Letterpress Expressions | All You Need to Know
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How Letterpress Works

Letterpress printing is an amazing process. Printing presses are what made me decide to pursue letterpress in the first place. The first time I saw letterpress, I said to myself, “how did they do that?” I knew the piece couldn’t have been digitally printed. I Googled it, saw a printing press and I was hooked.


Letterpress is very labor intensive, but the end results are always amazing. Once your design is finalized, it will be made into a photopolymer plate. While I have drawers of lead type, I prefer to print with photopolymer since most clients like a deeper impression than lead type was designed to handle.
The paper that we print on starts out as large 20×26 inch “parent” sheets. The paper is stacked and hand cut on a Paragon guillotine-style cutter from the turn of the century (he fits right in with Gertie).


Once the paper and plates are ready, it’s time to print. Our printing press, Gertie Sue, is operated via a foot treadle. As the treadle is pumped, multiple, rhythmic, things are happening all at once. The rollers pass over the ink disc and then ride back down across the photopolymer plate, transferring ink to the plate. At the same time, the platen is opening and closing against the plate. The platen will only make contact with the plate if the throw-off lever is pulled. When the platen is the open position, a piece of paper is placed on the platen, held in place with gauge pins. When the platen closes and the throw-off lever is pulled, the paper makes contact with the inked plate and the design is transferred. When the platen opens up, the printed piece of paper is removed, and the next clean piece is put in place. Each piece of paper is hand passed through the press. Additionally, the press can only be inked with one color at a time, so two color jobs must be passed through the press twice. Once for the first color, and again for the second color.


How much will your job cost? The cost of your job will depend on numerous factors including number of ink colors, number of pieces, design factors (bleeds, for example), the weight of paper you choose, and more. Currently, I do not have a “one price fits all” price sheet. Instead, I prefer to talk to each client about their requirements and individually price each job based on it’s complexity. As a starting point, 100 invitations and RSVP cards printed in one ink color on 110lb paper along with printed envelopes start at $635, for basic designs. If you’d like a custom quote, feel free to contact me.


I print on Crane’s Lettra paper. Lettra is a 100% cotton paper that comes in two common weights, 110lb and twice as thick 220 lb. Lettra also comes in three colors: fluorescent white, pearl white, and ecru. In my portfolio, I have few examples of pieces printed on colored paper. The pink and light blue papers I use are a lighter weight paper at 96 lb and are made of cellulose. The lighter weight celluslose does not take an impression quite as well as Lettra, but it still prints beautifully.

Random fact: What do all these paper weights mean anyway? A paper can be classified by its basis weight in pounds or by its density in “gsm” (grams per square meter). When determining paper weight, the manufacturer will weigh a fixed number of sheets (500) of their standard sized paper. Since length and width do not change between the papers weighed, only the thickness can change, so a 220 lb sheet of crane lettra is twice as thick as a 110 lb sheet.

File Requirements

If you are designing your own invitations, you must use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to do your design work. Adobe Illustrator is the preferred software of the two. Important things to pay attention to when using Illustrator:

  • Make sure all line thicknesses are at least 0.35 pt. If the line thickness of your font are less than 0.35 pt, you will need to add a “stroke” to thicken them up.
  • Make sure all dots are at least 1 pt in diameter
  • Outline all fonts
  • All fonts must be 100% black
  • For two color jobs, you must include crop or registration marks. Each color must be in it’s own layer with an overlaying crop/registration mark.
  • Please send two copies of your design, an all black design ad mentioned above, and a colored version using colors from the uncoated Pantone guide.


There are other design factors, especially if you have a complex design. Please contact me prior to booking to discuss your design and make sure it is appropriate for letterpress. If you are thinking about designing your own invitations, there are other great design resources here and here. Also searching Google for “letterpress design tips” brings up some great results.