typography cut out of wooden stencil then spray painted

Reconnecting with Tangible Typography

A look back at projects centered around the physicality of type

Julio Martínez
8 min readAug 18, 2020

Among the many micro aesthetic duties that come with implementing design projects, one of my favorites has always been typesetting, particularly in print. When all top-level design decisions have been made, and all big picture design approvals are in tow, shaping the columns of text and focusing on granular typographic minutiae is a gratifying task, one that brings a robust and satisfying sense of completion. It’s the stuff no one notices outside of fellow practitioners, but it makes all the difference. I like to think about this obsession as akin to how I imagine writers deliberating on word choices, or painters mixing shades of black in a night sky, or directors worrying about the light in a closing scene.

Several years ago, I saw a screening of Typeface, a documentary by Justine Nagan, at the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco. The film focused on the history and tools of printing, and provided a rich primer in the topic, showing the faces and ink smears of people devoted to this craft, the exacting craftspeople that aim to give words a “durable visual form,” as Robert Bringhurst so aptly put it.

Emboldened, shortly afterward I signed up for letterpress classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book. After a few courses of exercises and nuts & bolts, I started seeking a different project, so I decided to design our studio’s end-of-year promos using typography and analog techniques. I wanted to create hand-crafted pieces that could be sent to our peers & clients, to create objects that could provide a contrast to the day-to-day digital deliverables we usually generate.

2011: studies and the press at the San Francisco Center for the Book.

For our first promo, “Happy 2011,” I returned to SFCB, using the metal and wood type found in their cases, and letterpressed a simple design on a Crane’s Lettra stock, which had a lovely, thickly-toothed feel. There was no design beforehand, so I spent a lot of time rummaging through the wood type drawers, trying to find the perfect wear and tear in these blocks. This scavenger hunt was one of the most exciting parts, as type became a…



Julio Martínez

Creative Director, Educator, and Illustrator based in San Francisco, California. Born in México City.