Letterpress Printing Realities


Letterpress printing is an ancient craft that has existed since the 14th century and its invention has enabled men to duplicate text at a faster and more reliable speed than its only alternative back in the day – manual copying.
Recently the craft has experienced a renaissance of sorts with the celebration of the maker and the appreciation of all things crafts, and this phenomenon has enabled people from all walks of life to appreciate the tactile feel of a letterpress print.
With its beauty and history, admirers are aplenty. Part of its allure also lies in its imperfections.

Imperfections that only make people love it more?! Did I say it right? Indeed, the writer confirms.

Most clients who request for letterpress prints are aware of its ability to break uniformity and the consistency of what one can expect from modern printing techniques like digital printing.

The non-uniformity lies in the hands of the letterpress printer who is the master creator. He is tasked with making the plates, aligning the print, inking up the plate, ensuring ink consistency across multiple prints etc.
In addition to having to control the many variables in the process, he also has to work the machine (which usually dates back to the 1920s) manually.

As such, it is important to note that the objective to produce beautiful prints involves an arduous and thoughtful process controlled by humans.

Having said that, I will not shock you by saying that 70% of a print job is often not consistent.
That is not the case. Most letterpress printers are often industrious and quick-thinking tinkerers of machinery and meticulous to a fault. Hence, a print job’s quality can be assured to be of high standards.

In the case of imperfections, it is necessary for modern consumers to understand the limitations of this ancient method of printing. Here are some areas to take note of:

    • Color consistency: There could be slight differences in color intensity between prints of the same job. This could be due to the printer choice, where some do not use a continuous inking system for low volume print jobs.
    • However, letterpress printers are competent enough to top up ink as necessary to maintain the same color intensity
    • Gradients / Photos: Letterpress printing works best for solid lines and / or colors. Hence even though gradients and photos are technically printable, they may not look their best
    • Mottled Effects: Large colored patches are technically printable, however, they may not print solidly as they require large pressure across a large surface area. The result might be mottled / patchy coverage. This mottled coverage is sometimes an intentionally sought-after effect
    • Tiny dots and Thin Lines: If your artwork includes these, do take note that these do not print well. Hence, it ain’t the printer’s fault. ^_^

We love printing and we love assisting you with your print purchase.
This article is meant to increase the consumer’s awareness of the printing process is like and also to manage your modern expectation of “perfection”.

Thank you for reading.