On craft sites like Etsy, letterpress note cards from hobbyists abound—it's almost too easy to find a pretty design. But for top-notch, gallery-quality pieces, there's one destination that the art and design world flocks to: Coeur Noir, a printer located in Brooklyn.
Konstantin Grab and Alex Kasavin opened Coeur Noir in Williamsburg in 2003 after moving from a garage set-up in San Francisco. The two drove cross country looking for abandoned or unused presses and shipped what they found to Brooklyn. "When we started, there was a gaping hole in the letterpress market," Garb says. "No one was offering it, but it was getting a lot of traction in the design industry and there was a real demand for traditional printing in New York." Though letterpress was invented in the 1400s, digital printing technology has usurped the industry and the old-school methods aren't as pervasive.
Coeur Noir's clients run the gamut from fashion brands—like Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Rick Owens—to tech companies—like Microsoft and YouTube—and design heavyweights like Pentagram. Moreover, it produces every sign in every Tiffany display case around the world and the invites for the Emmy awards. Its team of six people juggle between 10 and 25 different projects daily.
Over the years, Coeur Noir has worked with many fine artists to produce prints, but it has recently branched out to produce its own limited-edition works. Ryan McGinness is the inaugural artist and he produced 12 abstract, black-and-white graphics that illustrate his wife and infant son in a series called Mother & Child. He began by sketching the illustrations and refining the silhouettes so that they would transfer well to letterpress. After he finished the digital files for the graphics, Coeur Noir fabricated steel plates with the same image. Grab and his team then used a Vandercook Universal III press to make the final prints. The edition runs for a whopping $5,500, but the proceeds benefit Free Arts NYC, an arts education non-profit.
Coeur Noir is already at work on its next limited-edition artist print (though the practitioner has not been finalized). Next up? Launching an online template tool later this year that lets customers create things like business cards and wedding invitations without visiting the shop in person. Since everything is still custom, pricing depends on the complexity of the project (like how many colors are chosen for the final print), but starts at $250 for 500 single-color business cards and $800 for 100 single-color wedding invites. Think the ease of VistaPrint but with a finished product that's way more sophisticated and polished. (Patrick Bateman would likely approve.)
All Images: courtesy Ryan McGinness