Start the Presses!

Letterpress is all about the details – and having the right assistants.

Michael Wichuk, founder of Fort Heavy, one of Edmonton’s only custom letterpress print shops, works with a unique team: Himself, two feline assistants (Cat and Cat’s Brother), and Heidi, a 1963 Heidelberg Windmill press.

¬†After graduating from MacEwan University’s graphic design program in 2005, Wichuk worked as a designer for Free Media, but he knew he didn’t want to spend his whole life in front of a computer.

“I’ve done some letterpress projects in the past, but it was hard to find anything around here, even in Canada. So I wanted to fill that hole.”

After a short online search, he found exactly what he was looking for: A decommissioned Heidelberg Windmill letterpress. He and his uncle made the 700-km journey to Nokomis, Saskatchewan to pick up the 3,000-pound machine. Wichuk recalls it being tucked away in the back of the small town’s newspaper’s shop.

When he got the giant machine set up in his Edmonton garage, he realized that operating a press has a very steep learning curve; it took Wichuk five months to gain the confidence to call himself a professional.

One of the biggest advantages of this media, he says, is being able to provide clients with a unique, customizable, personal product. “Because we can make plates from computer graphics now, we can bring this old-school feel to modern design. We don’t have the limitations of hand-set type.”

The majority of the work he does is creating cards for local businesses like Barber Ha, Elm Caf and Bloom Cookie Co., but he often gets requests for wedding invitations and other paper ephemera like postcards.

He prints on a lot of cotton paper, which is thick, but expensive. Because of the set-up costs of the process, his business cards are more expensive than the industry standard, but the quality of the finished product is worth the cost.

“I think it’s worth every penny to have someone who is detail-orientated and understands the significance of the little things to do what he does,” says Linda Ha, owner of Barber Ha. “He’s very idiosyncratic, which is what makes him the best.”

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