The letterpress printing process is the oldest printing method, and the method was invented back in 1450. The printing process was widely used by most newspapers and other larger printers until offset print was invented. The printing process is mostly manual and used by printers who produce special occasion stationery and products that are customised during production.
So in a nutshell – The letterpress – is a method of printing in which raised surfaces covered with ink are pressed onto the paper ( like a rubber stamp-ish ).
Letterpress can produce work of high-quality prints, but it requires much time to adjust the press for varying thicknesses of type, engravings, and plates.
Here’s my Letterpress – Vicobold which was created around the 1950s.
Process of Letterpress printing:
The first step – Creating a design, choosing ink colours, paper options, and any other extras
Step Two – Time to order letterpress plate/s
What is a letterpress/polymer plate? A photopolymer plate is a sheet of polymer with one side that is light sensitive. The digitally created design is transferred to a photo negative that is placed on top of the sheet of polymer. It is then exposed to light in a controlled exposing unit.
Here you can see the photopolymer plate attached to my press (on your right).
The complexity of the design: If the design includes only one colour, there will be only one plate to print from. If there is more than one, then every colour will have to have a separate plate with each colour.
Please note if you are ordering wedding invitations + accommodation card/ gift wish + RSVP in one colour, we will need three different polymer plates, one for each design, if you chose two colours, this will equal 6 polymer plates etc.
Step Three – Preparation to print + print itself
Once I have received the polymer plates, paper, envelopes & ink, it’s time to prepare for the exciting part – printing! The first step will be to oil the machine & make sure all parts are working just fine. The press has been built many, many years ago, so it can be very temperamental at times.
Then it’s time to mix the ink! Having the Pantone book always comes in handy. This swatch book includes every single colour & shade you can think of.
I can only print one colour per time + one design per time. Letterpress print is very time-consuming. It is not the printing itself (of course, it’s constant adjustments, print check, ink check, roller height check etc.) but also preparation; when changing the polymer plate for another design, the press needs adjusting too (ink rollers, paper positions etc.), if there is another colour then at the top, I have to clean the press entirely, and then re-ink with new colour, then again adjust roller height etc.
* Three different runs-
Time-wise – It can take from a few hours to a full day to print one project, sometimes even longer.
Of course, we all know we have to clean after work, but cleaning after this kind of print is necessary. I use oil-based inks to print, which when left on rollers for over a few hrs the ink would dry and this would destroy the rollers and not to mention it would take triple of time to remove dry oil ink from any surface.
Step Five – Drying time
We have prepared and printed and now the ink needs some time to fully dry. I always allow a full day for the ink to dry.
If we had two different colours on the same project to print, we would have to follow all steps until now, let it dry and then restart from step Three, mixing the ink and so on.
Best paper – To see the full potential of print – thick cotton paper is always the best. I always recommend Crane’s Lettra – 500gsm, Created by GFSmith – especially for letterpress print, pure 100% cotton paper not only enhances the print, makes it sharper but also is environmentally friendly.
Can I see it? – Of course, you can order a sample or book your appointment, and see all the samples face to face.
What is the biggest size I can print? – A5
The minimum quantity – is 20. Why? Hopefully, after reading this article you understand how long it takes to create the project. It is not only time consuming but also requires ordering a polymer plate with the details of the project. Ordering anything less than 20 would not be cost-effective.
When it comes to cost, the bigger quantity, the lower amount per card. For example, 20 x letterpress A6 cards in one colour would be approx £5/6 each but 100 x the same design would equal £2.15 each. Because of the setting up cost + polymer plate, it takes a long time to set up the press to run one colour.
I love this printing method! What do I need to do to order mine? – Fill out “the form” and I will take it from there.
Final note – Is it really worth the hassle? – YES, EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!
Why? Because it is not mass-produced, because no other printing method can create such as high quality, deboss print. Because printing on letterpress is creating art itself. There is so much passion, creativity & care invested in this little project, there’s so much value. Letterpress it’s an exclusive, unique way of creating art.