Letterpress, CSS & HTML – 3rd year New Media course

Course taught by Fabian Saptouw and myself to third year New Media students at the University of Cape Town's Michaelis School of Fine Art. An intro to "the web" with a focus on typography & language

Course outline:

In this project our goal is to find ways to engage the physical presence, materiality, textuality and visual qualities of letterpress in an online environment.

We examine the following key issues during the two week course:

  • The development of the printed word
  • The technological innovations that accompanied the written, printed and digital word
  • The tension between image and text
  • The way we look at text
  • The front-end and back-end of online textual content
  • How to create textual content through coding in HTML and CSS

Starting point:

Each student will receive a Printer’s Pi from Michaelis’ stock of letterpress. Students use this jumbled mass of letters to start thinking laterally about how meaning is generated through text. Each student will attempt to try to compose a series of words, ideally a full sentence with the type. Students print this type on the Vandercook press, in the Michaelis printmaking department. The print is a springboard for the rest of the project.

The second step:

Students are expected to find a way to materialise their print using HTML and CSS, trying to think creatively about the link between the code to its source material. The key concepts of HTML and CSS, the basic ‘building blocks’ of any website, are explained. Students’  task is to find ways to echo the tangible presence of letterpress type in the online environment, by focussing on the materiality, textuality or the visual qualities of the print and the printer’s pi.


Students show the locked up printer’s pi, the print, a screen with their coded project, and a print-out of the actual code in their exam spaces.