Frequently Asked Questions
What is Letterpress?
Letterpress is a relief printing process wherein lead type, plates, linocuts, images, or photopolymer plates are locked into the bed of a press, inked via rollers or brayers, and paper is pressed into it to transfer the ink from the plates to the paper.
What things do you print?
We print business cards, invitations, envelopes, labels, tags, posters, bags...most anything that can be printed on paper! And we love a challenge, so ask us if you’re planning something different!
What is your turnaround time?
From the time we receive your final files and a 50% deposit, we generally need 10-15 business days to complete your order. Additional finishes (gold foiling, edge painting, beveling, corner rounding, drilling, calligraphy, etc…) may add more time to your order. You will be given a turnaround time at the time of your project order.
Why is letterpress printing more expensive than some other forms of printing?
Our production printers are specialized artists trained to use our equipment safely, properly, and expertly. It’s more than pushing “print” on a computer screen (though that would be nice!), and involves years to get quality prints.
Most of our projects are printed one at a time. This ensures that the result is beautiful, precise, and of the highest quality.
Our presses are amazing machines, and most of them are 75-150 years old. The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is, quite literally, very true for us. We, unfortunately, can’t go on Amazon and buy new ones. When they break, we grab ourselves a hammer and wrench and fix them ourselves (or work with the 1 or 2 specialists in the country to help out). And when new parts are needed, they must be specially machined because they literally don’t exist anymore.
How is designing for letterpress different than other types of printing or design?
Designing for letterpress is a perfect balance between design, paper, ink, and process, in which all of these things work towards a beautiful final product. Think of it as 3D, versus 2D. Something that looks fantastic on your screen might not be as successful when we get it on press.
What’s the deal with the impression into the paper?
Because of the way that the plates are inked and paper is pressed into it, letterpress can have an impression on most papers. Our printers are able to control that depth, but here are some things to remember:
If you are looking for a deep impression, remember that it is easier to impress the positive (type, images, lines) as opposed to a large area of color around type or images. Think of trying to sink a sheet of plywood into water - it is easier to submerge it when you have it on end, as opposed to laying it flat and pressing down.
If you do NOT want an impression, please let us know. (Fun fact - originally ALL letterpress was assumed to have NO impression, so good for you for keeping historically accurate!)
Paper choice matters GREATLY if you are wanting a deep impression. See below for more information.
Remember that if we are seeking a very deep impression, you will most likely see the result of this on the opposite side, what we call “bruising.” Thick papers will bruise less than thinner ones.
With large print projects (8x10 and up), it is hard to get a deep impression because of the area that is being impressed simultaneously.
We can "spot impress" specific areas of a design so that one place has more impression than others. This may incur an additional set-up cost.
How many colors can I use in my design?
Letterpress shines with fewer colors. The majority of custom projects are 1, 2, and 3 color prints. A few notes:
Black is a color.
Blind impression (no ink) is a color. It is a great way to go, but make sure your paper and design choice are going to support the level of impression needed to make a blind impression readable.
Letterpress ink is transparent, so when you layer two colors, it creates a third (think blue and a yellow overlapping to create green).
The paper will run through the press for each color (or blind impression), so the more colors, the more compressed the paper is and the harder it is to get a deep impression (if impression is important to you).
We use the Pantone Matching System (PMS) for ink mixing and choices of colors. Do not trust the color on your screen to be the color of the ink. Always check against an uncoated PMS book (we have one you can reference if you need one).
We offer a variety of standard house ink colors that can be used at no additional charge. There will be a $25 per color ink-mixing fee for custom colors.
We will note the number of colors in your estimate and invoice as 1/0, 2/0, 2/1, etc..., which means one color on one side/none on the other, two colors on one side, none on the other, or two colors on one side/one on the other, and so on...
What papers do you use?
We are paper people, and love paper of all types! Our favorites are cotton, including Reich Savoy, Strathmore, Arturo, and Crane’s Lettra and woodpulp ones like French Paper Company, Mohawk, Neenah, chipboard, etc… We have samples of all of our favorites in our studio and would be happy to pour over sample books with you. If you want something that we do not have, we will do our best to point you in the right direction on your paper search. A few things to remember:
Softer papers (cottons, bamboos, etc…) are going to give you the most “loft” to gain the most impression.
Harder papers (wood pulp, plastics), are going to be more limiting on impression.
Color of paper can change the appearance of specific inks and Pantone colors. Dark paper will show through most inks.
Coated papers take floods better, with less “saltiness,” but take longer to dry.
Plastic papers (plike, skin, yupo) “heal” after printing and will result in no impression whatsoever. But they take metallic inks better than almost any other paper.
Floods on uncoated papers will result in the classic letterpress “salty” texture, which is a result of the ink layer interacting with the paper and creating a unique mottled look.
Letterpress is great for so many design styles - what is challenging in letterpress?
Floods: When viewing your design on the computer screen, any floods will appear as solid areas of colors. When these same areas are letterpress printed, depending on the paper and coverage, they will appear mottled or “salty.” This is a desired effect that can only be created by letterpress, but is not often welcome by those who are used to digital printing or the solid appearance of a flood design on a computer screen. When floods are printed on one side, printing on the reverse will yield a lesser impression due to the compressing of the paper on the first pass.
Type knocked out of a flood: This is a striking look that really features the beautiful “salty” texture letterpress creates. It will not necessarily create an embossed area where the un-ink type is raised off the page, unless your design is specifically created to attempt this. Small type and serifs tend to fill in with ink when it is knocked out.
Halftones: Often referred to as “screens,” halftones are achieved by scaling an area back to a percentage. These are a great way to add interest or texture to a design, but need to be used with caution when creating variations on the same color. Often, they will have a pixelated look when not used correctly. A good option is to design an intentional hatching, linework, or pattern into the area to make it appear lighter than other 100% areas.
Line weights: Letterpress shines printing great lines, but the photopolymer plates used for designs can only hold line weight .25pt or larger. Hairlines also have a very low chance of being strong enough to hold in the plate.
FILE SET-UP FOR PHOTOPOLYMER PLATES
Files must be created in Illustrator or InDesign
Colors should be set to the uncoated Pantone Spot Colors
Bleeds pulled to .125”
Export to a PDF with crops
No line weights under .25pt
Type 6pt. or larger
Bruising: The area on the reverse side of a print that is “pushed out” due to deep impression.
Salty: The mottled ink area in a large section of print that is caused by the layer of ink and how it interacts with the plate material, how it is transferred to the paper, and the texture/tooth of the paper itself.
Flood: A large section of similarly-leveled area in a print design. Type or images may be “knocked out” to use the paper color as the relief color in the flood.
Embossing: A raised area of type or design created by pressing paper between a male-female die set. The reverse, or the “deboss” is clearly seen on the opposite side of the paper.
Debossing: An indented area of type or design created by pressing paper between a male-female die set. The reverse, or the “emboss” is clearly seen on the opposite side of the paper.
Blind Impression: A letterpress impression with no ink.