Letterpress excels at printing fine details, but it does have some limits. For most of our work, you can hold a 2pt font, or 0.35 point line. Be very careful with fonts inspired by calligraphy, as often their line work can be too small to reproduce safely on a plate. When in doubt, ask us!
Emboss vs. Deboss
Letterpress is a relief process, so an ink laden plate presses into the surface of the paper. This impression is generally one-sided; you’ll se it on the imprint side, and not so much on the reverse. A lot of factors go into this, but we generally refer to this style of impression as a deboss.
For an emboss, your print has to be created with a matching set of dies, which mirror one another. This causes the paper to warp around the shape of the die, and creates an inverse impression on one side, and a regular impression on the other. This is a really striking technique for inkless press runs, which we often call blind embossing. There is additional expense which goes into producing the counter die, and properly setting up the layer for embossing.
We love to do either, and will ask you to specify between these two when talking about impression in letterpress.
For most projects, we try to get what we consider a “good impression.” This means that we try to highlight the impression without compromising the paper or the inking. Deep impressions cause squeezing, which means that using too much ink will bleed out from the plate and ink the edges of the impressed area. Elements which run off the sheet in a bleed design with also show this depression, making the edge of the card uneven.
There’s a direct relationship between your image and the depth of impression we can achieve. If your design is completely line art, we can go super deep! But, large solids and ganged up press sheets increase the amount of resistance, and limit the depth we can achieve.
If a super deep impression if your goal, you must limit solid areas and allow us to print your project 1-up and not on a press sheet. This way, we can take advantage of the full force of 3,200 lbs. of cast iron that makes up our press.
By nature, letterpress inks are transparent. This means that there will be a certain degree of color shifting when printing on a darker or colored paper stock. If you’re printing white ink on black paper, the look is going to be gray and mottled most of the time. Sometimes, we try to pull a double impression to compensate for this, but it leads to a degradation in image quality. Pastel color mixes are more likely to cover other colors than fluorescent and similar “bright” colors, since the white in the mixture lends to the opacity of the ink.
If you’re planning for a darker stock, you should consider printing with metallic inks, which offer more coverage, or shifting your Pantone colors to the next darkest value in order to approximate the effect of a given ink on a darker stock. The Multiply filter and / or layer opacity settings can help approximate this for you as well.
Solids / Heavy Coverage
Letterpress printing does not mesh well with large areas of coverage. Even a 2″x3.5″ solid rectangle will reproduce with issues. Generally, there is a “salty” look to the print, as parts of the paper fiber show through the ink film. This mottled look can be interesting, but it’s something we try to avoid unless you’re specifically after it! As a rule of thumb, we prefer to source a colored paper rather than print a full area of coverage via letterpress.
Keep in mind that with 2 sided printing, each side is going to depress the paper as its printed. So, if you decided to run two large shapes that align with one another, front and back, you will cancel out one of the impressions during printing. The paper will literally press back to a flattened state as pressure is applied to print the side opposite of it. If an element is to appear on both sides, it’s usually a better idea to work with embossing.
If large solids are unavoidable in your design, we can consider a hybrid process, like printing solids via screen printing or offset, and then add the letterpress printing separately. Duplexing, whereby we glue two sheets of paper together, can also increase the amount of impression preserved on each side of a card. In this situation, we print the sheets separately, and then duplex to the final thickness before cutting down.
We’re big fans of overprints here at Mystic Multiples. For the newly-initiated to spot color printing, an overprint is where one solid ink layer lays on top of another layer. Where the two “overprint”, a third color is created.
If you want to set up an overprint in your project, you must supply us with a layered file. Overprints can be simulated in photoshop by using the Multiply filter, or by tweaking the layer opacity. It is also important to note that opaque colors do not create true overprints, and often show only a difference in the amount of gloss or sheen rather than a difference in hue.
Trapping is the practice of slightly increasing the print area of design elements to ensure proper alignment in the finished project. You “trap” designs to ensure that each layer slightly overprints the previous layer.
Please submit your files without trapping when working with letterpress. We prefer to add them ourselves, free of charge.
Large traps are not recommended for our process, as letterpress inks are highly transparent. Deep impression projects add a small, visual outline to print areas due to the increased impression into the stock. For most projects we produce, this effect is enough to properly “trap” the design.
Blind, or inkless impressions are a unique way to add texture to a letterpress project on cotton stock. But, more often than not, we prefer to work with inks which match the paper color instead of printing a true inkless impression.
By sealing the surface with ink, the texture of the printed area changes and make the project as a whole more readily visible. This is our preferred way to handle this kind of work, but if you do want to keep an inkless impression inkless, just let us know.
Blind impressions, although inkless, still require an additional pass through the press, and count as an additional color for pricing purposes.
Under / Overs
For all jobs, a delivery of +/- 10% of the total number of pieces is considered acceptable. This is why it is important that you let us know and plan for the exact number of pieces required.
When at work on your project, we have to quickly interpret many factors, including registration, ink density, level of impression, and level of clarity in the printing. It is exceedingly easy to misprint a sheet on a platen press, let alone one from the 1920’s!
Because of this, we run additional sheets to print more than your required quantity. But, in some circumstances, paper can only be ordered in set quantities, and requires the order of twice as much paper in order to provide the necessary overage. When possible, we offer clients the choice of running with a raw edition of prints, or ordering enough paper to secure overage. A raw edition means that we order the necessary number of sheets, and your receive everything we print, including possible misprints.
With letterpress, we focus on printing with uncoated papers. These assist the drying process, and work best with our century old equipment.
When working with a metallic ink, the ink soaks into these uncoated papers, and looses a portion of its sheen. You should expect a dull, unpolished look to metallic inks printed by our process.
If you are looking for a true shine to your project, you might be looking for a supplier who can offer foil printing, which is an inkless process which imprints a metallic foil into the surface of a card. We do not offer any form of foil printing at this time.
Metallic inks are expensive to order, and specific pantone matches will incur an additional fee– unless it is an ink we already have in stock.