“Old machines for modern design”—An Interview with Officina Typo in Modena

“A inventare i numeri” by Gianni Rodori poster by Officina Typo. Image courtesy of Officina Typo.

The lock-up for “A inventare i numeri” poster. Image courtesy of Officina Typo.

One of the optional events of Legacy of Letters 2022 Tipo Cibo Vino was a visit to Officina Typo following a morning at the Biblioteca Estense. No one signed up for it.

But I was eager to see the shop since it had been recommended to me by Sandro Berra of the Tipoteca. Thus, after a wonderful seafood lunch nearby at Oyster Barba, Peter Kruty, Sayre Gaydos, Patricia Childers, Erica Carras, and I walked over to Officina Typo. What was intended as a quick courtesy visit —since we had two gastronomic tours scheduled later that afternoon—turned into an hour-long stay. When our van arrived to take us to the Museo Giusti, everyone else on the tour piled out of it and into the print shop. They were entranced by the work they saw on the walls, counters, and other surfaces.

It was at that moment that I realized Officina Typo needed to be an integral part of Legacy of Letters 2023.

An interior view of Officina Typo. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2002).

Officina Typo is located in Modena, a city best known for Ferrari and Maserati, the Italian luxury car makers whose factories are on its outskirts. The letterpress shop is co-owned by the husband-and-wife team of Silvano and Gina and their daughter Ebe. Their motto is: “Old machines for modern design.”

We have dedicated ourselves to “slow print”, to the beauty of handicraft where mind and hands go together. We have returned to dirty hands, the smell of ink, and paper cut and folded by hand. We love art prints and experimentation, artist books and limited editions, graphics, woodcuts and calcography.

I interviewed the three of them by email recently. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

From left to right: Gina, Silvano, and Ebe of Officina Typo. Image courtesy of Officina Typo.

Paul: When did you start Officina Typo?

Officina Typo: Gina and Silvano started the activity in the winter of 2010–11 and in 2012 Ebe joined them as part of Officina Typo.

Paul: What motivated you to start it?

Officina Typo: Officina Typo was born out of a desire to renew a youthful love for typography and letterpress that Gina and Silvano discovered while attending the Scuola del Libro (School of the Book) in Urbino. Working in the printshop, Ebe also fell in love with letterpress. Officina Typo has a deep love for typography, composition with movable type, woodcut engravings, and printing with hand presses.

A hand press at Officina Typo. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2002).

Paul: What background or education in printing and graphic design did each of you have?

Officina Typo: Ebe has a classical humanist  [liberal arts] education. She attended a classical high school and studied Art History at university. Gina and Silvano attended art schools in Urbino and Ravenna and the advanced graphic design course in Urbino (ISIA).

Paul: Where did you acquire your type?

Officina Typo: We have collected various types over the years. We mainly bought them from disused print shops.

Paul: Which typeface is your favorite? 

Officina Typo: Our favorite type is definitely Semplicità. Semplicità is a rationalist type designed by Alessandro Butti in 1928 for the Nebiolo foundry in Turin. It belongs to the family of rationalist fonts of which the most famous is Futura. All modernist types are super beautiful and have great personality, but Semplicità has one more feature: it is very ductile.

Some large sizes of Semplicità at Officina Typo. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: What type of clients do you have?

Officina Typo: Mainly young people from 25 to 50 years old. Graphic designers mainly, but not only. Letterpress, paper and graphics are loved by everyone.

Paul: What sort of jobs do you print for them?

Officina Typo: We produce limited edition micro-editions of posters, books and games. And these are our own productions, projects conceived and created by us in Officina Typo. We also print artist books and art prints in collaboration with artists or with anyone who has a personal project they want to make.

There is also a more commercial side of Officina Typo: the design and printing of wedding invitations, souvenir cards for important events, business cards, university degree thesis covers, photo album covers, music album covers, and personalized posters.

View of Officina Typo with posters, postcards, and games on display. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

“Tanti Tipi” poster by Officina Typo. Image courtesy of Officina Typo.

Lock-up for “Tanti Tipi” poster. Image courtesy of Officina Typo.

Paul: When I visited you for the first time last summer, I noticed that you sell posters, cards, and other things. Who designs them?

Officina Typo: We are three and all three of us design posters, books and games. We always have many projects to carry on, but letterpress is a slow art so we have a very long list of projects. Then there are personal preferences. For example, Ebe and Gina like composing more, while Silvano likes printing more. But we all do everything—there is no real division of labor.

Paul: Thank you for your time in answering my questions. I am looking forward to having a second chance to see your shop this summer and talk with all three of you further. 

Legacy of Letters 2023 will take place from June 29 to July 12, 2023. It will include stops in Milano, Torino (to visit the Archivio Tipografico), Alpignano, Casteggio, Parma, Modena, Predappio, Venice, and Cornuda. We will visit five libraries/museums, four letterpress shops, one silkscreen shop, and the Tipoteca where we will have a multi-day letterpress workshop.