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  • Naomi Kent

Ringgit, Penang & Canai

2.5 years ago I was in Malaysia and completely taken aback by the tiles upon which I walked in the once colonial Penang. I photographed them all and thought about how they would make such lovely printing ornaments. When I got back to the UK I began sketching them on graph paper.

My first port of call to have a matrix made was the Type archive in London, I’d previously been and knew they had the facilities to do so. However the quote came back for £5,000 and I was told it was only possible in 12pt.

I was in luck when I met Ed of Swamp press at St Bride Wayzgoose back in may 2017. I was curious about some newly cast type he had that I’d never come across before. He explained that he’d designed the typeface and engraved the matrices himself in order to cast the type. Ed turned out to be my lifeline and I think (correct me if I’m wrong) the only person actively engraving matrices over 12pt.

The emails that followed saw lots of technical jargon that I had to get my head around when thinking about my designs. Thankfully Andrew Dolinski who would cast my type was on hand to help explain to me the technical issues. The problem I had was that my designs came too close to the edge of the type. This would create a ‘beard’ beyond the body of the type and so the type cannot sit closely to one another. This beard must be hand dressed, meaning to sand the sides down until they could sit flush next to each other. I was advised against this by both Andrew and Ed because of the inaccuracies and the time consuming nature of it. My inexperience of casting type and my passion for the ornaments which I had designed so that they touch meant that I went against the experts’ recommendation. If my designs couldn’t join up when they were printed, I wasn’t interested in having them made. This was the sole point of the designs. I don’t have many designs which touch when printed together – perhaps this is why! I of course know now why it was avoided!

I got the mats August 2018 and Andrew cast them for me in October. It was so exciting to finally see my designs as type after 2 years of the project beginning! As the type was cast I sanded away at all 4 sides of the pieces of type so that we could lock them up and give them a quick proof.

Ornaments fresh off the caster


First quick proof with sanded down edges


Here is a piece of type through a magnifying glass, it shows the beard overhanging the body of type.


I was ready to sand down the 400 or so pieces of type on all 4 sides until Andrew saved the day. He had set up his mini CNC engraver to mill off the millimetre or so on each side down to the height of the body of type. We spent a whole day in the garage milling every side of 400 pieces of type. It all went very smoothly, but we did begin to notice that one of the designs was inconsistent due to the fragile design on each of the corners.

Andrew showing me how to trim the beard off


Back in Birmingham I proofed the type and my worries were confirmed, the tiny detail on one of the designs meant that each piece of type was inconsistent and that when printed next to each other the design where all 4 corners met in the middle were ever so slightly (and I mean ever so slightly) out of place. But the devil is in the detail and Andrew saves the day with a way around the problem.

His plan is to electroplate the design from the ornament onto a new matrix so that we can cast without having a beard, thus taking away the need for any milling to be involved! Time will tell.

Each set of ornaments are named after my experiences in Malaysia.

Canai – Roti Canai is a popular flatbread dish which is traditionally served with a curry and eaten at breakfast. I was hesitant against curry for breakfast to start with, but it soon became our routine.

Ringgit – The currency used in Malaysia, we were quick to rename it ringading.

Penang – A Malaysian state we fell in love with, full of culture and tiny streets lined with colonial architecture.

These designs will be available to purchase as soon as we recast the Penang ornament.

I can’t thank Andrew enough for his help in this project – the hours he has put in, the enthusiasm and passion and his knowledge – Thank you Andrew! You can follow his adventures in electroplating matrices @the_carpathian_type_foundry

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