Curving text

I read a thread quite a while back about the procedure for composing with curved text (a half-round header, for instance) and how to lock it up - I think wax was one method? Any help or thoughts would be greatly appreciated!


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Here’s an idea of what I’m talking about - the “Bagavagabonds”

image: circus.jpg


Wax, plaster, typemetal, or cut an arc (or rather two at appropriate radius) in plywood for furniture that will allow for a solid lockup, like circular quads do.

I couldn’t find the original thread but here is a photo of curving type using typemetal furniture that someone very helpful posted a few years ago. (I prefer pictures to instructions any day.)
Good Luck

image: CurvingType.jpg


i’ve done the wax thing a few times, the best part about the wax is when your done just drop the thing in hot water and the wax will melt and float , if you use hot lead you have to be careful not to get it on the face of the type or pour too much at one time or you can damage the type, i’ve heard you can use plaster, and even clay.

I have a set of these curves ,dont know the size range off hand but while incapacitated i will add to list of stuff i am trying to locate in the mess !! You do have to be careful with design like this not being too large a type in relation to the curve , i am not aware of formulas for this but i do know that as the curve tightens so the top of letters get further apart and can look awful without removing material from the foot of them (kerning) . I am sure someone will be aware of the setting term for the circumference adjustments necessary for the job not to look horrible !!

Oh yes plaster works to form a block the tough bit is always getting the curve correct !

The circular quads work well, but the typeface design does have a significant effect. If using all caps, it works best. The problem with using lowercase is that the portion of the body below the characters adds a good deal of letterspacing to ther line and as Frederic Goudy once said …. well you know what he said.

John Henry

Hi Steve,

In case Jens doesn’t see this question, I’ll pass on his photo from Flickr. The comments include a photo of how he did it. There’s also this one and this one. Each of these printers achieved the effect in a different way.


No one has said its not possible its just trickier than you think , patience is everything with letterpress regardless of what you are trying to achieve !! having the brass circular rules and the design allowing them is some help as in the links in the post preceding this .
Parallel probably proposes the best route for an arc .

Would anyone know where to purchase curved type furniture or perhaps have some that they would be willing to measure out and post up the info about?

Thank you everyone for your suggestions. Barb - thanks for the images, the ‘Open House’ was especially beautiful! I’m just experimenting with breaking away from the straight line right now and was curious about how it’s been done in the past. Peter - you’re absolutely right, patience is everything when it comes to letterpress! Oh, by the way Dick - where the heck is all the snow, have you been hiding it on that end of the state?? I want to go snowshoeing so if you have any please send it back! :)
Happy composing!

A couple of comments.

The curved furniture only offers a few “degree of arc” choices for lack of better term, and are really designed for setting metal type in the smaller point sizes.

For the larger “poster”-type settings, they are usually produced on a flat bed press so there is a little more leniency in the lock-up. If your form is going verticle on a platen press is has to be locked-up tightly so it won’t pi, but on a flatbed press the gravity will help to keep the form together. It cannot be loosy-goosy however because the brayer can pull the type right out of the form or the printed sheet can pull out the type if the ink coverage is heavy and tacky.

I have simply bent lengths of lead rules into curves and then filled the voids with whatever is available to keep everything as snug as possible when printing with a Poco proof press.


Thanks Rick, I will eventually be printing on my C & P so it will have to be pretty tight. I’ll probably be bending my leads to suit the shape that I want and filling in the spaces as I go. Do you think 3/4” foam board shaped to the open areas might lock down tight enough?

Steve, last year we couldn’t see the cars in our driveway, this year only had 2 snow storms, there hasn’t been any ice on the ponds, we’ll have to ice fish from a canoe this year.

You’ll just have to experiment at what works. Doesn’t have to be like concrete, but snug enough so your ‘parts’ don’t move around on you after you pull an impression.

I also should have mentioned that you can set a line of type, with spacing, and then apply tape to the nick-side (or top - depending on the shape you want to make) of the line and then try to bend your line to the shape you want. This helps to keep the basic spacing together for you. Scotch tape or masking tape work well - just use something that is not wider than type-high.


Here’s a trick I learned from Jessica Spring: a roll of tape on the inside, big hose clamp on the outside.

image: youaresquare.jpg


@Robin K
Nice one. I love that idea.


If you fortunate enough to have a scroll saw, band saw, reciprocating hand held saw or even a router you can cut curves out of plywood or MDF. With a router. You can get an attachment to cut fairly perfect circles. With this method you can cut pretty much any arc you like and nice straight edges to get a tight lock up.

The other trick is to set the line of type straight and tape the inside edge of the type before laying in the arc. I’ve used painters tape and gorilla tape. The stickier the better.

My apologies to the ingenious folks who came up with these - I was just trolling one night and downloaded them into a pic file for later reference - So here they are - I think you can figure out what they did!

image: Y29udGVudDovL21lZGlhL2V4dGVybmFsL2ltYWdlcy9tZWRpYS8zMzU.jpg


image: Y29udGVudDovL21lZGlhL2V4dGVybmFsL2ltYWdlcy9tZWRpYS8zMzg.jpg


Yes I’m lucky enough to have several sizes of brass rings. As you can see, even having several rings I still needed to add tape to one to make it fit tight enough inside the other.

I won’t claim that that was the best lock up in the world, but it surfaced to do what I needed. It did deform just slightly in the chase with just enough pressure to keep it from falling out. Had I had time, material, and a proper saw I would have cut rounded furniture to hold it properly.

I have a bunch of brass circles that appear to have just been different diameters of brass pipe cut down to .918. They print well.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

to Parallelimp, dickg, Peter Luckhurst, duffmo, Lammy:
re curved lines of type, wonderful sharing, just what Briar Press is intended for.

re plaster [of Paris], it expands slightly on setting, also just a little bit of warmth. Suggest that lock-up by Lammy could be less deformed if a temporary dam is used to hold liquid plaster mix around aprt of circumference of the outer ring; trial-and-error is the essence of invention. Remember Thomas Edison, who said he had succeeded in proving that there were a thousand substances which could not be used to make his electric light, and later he found a suitable material and that was the start of his big enterprise — electric lighting from his power stations.
I was told of one fellow who used mushy paper (papier-mache) to pack irregular spaces, but it sometimes would not stay in place for long.


I came across this the other day. Good idea, and one that could be easily reproduced in a machine shop.

I’m going to make a set, although I reckon the suggestions above are every bit as good.

Those formers are identical to the box in my lock up . I dont know that they are worth that much but if you intend to regularly do posterwork its a steal !