Letterpress printing
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Anthem Coasters - Two Sides

Letterpress in glorious 2-colors.

A second look at an attractive coaster project and post on using spot colors.

Anthem Coasters - Two Sides Back

A line has two sides. -Brian Eno

Since rebuilding our website, we’ve been planning to repost some of our more popular old blog posts. Here is an encore presentation of a coaster project we produced for branding firm Anthem Worldwide. At the end of this page you will also find some information on spot colors and how to use solid ink colors when designing for letterpress printing.

Hope you find it helpful. I am sure you will find Anthem’s self-promotional piece very inspiring.

Each of eight coasters features a 2-color graphic on the front that illustrates a creativity related quote on the back. Here they are:

Anthem Coasters - Zig Zag
Anthem Coasters - Zig Zag Back

When everyone zigs, zag. -Stephen Anderson

Anthem Coasters - Less Is More
Anthem Coasters - Less Is More Back

Less is more. -Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Anthem Coasters - Difference
Anthem Coasters - Difference Back

Notice the difference. -Marty Neumeier

Anthem Coasters - Love It
Anthem Coasters - Love It Back

Don’t like it, love it. -Anthem San Francisco

Anthem Coasters - Story
Anthem Coasters - Two Sides

Know your story. -Anthem San Francisco

Anthem Coasters - Chaos
Anthem Coasters - Chaos Back

Order the chaos. -Unknown

Anthem Coasters - Edge
Anthem Coasters - Edge Back

Where is the edge? -Brian Eno

What is spot color?

Anthem Coasters - Design Life Belly Band
Close-up of 2-color belly band used to package the coaster sets.

Letterpress is a relief printing process that uses what is known as spot color. Each color requires a printing die (or plate) and a separate run through the printing press using a different ink color each time.

Unlike offset lithography or digital printing, which can spit out multiple colors pretty much simultaneously, letterpress is better suited for limited color projects such as single-color, 2 or 3-colors. In theory, any number of ink colors can be run using letterpress but you rarely see too many mostly due to costs.

Anthem Coasters - Drawdowns
Ink color tests known as drawdowns.

Limited color printing need not limit your creativity though. 2-color letterpress work can come to life and have the appearance of more colors when the two ink colors are overprinted.

Above are examples of drawdowns we prepared for the Anthem designers. This allowed them to see in advance the results of different overprinted ink colors. Please note, drawdowns do involve additional work and cost and are not called for on most jobs.

Anthem Coasters - Chaos Detail
Overprinted ink colors don’t always behave exactly as you might imagine.

A good way to visualize color while designing in Adobe Illustrator is to use separate layers with Transparency settings on Multiply.

Pantone Solid Color swatch book is also an important designer’s tool for visualizing what a color looks like as ink on paper. Colors appear much different on paper than they do on a computer monitor. Spot colors also look very different on coated paper compared to the uncoated papers that are usually used with letterpress. This is why Pantone offers both coated and uncoated books.

If you don’t have a Pantone book on hand you can mail us a swatch from anything (magazine, paint chip, a piece of your Gran’s curtain) and we will mix the ink to match as best as possible.

Anthem Coasters - Arrows Detail
Close-up detail showing the overprinted spot colors.

So get mixing those colors, in your mind’s eye at least. We will take care of the messy ink mixing job for you.

If you have any questions about working with letterpress contact us or leave a comment below and we will try our best to answer it for you.

Project Credits:

Design Company: Anthem Worldwide
Creative Director: Deborah Smith Read
Technical Design Director: Daryl Buhrman
Designers: Meeta Panesar, Miri Chan, Maya Ostrander, Henry Lannan