Bruno Press Crafts Modern Valentines with an Old-Fashioned Letterpress

Ever wish you had more options than “I Love You,” “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…” or “To My Beautiful Wife” for a Valentine’s Day card?

How about something like: “I Tolerate You” or “Truth be told, Valentine’s Day does make me think of my true love… Whiskey.” Mary Bruno delivers on that—as the founder and operator of Bruno Press, an old-fashioned, everything-made-by-hand letterpress print shop with an attitude in little St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Mary Bruno knocks traditional greeting cards on their butts. Photo courtesy of Bruno Press.

Bruno creates a wide variety of striking Valentine’s Day cards, but you won’t find traditional messages of devotion in her lineup.

“I won’t print a card if I don’t think it’s funny,” she said, laughing.

She likes breaking the stereotype of what a greeting card should say.

I love making cards for all kinds of people. Valentine’s Day is hard, but I’m salty about it—so I’ll always have good material.”

Her cards range from swear-word-laden birthday cards, to LGBTQ-friendly material, to cards you can send your buddy if they get a DUI.

“I’m all about the niches and the underdogs,” Bruno said.

Bruno took over the print shop after her father passed away. He had amassed an impressive collection of traditional letterpress printing machines which had gone out of style during his tenure as a graphic design professor at St. Cloud State University.

One of Mary Bruno’s Valentine’s Day creations. Photo by Maria Bartholdi.

“Shops were literally just throwing those machines away,” Bruno said. “So my dad said, ‘I’ll take them!'”

Letterpress printing involves the setting of type or images on metal or wooden plates, inking them and printing each piece one at at a time by pressing the ink onto the paper. Invented in the 15th century, letterpress remained the primary form of printing until the mid-20th century when offset printing became popular.

Bruno would spend long summer days with her dad in the shop growing up—and eventually got a degree in printmaking herself. She never thought she would use that degree for an actual career—more as a hobby—but after taking over the shop, she couldn’t be happier.

“I think for as much as we love beautiful new technology… there’s something in us that still likes the inner workings and likes to grease old presses,” she said. “It’s just in our DNA somewhere.”

Check out this behind-the-scenes look at her throwback print shop.

Maria Bartholdi is the video producer for Rewire. She’s the proud recipient of 5 Upper Midwest Emmy Awards and loves telling emotional, inspiring, and visually stunning stories.