The Alphabet Press

letterpress studio
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

AS ONE OF the only letterpress studios in Malaysia, The Alphabet Press is passionate about combining the traditional, declining art of letterpress printing with modern design sensibilities. In addition to their letterpress products, they also do so through their custom stationery brand, ana.tomy.
It is just so rare to hear about letterpress studios these days, which is why I was keen to reach out and arrange a visit last May. An email thread later, and they graciously invited me to their workspace where they house their 70-year-old machines, and let me chat with them while they work.

First I meet to Anna, who started out as an intern and is now a full-time printmaker after eight years at The Alphabet Press. As I watch her work, she kindly talks me through the whole process of how their Heidelberg Platen letterpress machine works. Acquiring the machines was no easy feat and she shared about how the studio took months to convince the previous owner to sell it to them.
While working, she shared some anecdotes: commenting on how these 70-year-old machines were designed with many fail-safes, like overriding functions to halt production quickly and buttons that require use of both hands so as to make sure you don’t accidentally injure any of your fingers. It’s hard not to be drawn to the design details and the sheer power of each of these German letterpress machines.

Despite it being mostly repetitive work, Anna tells me that she finds it meditative and especially enjoys its tactile nature. While she has tried her hand at illustration (some of her designs have made their way into ana.tomy products), she still finds it far more stressful that working with the letterpress machines.
For the company, their most sought-after services are mainly wedding and corporate stationery and business cards. Pulling out a few drawers full of their past work, Anna shows me what they’ve done for clients over the years, including one business card embedded with seeds. In the past few years with the increasing appreciation for this nostalgic craft, they’ve been able to take on more commissioned work.

Next, I meet Cliff Leong, one of the founders of The Alphabet Press, who tells me that they were celebrating 10 years of operation that year! 

Coming from a web design background, Cliff and his fellow founders were first introduced to letterpress printing when designing their own business cards. This led to a trip to Idlewild Press in Melbourne where they became enchanted by the art of letterpress printing. It got them hooked on the idea of bringing letterpress printing to Malaysia. 
Cliff explains that because it is such a fading art, the letterpress community is generally rather small and they keep in touch mainly due to the need to buy or sell machine parts. There are printers’ fairs around the world for networking and to see how others have been combining old-school letterpress printing with more modern techniques.

For The Alphabet Press, their initial challenge when they first started was that no one knew what they were doing. There was a constant need to educate clients and customers, which Cliff admits they have seen improvement over the years.

Ten years in, their challenges have evolved. Now it is a question of helping the public see how the old art of letterpress is still relevant, especially when many think that print is a dying industry in an era of new technology, digitizing and AI.
When I asked him about the highs of their last decade, Cliff was candid about how it has been an honour to be recognized in the industry and to make the fading art of letterpress relevant and accessible in these modern times. One way they’ve done so is to start ana.tomy in 2016 with the knowledge gained from operating The Alphabet Press.

Specialising in creating customisable products that run along side their letterpress studio, ana.tomy serves like their “design arm”, where they get the chance to opt out of the formulaic and express their creativity. Through this endeavour, they have had the chance for exciting collaborations with local and international brands and artists. 

It’s not difficult to feel hopeful about the future of The Alphabet Press. It’s heartening to see them with ten years of success, the fruit of hard work and educating the public on this beautiful art. After my chat with Anna and Cliff, I made sure to pay a visit to the ana.tomy store at The Zhongshan Building, and it is full of beautifully designed goods with a whole section available for people to customise their own notebooks just the way they like it! I love how they’re bringing together a community of designers and artists and helping people fall in love with printed goods, one product at a time.

The Alphabet Press

Visited May 2023, published March 2024.