Geeky designers (and the folks who write about them!) love Legos, and Sam Cox and Justin LaRosa are no exception. Under their Physical Fiction aegis, these two graphic designers have put Lego to yet another wonderfully off-label use by constructing a working letterpress printer out of the bricks. By clicking smooth Lego tiles into place on plastic baseboards and inking the plates, they create handmade prints with an 8-bit aesthetic.
Letterpress printing was invented by Johannes Gutenberg (of “Gutenberg Bible” fame) and uses “reverse image” plates which are inked and then pressed against paper in a printing press to create a positive image. (The pic up top is what one of Physical Fiction’s Lego plates looks like when it’s inked up and ready to go into the press.)
The ink adheres to the flat tiles (but not the exposed “pegs”) and transfers the image to paper, creating a positive image like this:
The retro look of the graphics is, of course, intentional; the texture of the paper and ink interact with irregularities in the Lego tiles to create unique details in every print. “Some our work is definitely inspired by the characters, imagery, stories, and even sounds of old video games,” Cox told NPR in an interview about Physical Fiction’s quirky process. “I think working with pixels is always going to take people back to their old video games just because the pixel is such a crucial visual element in them.”
I know from experience that toy plastic blocks aren’t the most robust physical medium, so you’d better order up a print or two from Physical Fiction before their industrial strength inks and chemicals take their inevitable toll on the Lego plates.