As we have had the opportunity to meet with new clients and work on custom designs for different people we are continually asked the same question, “how does letterpress work?”. Which is why for this post I wanted to take a little time to explain a bit about the letterpress process for those who are interested.
Letterpress printing dates back to the 14th century with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Back then, and even today, people used lead type to create the impressions you can see and feel on a letterpressed print.
Lead Letterpress Type
Noteworthy uses photopolymer plates (a light-sensitive plastic) to create our designs instead of lead type as it frees us from any font or design limitations, not to mention it requires much less storage space. Once we complete our design and get our photopolymer plate made we attach it to a metal plate and put it into the press. The next step is to mix the ink to create just the right color. The ink is then spread onto a round metal disk at the top of the press. The press is equipped with 2-3 rubber rollers that travel from ink disk to plate to refresh the ink between impressions. The press then presses the inked plate against a piece of paper. Each one of the pieces of paper is hand fed into the moving press. If the design calls for multiple ink colors a different plate has to be created for each color and the paper has to be re-fed into the press for each color.
As you can tell letterpress is a major hands on process and requires a lot of time and attention to detail. The printing process can often be very frustrating, trying to get the plate to ink properly or press with just the right pressure. But however frustrating the process may be at times, nothing is more rewarding than perfecting a print and delivering to the customer.