iPad App Review: LetterMPress Reviewed by Guy Dayen
LetterMPress, by Bonadies Creative, aims to recreate a vintage printing press right on the iPad. Anyone with a creative bent will find many uses for the graphics that can be virtually "printed" with this beautiful hand-cranked press. Scrapbookers, graphic artists, designers, and lovers of typography will be able to produce unique works of art that can be saved to the iPad's photo album or shared through email. The graphic files can then be opened in other programs so they can be integrated in a myriad of projects.
Working with the app
The people at Bonadies have made it their goal to recreate the experience of using a real printing press, and they have done a great job! From the look of the press to their choice of fonts and dingbats, all of the graphic stylings of the app speak to their attention to detail and their obvious love for printing.
The basic idea of LetterMPress is that you get to compose a design from scratch, just as you would on a real press. You must choose the type and set it, decide if you want ornamentation, and figure out where to place everything. You also have to take into account the negative space that will be part of the design and set off the words and pictures you chose as part of your project. It?s about as old school as you can go, but by bringing this process to the iPad, it feels like something totally new. It also affords everyone the virtual opportunity of doing something that has become quite uncommon in today?s society. It?s a great history lesson in itself, as you can really understand how type was set in the old days, and you can go through the same creative process that printers did.
LetterMPress presents you with the blank slate of the press bed. You then rummage through your font drawers to find just the right typeface for your project. There are dingbats and decorative elements as well. You can mix and match the fonts, and you will find upper and lower case letters to use. The only constraint is that you have to use the fonts provided in the app, but there is enough variety to allow for a good range of projects. However, I hope that more fonts and dingbats will be available in a future update, or offered as an optional in-app purchase. I?m one of those people that think the more fonts you have at hand, the better.
You also have blocks of woods, magnets and quoins (metal pieces that lock your letters and blocks in place) at your disposal so that you can place every element of your design exactly where you want it. This aspect of the printing process really lets you be creative, as there are no preset placeholders at all. You?re in charge of every design decision. This sounds a bit intimidating, but it really isn?t. By starting with simpler designs and practicing how the various elements are manipulated on the press bed, you?ll soon be very confident and you?ll be producing ever complex images.
Practicing is very important, because manipulating the elements can be a bit tricky. It?s really frustrating when you?ve got everything aligned just right, and then you drop a block of wood or a letter where you didn?t want it, and everything moves out of place. I know the creators of the app want to give a very realistic experience, but I?d love to see at least the option of locking individual elements in place to minimize the impact of unintentional drops.
Remember to take your time when you move things around. A good tip to keep in mind is that you must hold an element for a few seconds when taking it out of its drawer. You will see the shadow wiggle a bit. That means the element will now float above the press bed until you are ready to place it. Triple-tapping any item on the press bed will make it disappear, so be careful when you move or resize an element.
Everything can be resized up or down in LetterMPress, so make sure to use the rulers to be sure things are just the size you want them to be. Fonts increase or decrease in size by small increments, so it?s relatively easy to keep things relatively the same size. It?s nice to have such control over the look of the letters you place on the press bed. However, an option to have all the letters change size in exact proportions would also be welcome, as it would save a lot of time when doing a quick project.
There are two main areas in the application: the composition area and the printing area. You can zoom in on the composition area of the press so you can really see what you?re working on, and refine the little details of the composition. Using rulers and furniture (the technical name for the wood blocks used as spacers), quoins and magnets, you can make sure the letters and graphics are lined up just the way you want before going on to the printing phase.
The press itself is seen from above, and as you crank the handle, you can see the roller inking, and the paper go through the press to produce your print. It?s really neat to see the whole process as it happens. Kids will love to help by turning the crank and making prints. It is here that you will choose the paper for printing your design, and where your finished project will be placed for ?drying?. You are also able to mix your own custom colors here, so your projects can be truly unique and very personal. It?s an easy process, and it?s fun to do. It?s another thing that kids can help with, if you want to involve them in the projects you?re working on.
The sound design of LetterMPress is very true to life, but it is fairly minimal. You get a satisfying ?thunk? when you drop the blocks of wood in the composition area, and there are metallic clinks when working with the quoins and magnets. When things are moving or colliding with each other, you hear that too. It really adds to the feeling of actually working on a press as you compose away.
It?s essential that you take the time to read the help documentation before you start working with LetterMPress; otherwise, you might find yourself rapidly getting frustrated. It?s important to know where to find all the elements you?ll need for your design, where to find your ?papers? and where your final designs are kept. You need to understand how to manipulate everything, and how to mix your own ink color. The directions are clear and well-written. It may take you ten to fifteen minutes to go through all the help screens; please do it, it is time well-spent, and you will enjoy the app a whole lot more.
One thing that could vastly improve LetterMPress would be the ability to undo! In case there is unintentional movement of the elements on the press bed (and there will be, trust me), having an undo button would be fantastic. Again, I understand the creators want to keep everything as realistic as possible, but having undo, even as an option in the app settings, would avoid a lot of frustration. I really hope this feature will be implemented soon.
I took a printing class back in high school, and I can say with great assurance that LetterMPress replicates the classic printing process very faithfully; except that you won?t get ink all over your hands and clothes. LetterMPress is a wonderfully creative app for the iPad. I enjoyed creating word art and other designs with it. It allows me to give my CD covers and greeting cards a great handmade look. I have a page of artistic apps on my iPad, and LetterMPress has earned a permanent place there. I?ll be using it often, and I suspect you will too.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5): 4.5
Graphics: 5 The printing press is beautifully recreated, and the wood elements are excellently rendered as well. An impressive visual achievement. Sound: 4 Minimal sound effects, but they are very well executed. Controls: 4 Manipulating the various elements can be finicky at times, and it would be helpful to have the option to lock individual elements in place to avoid accidental displacements during composition. Usefulness: 5 LetterMPress is a great way to create personalized designs that can be used in a ton of different ways.
Hints and Tips:
- Read the help documentation before using LetterMPress, especially if you want to do more complex designs. You?ll be glad you did. - Holding on to an element for a few seconds when taking it out of its drawer will make it float above the press bed. Wait for the shadow to wiggle a bit before moving it out to the composition area. - Remember that double-tapping drops an element onto the press bed, and that triple-tapping removes an element.
LetterMpress will release its first update this Thursday. The update adds two new wood type fonts, Tuscan and Lydian Bold, with lowercase variants. The LetterMpress update for the iPad also includes user-friendly Undo and Redo features, making it even easier for professionals and beginners alike to create beautiful letterpress graphic designs.