Nothing makes Cranky Pressman less miserable than making you and your work look its very best. We would rather get our customers moving in the right direction than have to phone and gripe about a potential problem spotted when the artwork arrives in our e-mail box. With this in mind, below are some tips for working with letterpress.
Letterpress is fantastic in so many ways. Here are a few:
Earthy charm and rugged good looks. Much letterpress printing today is a bit rough, a touch crude and slightly unpredictable. it is most successful when used to produce design work that plays into the quirky demeanor of the medium and not against it.
Prints well on all kinds of crap. Paper stock selection is an important part of creating for letterpress. Unlike digital or offset printing, plain old commercial grade stocks such as Chipboard or Graphic Coverboard make intriguing material for letterpress work.
Cranky Pressman House Stocks include these and other unconventional papers from which to choose. Many are made of 100% recycled paper. Even our classier Lettra Line stocks are made of 100% recovered cotton rag content. Overall letterpress materials bring a welcome change from a boring old white coated offset stock world.
Who needs the whole damn rainbow anyway? Some of the best letterpress work is printed in one or two colors. Good ideas, design, typography and paper choice can trump mind-numbing technicolor any time. This is not to say we frown upon color. Three, four or more pedantically chosen spot color combinations are very doable and spectacular.
A dark and light side. Letterpress inks are translucent. When printed one on top of another you get the appearance of a third color where overlapping occurs. Plan for overprinting colors in your design, it doesn’t cost a thing to do.
Throw stock color into your palette mix. Unusual effects can be achieved when ink colors are letterpressed on colored paper stocks. Keep in mind though that any paper stock color will show through the printed inks and change the appearance the colors.
Bite and smile. Bite is the depression or indentation that occurs in the paper’s surface when the image is letterpressed with a heavy impression weight. Bite often is what bedazzles people about letterpress and what sets it apart form other forms of printing. However, the amount of bite must be carefully considered when designing for letterpress. Too much bite can be dangerous. Cranky Pressman also has moans about bite below.
Beauty in the old and mottled. An lighter impression weight is called a ‘kiss’. This type of impression will cause the image to slightly break up and mottle. Kiss impressions, when planned as part of the look of the design, can be just as visually fetching as a bite. The mottling of a kiss impression will vary somewhat throughout the run. When used effectively this gives a letterpress printed piece a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind or weathered look. Try kissing one color while biting another for a cheap thrill.
Forget the ink all together. How about printing with no ink at all? With letterpress you can use an inkless blind impression where the image is created with just a bite impression in the paper surface. Just try to get your digital printer to do this. We must caution that on ordinary cover weight stock a blind impression will show though to the back side of the stock and should be taken into account in the design. If it is a 2-sided production you probably should seriously consider a double-weight stock like Lettra 220# cover.
NOTE: A blind impression is similar to but not the same as a debossing which is a more precise and complicated process. Cranky Pressman also offers true debossing or embossing for an additional charge.
That was put nicely. Here’s more to chew on:
It’s not all fun and games.
Bite will bite back. We all like bite but there are some who suffer from over-bite. Keep in mind that a heavy bite on the front of most paper stocks will show through to the back. This does not have to be a problem as long as it is understood and considered in the design. The thinner the stock the more it will bite back. A decent bite impression is going to show through to the opposite side of any stock 200# cover or lighter. The way to minimize or eliminate bite show-through is to use a double weight stock such as Lettra 220# cover or one of our Stocky Weight board stocks.
Letterpress is not the same as offset printing. Halftone perfection, flawless screened tints and flooded areas of impeccably solid color are qualities where offset printing excels and letterpress does not. Letterpress is fabulous for so many reasons but mimicking offset is not one.
Don’t use halftones halfassed. In the right designer’s hands letterpress halftone images can look quite spiffy. Unfortunately, when used poorly halftones can also look ugly as hell. Think very carefully about how you propose to use halftones. Halftones need to be 100 dpi or coarser and will print better on a smoother harder paper stock. Letterpress printed halftones look similar in quality to those in crappy newspapers. See Artwork Requirements for more information on using halftones.
Tints can cause more pain than halftones. A 100 line tint printed in letterpress is not a thing of great beauty. Tints work better as a smaller part of a rougher styled design. If you are after a smart refined style then an additional color is likely a better approach than a tint.
Solid states. Larger solid areas can be tricky when printed in letterpress. Translucent inks, textured paper and a less sophisticated inking devices make letterpress printed solids appear quite different than those run offset on smooth coated stocks. Paper texture will show through letterpress solids. The printing difficulty is increased when a single color plate has both larger and finer areas in the image.
If you are after very heavy solids it may help to discuss your ideas in advance of finishing the artwork. Alternatives such as additional color runs, double-bumping or offset lithography in combination with letterpress may be preferable for difficult solid images.
Reversed type. Throw some reversed type into your solid areas and the situation gets even nastier. Reversed letter forms do not hold up perfectly under the great force of a letterpress impression. The reversed type may become a little distressed. If this is acceptable in your design all is fine but if you wish to look at the type under a loupe and see no imperfections it’s just not going to happen.
Try to keep type sizes 6 point or larger. We know kids these days like illegibly small type. Letterpress does not reproduce fonts well at microscopic sizes. Besides our eyes can no longer read 4 point type.
Tow the line. Line art is particularly well suited for letterpress but not just any line. You are pushing your luck with hairlines thinner than .25 point. We recommend all line weights be .35 point or heavier to hold properly in platemaking and on press. Any negative space should be .5 point or larger to keep it safe from filling in when printed.