artist, Craft, Columbus OH, Ohio, Service

Allison Chapman : Igloo Letterpress

Allison Chapman owns and runs Igloo Letterpress; a small letterpress, design, and book binding business.

How did you get your start in letterpress?

“My grandfather was a hobby printer. I learned by hanging around the studio with him. He was really interested in machinery and how things worked. The things I like about [running] Igloo are process and problem solving. That’s the creative part that I get energy from and get excited about. 

“We use three types of plates: plastic, wood and metal. It’s not all antique stuff. Most of the work we do now is emailed to us as a PDF. Then we make the plastic plates from those designs.“

"The green press was my grandfather's."

A plastic plate ready to print.

How do you do that?

“It is a light sensitive plastic. The area that is exposed to light becomes hard and the rest of it washes away with water. There are two things I like about the plastic plates. One, we can recycle them when we’re done. There’s less waste. We print a lot of wedding invitations and things that are single use. Two, it allows us to have a deeper impression, or bite as it’s called, into the paper. Our customers ask for that.”

I’ve had quite a few people ask me what the difference is between letterpress and computer printing.

“That’s funny, we always joke that letterpress is better press. When you look at a design, sometimes it’s hard to imagine what it’s going to be like when it’s printed. It’s so different looking a [screen] with light shining through it compared to ink on paper. We mix our ink colors by hand most of the time.”

Do you work much with antique plates?

“In our classes we do. I do in my designs too. I wasn’t trained as a graphic designer on a computer. So I learned by setting individual letters together. If I ran out of an ‘e’ I would have to choose a different font. If it was too big to fit on the paper I would have to start over. It’s hard for me to design on the computer. There are too many choices. I like the limitation of saying, “Oh, yes, this will fit on this paper. This type looks good with that image.” It’s a little bit easier to make decisions.”

When are you hoping to move into your new space?

“We did a Kickstarter to fund our classroom area in our new space. So right now we’re in the process of printing all of that stuff and getting it shipped. We will have our grand opening party this fall.”

Were you surprised/impressed by the response to your Kickstarter?

“Yes. All of those things. It’s a humbling experience to go through a Kickstarter. We did ours for 30 days. We wanted to give time for information to travel… We had around 350 donors. It started out with our friends and family. Then the [local community]. In our first day I think we hit 20%. It was amazing to feel that people were investing in our success.”

Many of the cards Igloo Letterpress prints and sells are collaborations with local artists.

The Snow House is the gift shop for Igloo Letterpress. They also carry goods from local artists.

How has Igloo grown over the years from a hobby to a full time business with employees?

“Our family moved here from Minnesota in 2008. At the time I was pregnant. Igloo in Minnesota was me, in the house. I had a job at the time where I taught letterpress printing [in a different shop]. I didn’t know anybody [in Columbus]. It was my way of building something for myself here and meeting people that cared about the same things I did.

“[The first Igloo Letterpress studio in Columbus was in an artist warehouse outside of town]. I had 300 square feet and shoehorned everything in…When I was out there nobody would go meet me [at my studio]…I got tired of meeting people in coffee shops. I looked [everywhere in Columbus] trying to find the right spot for Igloo… We live in Worthington. So I chose to look for a space around here. I really appreciate the Worthington Farmers Market. I thought the people going to the farmers market might have an interest in the handcrafted stuff I’m making. It was the natural way for me to grow my business, but it’s not a traditional way to do it. I worked while my daughter was in kindergarten and my son was in preschool, 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. Then I would pick my kids up and it was family time. I would work again from 9 P.M. to 2 A.M. It let me grow slowly. I am thankful that it isn't just me anymore. Igloo's staff is so talented. We’re a big small business… [I’m comfortable with our size and work load.] I feel really good about the quality of our work and the quality of our customer interaction.”