8 Must Watch Documentaries About Printing and The Graphic Arts

Made it through all our film recommendations already?

No problem, here are just a few of our favorite feature length documentaries about printing and the graphic arts industry.  Happy viewing friends!

Printing History

The Machine That Made Us

A completely charming documentary hosted by a completely charming Stephen Fry. He, and just about everyone else in the film, aren’t afraid of hiding their absolute joy at retracing the footsteps of Johannes Gutenberg. They follow the life of Gutenberg and the many steps it took for him to turn out those famous Gutenberg Bibles. Stephen travels around the world to rediscover the art of papermaking, illuminations, and type casting (with friend of the Museum Stan Nelson, formerly of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History). A great look at Gutenberg and his press aka “The Machine That Made Us”

Watch Free on Top Documentary Films

 

Harvest of Wisdom

Originally made in 1994 this film covers a much wider range of history. From the origins of humanity and cave drawings to cuneiform and papyrus and then into Gutenberg and the advancements of printing. It has a short update added in 2014 to include the advancements of the 20 years between 1994 and 2014. The film ends by coming full circle, mentioning the pictograph plaque that was added to the Pioneer Space Craft that has been sent to drift in space indefinitely hoping that some extra-terrestrial will find this picture art and get some impression of humanity from it.

Watch Free on YouTube

 

Linotype

Linotype: The Film

An in depth look at the history of the amazing machine known as a Linotype. Viewers not only get a glimpse at the history of the machine but also useful tutorials on its mechanics and a sense of just how impactful this machine was on everyday life. The film doesn’t shy away from the reality of the machines future, it includes a devastating scene of a linotype being made into scrap metal. However, something tells me this film has more than inspired a new generation to take the preservation of the machine into their own hands.

Rent or Buy on Linotype: The Film Website

 

Farewell EtaoinShrdlu

Etaoin shrdlu is the first two columns on the linotype keyboard and was often used as filler text in the case of a typo when using a linotype. “Farewell etaoin shrdlu” is a fascinating look at the inside of the New York Times print shop on July 1, 1978, the last day of hot type at The Times. It’s an in depth look at how a Newspaper shop worked with linotypes and how it worked once the switch to computers were made. 

Watch Free on YouTube

 

Letterpress in the 21st Century

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film

A tribute and document of the modern letterpress community. It shows the wide array of current printers from the old hats to the new practitioners. We were lucky to have the Director and many of the stars at our screening of the film in 2017 during the APA Wayzgoose that took place at the Museum. If you were looking inspiration to take up letterpress printing (or retake up an old printing hobby), this is it.

Available for Digital Download, Blu-Ray & DVD
Stream on Amazon Prime

Stream with an LA Library Card on Kanopy

 

Los Ultimos (Endless Letterpress)

In Argentina, facing the advance of new technologies, the print shops are closing. At the same time, a group of young people rediscovers the greatest technical innovation in the history of the written word: typesetting printing. But will it be difficult for them to learn the trade since it has always been passed down from master to apprentice – and they are outsiders? The last graphic mechanic of the country will be in charge of teaching them so that this ancient technique can withstand the passage of time.

View for Free on Vimeo

 

Typeface

A profile of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, WI. which is located in the factory building of the Hamilton Manufacturing Compnay that made wood type until 1985. With an overwhelming collection of woodtype, dedicated staff, and workshops, the Museum is dedicated to advance the understanding of our printing and design heritage. The film gives you a peek at the work that the Museum does and its outstanding collection. The film started as an effort to increase awareness of the Museum and keep it running, and it has done that, plus much more.

Rent or Buy on Amazon

 

Typography

Helvetica

We imagine this pick might cause a little controversy, as Helvetica is not the most liked of fonts, just ask our Curator Mark who’s not a fan. However, it’s quite something to be both internationally despised and celebrated. Follow the history of the font and how it came to be one of the foremost fonts used in the modern age. Its title sequence pays homage to the font’s letterpress roots as well. Plus, it features friend of the Museum Erik Spiekermann.

Rent or Buy on Amazon

Stream with an LA Library Card on Kanopy


Narrowing this list down to just a few films was difficult as there is a plethora of great videos about the graphic arts. If you enjoy these films continue to explore all the short form documentaries that can be found on Youtube, Vimeo and other streaming sites. 

Look out for more viewing suggestions coming soon…


The International Printing Museum Foundation is a tax exempt, 501c3 public charity. The museum supports itself in part with its activities. programs, and tours, but with the current closure due to the health crisis the Museum will not be able to do so.

We will be relying on generous donations from individual and corporate donors more than ever. If you are able, please help to contribute with a tax deductible donation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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