Letterpress harkens back to the earliest form of printing with moveable type. It’s a relief printing process, which means printing from the surface of an object like a woodblock or piece of metal type. Originally, it was considered bad form to see an impression on a sheet of paper with letterpress, and great pains were taken to make the image as sharp and clean as possible without punching into the sheet. Now, the opposite is desirable. Everybody wants the image to be felt in the paper! To design a letterpress job that will turn out like you envision, here are answers to the most commonly asked questions:
How does letterpress printing work?
Contemporary letterpress is done mostly using photopolymer plates created from digital image files (using lead or wooden type is very rare). A piece of negative film is produced from the digital file and is used to expose the polymer plate materials. The film negatives create the reversing of the raised image or text.
How is letterpress printing priced?
Most printers will base their price on three things: the quality of the paper stock, the quantity required and the number of colours.
The number of colours makes a difference because each requires an additional pass through the press. The quantity also makes a
difference because the setup fee is the same for a quantity of 50 or 500. The cost per piece goes down as you get into larger quantities.
Can I have more than one colour?
Letterpress projects usually have one or two colours. While more than two colours makes a beautiful piece, the cost increases dramatically. Remember that unlike offset printing, letterpress machines only print a single colour in each pass. If your design uses three colours, each sheet will have to be run through the press three times.
What file types work best?
A press-ready PDF with embedded fonts or else an AI or EPS with outlined type and linked images. If outlining fonts, be sure to save
the file as a new file name in case future edits are required. Outlining is the only safe way to ensure that fonts do not shift when the printer opens your file. As for sizing, the files should be 100% scale, so use the ruler feature to check that the design is the final size you want.
Can I letterpress on dark paper?
Letterpress ink is translucent but is striking when dark ink is applied onto light paper. Applying light ink onto dark paper means the paper will show through. If your design requires dark paper, your printer can run the piece through the press again to make the colour
more intense. Another option is to letterpress a light stock and then duplex it to dark stock.
Can I letterpress a large solid area?
Yes, but the paper will show through. For letterpress, a large solid is anything bigger than ½” thick. Letterpress solids are not the same as offset printed solids because letterpress creates more texture. Also, if you want to print a solid area and text in the same colour, your printer may have to print the solid in a separate press run. This will ensure that the solid area and text have proper inking, but it will also increase your cost. Is there a minimum or maximum font size? What about lines? Typically a font size of 12 points or larger
works best. Lines should be at least .25 point or .003” thick.
What colour should I use in my file?
If your design has just one colour, use 100% CMYK black. If the design is anything other than 100% black, the design may not print
cleanly. If your design uses more than one colour, each colour should be in a different layer and should be a Pantone uncoated
colour, not RGB, CMYK or Indexed colours. Be sure to tell your printer what colour corresponds with the ink colours to be used.
What resolution should my design be?
The higher the better, but 600dpi is sufficient. To make the image as crisp as possible convert the file to black and white.
Do I have to add crop marks?
Yes, crops marks are the best way to help your printer determine whether it is including everything you intended and setup the file for its final layout. While you would specify the final size of the printed piece in your order, crops marks are particularly important when your design bleeds off the page.
Letterpress is gaining in popularity for a variety of applications, not just invitations and business cards. The process gives a luxurious or old-world charm to printed work. Embrace your inner Gutenberg.