope, reply card and envelope as well as a reception card.

The inner and outer Crane envelopes come in a pointed baronial flap. The inner envelope has a letterpress-printed envelope liner, printed on Crane lettra pearl white 80# text weight paper.

What we love most about this invitation set is the custom artwork created by our designer, Kate. She is so good at turning ideas into reality on paper. This wedding took place in upstate New York, so the trees and canoe on water fit in with the landscape as well as with the overall tone of the wedding.

A Mighty Wind

The windmill's air pump is a time-proven design, which was later used on the K and S cylinder press series and even the GTO offset presses. Since it's essential to moving paper through the machine, it needs to be in top shape. Here are a few things I learned about when cleaning out the pump on my press.

It's not too hard to remove the pump to work at a bench. I removed the collar from the bottom pivot, and the cover from the bearing where the piston rod meets its crank. Then the whole unit slides off. Obviously the hoses are disconnected before this step. Disassembly follows, and it's pretty straightforward; just remember to keep track of which screws go where, etc. I cleaned off all of the spring steel air valves to ensure things were sealing and opening when they should. The packing on the piston (a felt-y material) was fine on my relatively low-use pump so I didn't mess with it. The most important thing I did was to clean the piston rings and their grooves. Just as in your car engine, the rings need to move freely in order to ride tightly against the cylinder bore, which enables high compression, or air pressure in this case.

Since the rings spring outward when the piston is removed from the pump, one needs to find a way to get the thing back together. As the rings are very springy, one would need three hands to do it without help. I'm sure it's been done with two hands, but I decided to make life easier and borrow an automotive tool idea. For replacing automotive pistons there is a tool which clamps around the piston to hold the rings in as it is slid back into the cylinder bore. Since the piston on the windmill's pump is far larger than that of any car, I measured its diameter and grabbed the next largest hose clamp from the hardware store. With this it was possible to clamp in one ring at a time by its top half, push the piston down until the ring's bottom half was in the cylinder, then loosen the clamp and do the next, and so on. There are three rings in all. I replaced them with the gap in each ring 120 degrees from the others, so the gaps were evenly spaced around the circumference.

Replacing the pump was the trickiest part. Since the bearings have a very precise fit (as do all on the machine) it took some doing to press the piston rod end exactly straight onto the crank.
Once done, I turned the press over slowly to ensure nothing was misaligned. I didn't notice any huge difference in function, but it was good to know that the pump's usual wheeze and snort were indeed normal and not caused by years of gunk or something else wrong.

On a related note: Anyone out there have a service manual for the Heidelberg windmill? I mean the one that Heidelberg service people would have had, with "official" procedures. How about one for the K cylinders, as long as I'm daydreaming? (I have the operator and parts manuals which came with the presses.) In the meantime, as I work on our machines I will follow the fundamental rules: don't break anything, and don't do anything you can't change back. And oil everything.

Windmill vs. Cylinder

As I was running a job on our KS cylinder this week I was again reminded of the differences between a platen job press and a cylinder. The latter aren't called "buchdruck" (book printing) presses in Germany for nothing – they are truly better suited for long runs of one big job than a bunch of smaller ones. Things such as roller installation and adjustment, oiling, etc. take significantly longer with the cylinder. The minimum amount of ink required for the fountain is three to four times that of the windmill.

More than these, the key difference to me is momentum. The cylinder is a juggernaut; you can't stop and start it instantly like the windmill. The windmill is perfect for short runs because you can stop it dead with a sheet in the grippers, tweak the register, and run just one more sheet for another proof. You can run a few hundred sheets while wasting only a couple of sheets. The cylinder needs to get up to speed, and then you must run at least two sheets as the first will have excess ink from multiple roller passes. Then you can either print two more sheets using the stop lever at the delivery, or you can get by without printing any more sheets by using the quick stop lever. This will run two sheets through without printing, which must be returned to the feeder.

That said, for the right kind of job the cylinder is unstoppable. Nothing can lay down a heavy solid as well, and of course they came in L, XL and XXL compared to platens. Ours is the "baby" cylinder (KS for Kleine Schnellpress) with a 15"x20.5" sheet size. If you have the room and can find one that hasn't been butchered into a diecutter, Heidelberg made them up to a sheet size of 25"x35". The register is easily tweaked without tools, and some other adjustments are very easy and precise as well. The cylinder will also handle most any printing, diecutting or scoring job you throw at it. For the vast majority of jobs you get the feeling the machine isn't even breaking a sweat, where you can tell with a platen press that it's starting to work hard past a certain point.



To me what makes the windmill endearing (as much as a machine can be) is that it's human-scaled. When you stand in front of it, it's all right there and there's a lever for each of your hands. It's tall and narrow and you can get all the way around it quickly. Despite its strength it almost feels delicate. The cylinder press is a car-sized brute. It's quite intimidating and you always are aware that there's a lot of metal moving around that could thoroughly ruin your day. The windmill has that too of course, but friendlier somehow.

So, as long as you know what you're getting into, each machine is genius in its own right. Also, as you have just read, the mind has lots of time to wander on those long jobs...

Elephants on Parade!


Spark's Elephant Invitation (#5) from our Loop Collection is featured in the most recent issue of Stationery Trends magazine. Loop utilizes 100% recycled chipboard and recycled packaging for all of its products, and is letterpress-printed of course! The entire collection which includes four different animals (tiger, whale, kangaroo and elephant) was illustrated and designed by one of our very own talented designers, Kate. In addition to the party invitation shown, the collection is completed by coasters, gift tags, notepads and postcards. The line is starting to pop up at retailers nationwide, so be on the lookout!

Wedding Spotlight: Destination Weddings

Destination weddings are definitely a popular trend these days. Couples are tying the knot on tropical islands, in European villas or in the foothills of mountains – places that create magical moments amongst breathtaking scenery.

Creating wedding stationery for such an event takes a little more effort for couples, simply because there is more information to relay to invited guests. It is essential to set the tone and anticipation for the event by weaving the wedding stationery together to create a cohesive design style.

The following stationery pieces ought to be part of the destination wedding stationery suite (in addition to the invitation set).

  • Save-the-date. Please give invited guests ample time to make travel arrangements for a destination wedding. Save-the-dates are mailed at least 8 months to 1 year in advance of the event. Include travel and accommodation information as well as a list of all scheduled activities (date, time, location) during the wedding weekend.
  • Ceremony & Reception Program. Print a double-sided program, die cut into an interesting shape. We recently did a program in the shape of a scallop shell as the ceremony took place on the beach. Remember that this can be a keepsake for guests!
  • Place Cards, Table Cards & Menus. Keep with the design style to create these additional pieces that will make your reception memorable down to the last detail. We often die cut menu cards in the shape of a circle to fit nicely in the plate charger on the table.

Destination Hawaii



Wedding Stationery Suite:
4-piece invitation set, welcome cards, program and thank you note set.
Spark Retailer: Pulp & Ink, Chicago

The invitation panel and reply card is printed on Crane Lettra 220# cover paper in Fluorescent White. The design is based on our Meadowbrook invitation featured in the Spark Custom Album, except that the bubbles on our sample were substituted with sea turtles. Ink colors are navy and spring green. The A7 size envelope is lined with text weight navy paper to compliment the navy ink on the panels.



There are a set of five welcome cards that greet invited guests to the wedding weekend, recommend various activities on the island, map the airport and hotels and outline the scheduled date, time and location of the scheduled activities. The cards are printed on Crane Lettra 110# cover in Fluorescent White. Ink colors are blue and green (custom colors).



The program front and back cover is printed on Crane Lettra 110# cover in Fluorescent White. Inside pages are printed on Crane Lettra 80# text weight in Fluorescent white. Ink colors are navy and spring green. A double-faced satin ribbon in navy is tied bookmark style at the top to secure the pages. The program provides a detailed description of the Jewish wedding ceremony. Over nine plates were used to print the program on our Heidelberg Windmill press – this spent many hours on our press to complete!

The thank you cards are a flat, A2 size card with printed envelopes. Featured on Crane Lettra 110# cover in Fluorescent White. Ink colors are navy and spring green.

Many thanks to Colin at Pulp & Ink, Chicago, and to the groom who drew the wonderful sea turtles featured throughout the wedding suite. Let’s also not forget designer and artist, Cassie Medema, who created the Meadowbrook design featured in our custom album.

Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like calling someone a Cake Whore!


So our Bittersweet Ink collection may not be for everyone, but we've found that many people have a friend or family member that can appreciate the dry humor these cards put forth. Our good friend, Larissa Cole, came to us with this wonderful idea for a collection of cards. Larissa wrote the copy for these cards, we created the design, and of course we also printed them.

Each card is letterpress-printed in black ink on Neenah Esse 100# cover in White and comes with an Neenah Eames Furniture envelope in India Pink, Tivoli Green or Pacific Blue. Both papers contain 30% post-consumer waste and have a wonderful texture and subtle grid pattern to them.

The cards are available at our online store and have been picked up by many retailers nationally as well.

Rainone/Roofener Couture Stationery Suite


One of our first Spark Couture clients, Danielle Rainone and Ted Roofener, decided to work with us to create their wedding stationery due to the overwhelming amount of stationery needs they had in mind for their wedding weekend. While we enjoy our relationships with our retailers, there are a select number of clients we take on each year through Spark Couture. These clients typically need original artwork or more than a save-the-date and wedding invitation set. We have the ability to do the design, printing and finishing work all at our facility allowing the couple and Spark the greatest amount of control over the quality and look of the final product. It was such a pleasure to work with this couple as they were so appreciative of our efforts.

Each set includes a printed outer envelope with a printed liner, an blank inner envelope also with a different printed liner, and a main invitation panel printed on 4-ply Rising Museum Board in White. Three additional panel cards are printed on Rising Museum Board in White, only using 2-ply so they are set apart from the main invitation. The three panel cards are sized differently so they are different from each other. The reception card is the smallest, the welcome celebration card is next and then the reply card is on the bottom since it had the most information. The panel cards and reply envelope are enclosed in a Gilbert Esse Espresso 100# cover wrap, with a white Arturo printed band holding the wraps shut.

More pictures of their set can be found on our Flickr page.

Conyers Design, Inc. Gift Tags


Each week I have a plethora of wonderful projects to review, both present and past, and for some reason I was thinking about these great little gift tags Conyers Design, Inc. (Des Moines, Iowa) had us print for them late last year. Maybe it is because of the major heat waves we’ve been experiencing, and I was just trying to remind myself of cooler weather. This was our first project for Conyers Design, and I remember the phone call from them after they received the shipment from us. They called just to say “woo-hoo” (or something to that effect). It’s always a great feeling when you make a client happy just by doing your job well.


Conyers Design Holiday Gift Tags
Design: Conyers Design, Inc.
Paper: Crane Lettra Fluorescent White 220# Double-Thick Cover (another of our tree-free house stocks)
Ink: Silver, Red and Aqua Blue
Run: 150+ on our Heidelberg Windmill, plus die cutting the tags into 3” rounds plus a small hole (done in-house).
Notes: The gift tags printed even better than we had hoped. I think these are an excellent example of great design meets letterpress printing. We ran all of the silver plates through our press twice to give it as metallic of an appearance as possible. The registration was tight on many of the designs, but it gives us a nice feeling of satisfaction every time we align something just so. After printing, we die cut the tags (on-site) and that made all the difference. It’s amazing how designs look great on-screen, but once they are printed and finished, they just look even that much better!

More images of this project and others can be found on our Flickr page.

Henry is a real dog!


Our Henry greeting card line is inspired by Valerie & Jim’s real life miniature dachshund, Henry. The original Henry illustration is based on one of the many photos we’ve taken of him over the years. Henry has been a great dog for us, and he even comes to the office every day to help out. Mostly he just barks at the UPS and FedEx drivers and many of our other unsuspecting guests. If his legs weren’t so short, I’m sure he’d be operating a press or working in shipping & receiving.

The Henry stationery products were a labor of love for us. We were planning to keep them simple, but as Henry is a complex dog, we felt it was only right to make his cards a bit more of a challenge as well. Each folded greeting card is printed in three colors – a transparent gold for the type and tail wag lines, Henry brown as it is known around the office which is really just PMS 4625, and then the different designs feature a third color to make the illustrations pop. We also have five different custom-printed envelopes that coordinate nicely with the designs. They come in Whip Cream, Red Hot, Banana Split, Sour Apple and Razzle Berry (paper from French Paper’s Poptone line).

Be sure to check out our complete line of Henry cards, invites, moving announcements and coasters, now available for sale in our online store.