What is Letterpress Printing & how is it done?

Letterpress printing has become a go-to printing technique for wedding invitations, greeting cards, and business cards for anyone hoping to make an impression (pun intended) on the recipient.

It is traditionally done on cotton stocks as it gives the deepest impression, but we’ve found that we can achieve a fabulous, crisp impression on almost all of our gorgeous card stocks. We don’t recommend using light coloured inks on dark stocks - we prefer to use darker ink on light paper because that is what gets the best results.

A little bit of history for you: Traditionally, letterpress printing involved arranging individual blocks of 'moveable type' into a caddy, forming words from the combination of letters. All of the characters were moulded in reverse, and the words had to be similarly arranged in reverse. Images could be included, but needed to be etched in either wood or metal, making it a time-consuming process.

Thankfully, in the 20th century a new & much simpler process was invented, whereby digital text and graphics could be created on a computer & then produced using a flexible relief plate - this is how we create your letterpress designs today.

So, how do we do it?

The digital design is output to a film as a negative, and then exposed to a light-sensitive, water soluble polymer plate using UV light. The portions of the plate that are exposed through the clear parts of the film harden, and what is not exposed, washes away. What remains is a raised surface in the shape of your design. A separate plate is produced for each colour being printed (including an extra plate if you are using blind impression as part of your design).

These plates are stuck onto an aluminium plate that raises the plate to type high. The plate is then affixed to a machined metal base which is locked into the press, ready to be inked up & lovingly squished into your stock of choice.

Ink is mixed by hand - carefully weighed out to perfectly match the specific colour recipe of your chosen Pantone colour (this is why the ink colour you choose MUST be from the Pantone Uncoated Swatch book). Mixing ink is a finicky process and can take a number of test runs on the press to achieve the correct colour.

Letterpress printing takes quite some time. Even the inking process has to be done carefully - too much ink on the press will produce a sloppy print; too little, and the colour will not be solid. Each page is fed by hand, and each colour of a print job can be several hours on press from start to clean-up.

Differences in pressure and the amount of ink can dramatically affect the printed colour, so adjustments are made throughout the print process to produce the desired colour, and the press is closely monitored throughout the print run to ensure the colour & impression remains consistent.  

The ink is then allowed to dry and the next day, the press is inked up in another colour (if your design consists of more than one PMS colour) & the process repeated, or prepared for finishing & trimming, ready to be checked by our beady-eyed QA perfectionists & lovingly packed to be sent to you.

Be sure to check out our Artwork Guidelines for important details to consider when creating your design for letterpress printing.


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