Letterpress VS Flat Print

We have been asked quite a few questions regarding letterpress recently and we thought we would do a post that explains all we know about the process and how it compares to our typical flat print process. Keep in mind that we are not experts. We do offer letterpress services but we do not do them in house. Perhaps in the future we will invest in our own press but we will leave that process up to the pro’s for now.

Letterpress 101:

Letterpress is the process of pressing an inked plate into a 100% cotton paper to achieve a recessed print into the card stock. The Chinese developed a similar process that has been found to go back as early as the 2nd century A.D. It was Johann Gutenberg, among others, who fathered the movable type printing from reusable letters that were set together in a frame. Today, plates are designed with words and images that work with the press to create the finished product. The number of plates you need will depend on how many colors of ink you want. To put this into perspective lets say you want an invitation set that has an invitation, RSVP, and direction card all designed with two colors. Let’s use red and black for an example. You will need two plates made for each of the cards in your set for a total of 6 plates because you can only use one color per plate. These plates take about the same time to design as any other invitation but they have to be sent off to a photoengraver to be made. Once these plates are made the letterpress can begin. The plates are set into a large press. The plate is inked and then pressed into the cotton paper. This process is repeated for the second color. Letterpress is an absolute art form and the results are breathtaking.

Letterpress does however have one downfall and for many brides it’s a big one… price. Letterpress is quite expensive. Why, you ask? Well there this is a multiple answer question.
  1. The paper. 100% cotton multi ply paper is thick, velvety, and costly.

  2. The plates. These metal plates start out around $250 each depending on their size

  3. The labor. These presses are manual. Each print requires someone to ink the plate and to press. Think about doing that 150 times for each of the colors and each of the cards in the set. In our example above that is 900 individual presses by an actual person.

  4. The press. The presses themselves are a huge investment. These beauties can cost anywhere from two thousand dollars for a press that can do a small note or business card on up to much much more for larger prints.

Flat Print:

This process is pretty self explanatory. The image is printed with ink that saturates and soaks into the paper. You can’t feel the type when you rub your hand over the image. Now here is the best part. If letterpress is out of your budget, using the right contrast, you can achieve the look of engraved printing. Think a bright green cardstock with a chocolate printed type. If done in the right fonts, the contrast creates the illusion that the type is engraved into the paper. Now obviously when you touch it you know it is not engraved but it’s the look that you wanted. Why is flat print so much more cost effective, you ask? This one has several answers as well.

  1. No outsourcing. We do all our printing in house so when you buy direct there is no middle man to pay.

  2. The paper. Our paper is a minimum of an 80 lb weight, cotton blend. We also carry a 30% recycled and a 100% recycled paper option. While the latter two options are more costly than the first they are still more cost effective than letterpress card stock.

  3. No plates. We don’t need plates to print flat so no costs there.

  4. The labor. We can print as many colors as we want all at one time on our printers so rather than pressing 900 times like in the letterpress example above we would only have to print 450 cards. Less labor = less cost.

So if you have your heart set on letterpress give us a call and we can give you a ball park quote. Once you settle on a design we can get you an accurate quote and go from there. If letterpress is just not in the cards for you budget, talk to us about flat printing. We hope this has shed some light on the mystery on letterpress.

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