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Guide to Print Techniques: Letterpress Printing

Letterpress, foil stamping, offset, raised letter, engraving. Each print method is unique—with advantages and disadvantages, different price points, and certain beauties and intricacies. And we take for granted that we work in the paper business and know so much about all of these nuances. 

Do you ever feel like you’re in the dark when talking to a stationer or looking at stationery in a shop or online? Our guide to print techniques—which will be published over the next month or so—will hopefully clear up any confusion and allow you to make an educated decision about your custom stationery project. 

First up? Letterpress! At Society Paper Goods, we make no secret about this print method being one of our absolute favorites. There is something oh so special about the cotton paper, the impression you can visibly see and feel, and the history behind this kind of printing. 

Letterpress printing, originating in the mid-15th century and created by Johannes Gutenberg, is one of the world’s oldest and most enduring forms of printing. This print method uses printing plates, applied with hand-mixed ink, to imprint (or press) a design into paper. Prior to computers, type and design was hand-set. Now, a digital file can be converted into a plate which exactly replicates the design and eliminates the need to hand-set anything. Nevertheless, this is a more labor-intensive print method. Each ink color is applied and printed individually, and each sheet of paper is hand-fed into the press. Since letterpress ink isn’t perfectly opaque, it occasionally needs a second “pass” for more vibrant coverage. In spite of all the labor and care, the end result is beautifully handmade and feels sophisticated and highly-custom. 

Keep in mind: 

  • Letterpress is more expensive; the cost reflects the labor and process as well as the pure cotton paper required to achieve an optimal product. 
  • Letterpress printing is ideal for more simple layouts with fewer colors of ink (unless you have the budget for more than the average number of colors and a more intricate design).
  • Given that the ink is less than opaque, letterpress printing is more successful on light to medium paper colors. If you’d like to print on a dark color like black, navy, brown, etc., we’d suggest foil stamping. But more on that later!

Why choose letterpress? If you’re looking for paper goods that will stand out and have a more sophisticated feel, this might be the best option for you. Letterpress printing also shines when the design is defined by beautiful typography and unique design elements. If your project features stunning calligraphy or high-end design elements, you might consider letterpress printing!

Guide to Print Techniques: Foil Stamping

Behind the Paper: Samantha & Chris