WHAT IS LETTERPRESS?
Letterpress is a printing technique using raised plates to imprint the ink onto the paper. It differs from flat printing methods in that the ink is pressed into the paper rather than laying it onto the sheet surface as in digital printing. Since letterpress utilizes raised plates the debossed impression created gives an eye-catching tactile finish.
A LITTLE HISTORY
In the past letterpress purists have discouraged a deep impression into the paper. It was the sign of an inexperienced pressman. Originally plates were made of copper, or wood, and the force to create the deep impression crushed the plate, rendering it useless after few impressions. With modern letterpress, more durable polymer plates are now the norm and thick, pillowy paper is often used to get a deeper impression, and is especially popular on wedding stationery. This highly textured look is now sought after and considered luxurious and classic. The letterpress plate can also be used without ink to create a debossed impression alone. This popular and widely used technique is known as a blind impression.
Mid-century, modern printing techniques became a more cost-effective method of mass reproduction and letterpress fell out of favor. The beautiful old presses (check these out) were forgotten and left to rust for decades. But graphic designers began to seek out the process in the stationery and wedding invitation market and artisan printers rediscovered old presses in storage rooms and garages. As polymer plates became more accessible, letterpress enjoyed a solid resurgence and has staged a notable comeback in the last decade.
OTHER PRINTING TECHNIQUES
On occasion I’m asked about engraved wedding invitations. Engraving was a popular process in the past and has been confused with letterpress. It’s still used when a very traditional look is desired, but has generally given way to other techniques. The process, essentially the opposite method used in letterpress, utilizes a flat plate that is engraved with the image. Ink catches in the engraved impression and is pressed onto the paper. The force of the plate on the paper causes a slight emboss where the engraved, inked portion of the plate is, creating a slight relief on the finished piece. The tactile quality is much more subtle than that of modern letterpress impressions. Given the limited availability of printers who provide engraving and the involved set up process, engraving is costly and has become a lesser-used technique.
Thermography was created to mimic the look of engraving without the cost of expensive plates. The raised texture is created using slow-drying inks topped with thermographic powder that expands when exposed to heat.
Additionally The Bridal Press uses two types of foil processes, depending upon your budget and paper selections. Heat stamped foil uses a more traditional plate which creates a slight relief on the paper. While cold foil lays the foil smoothly onto the surface of the paper.
There are a multitude of additional methods that we use on custom wedding invitations or stationery items to give them their own character. These include but are not limited to silk screen, die cutting, laser cutting, and embossing. As a designer, I often combine several printing and finishing techniques to produce a work of art, worthy of the event of your dreams.