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Making a Letterpress Printed Product

by Grace Bonney

I thought I’d share a quick, behind-the-scenes of designing and printing a letterpress product. SIMPLESONG is home to two (soon three!) printing presses including a Golding Pearl (c. 1906) and a tabletop Chandler & Price Pilot (c. 1940). I occasionally use metal or wood type but primarily use photopolymer plates allowing me to print pretty much any design. Here’s the basic process…

I use Illustrator for the design portion of the work. Here are sample concepts provided for a recent calling card project for client Joslyn Taylor of Simple Lovely (she chose layout 1). Once finalized, the artwork is sent out for platemaking – I use (and love) Boxcar press for this.

Once I’ve received the plates and I’m ready to print, I prep the press, trim the paper and mix the ink by hand. The plate is then positioned onto the press and each piece is printed one at a time.

In this case, because of the size I print two at a time. In letterpress printing, each color requires a separate plate and an additional run through the press. In this case, this 1-color card was run through the press just once.

Once done its trimmed to size and each piece is reviewed for quality…then its ready to go!

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  • I’m so glad to see the letterpress process explained! I’ve always wondered how these wonderfully printed pieces were accomplished. You’ve created some gorgeous business cards!

  • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your process. I’ve been intrigued by letterpressed goods for a while and was curious as to how it was done. The accompanying pictures were lovely as was the finished project.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • suann these are gorgeous. I am thinking it’s time for Kellen Jacob to step it up a notch. we still get so many compliments over our stationary.

  • Hi! Great post! I will be printing on a homemade press soon and I am getting plates made through boxcar. I was concerned about color separation. If you are doing a 2 color piece and the colors meet in one spot, do you allow for an overlap? or do you let them meet, assuming your registration is good? Any advice is helpful! thanks!

  • Nancy: Its a Dahle 852 stack cutter. Its new to the shop and has just about changed my life. I love it.

    Lisa: It depends on the design and ink colors but generally speaking you allow them the colors to meet. Feel free to email me at suann@simplesongdesign.com if you have other questions. Good luck!

    Thanks everyone – glad you like the post! -Suann

  • I had been wanting to see a behind the scenes exactly like this! Thanks for sharing, I know know it is something I will just have to continue to admire and forget about doing it myself!

  • Fabulous post Suann! I have a huge crush on letterpress and loved this mini tutorial. I can’t wait for your workshops at the Hive! And if you don’t mind, what typeface did you use for joselyn’s name–it is simply gorgeous!

  • Such an interesting insight into the printing process, thank you! I have a question – my cousin has just started learning how to letterpress print at art college and when I spoke to him about how it’s done, he mentioned that you have to wet the paper to get the ‘letterpressed’ look. You don’t mention this in your article – is it down to the type of printer used or the paper? Have you ever come across this?

  • I love letterpress so much. Photopolymer plates are great. I took a class to learn how to make them; their versatility is amazing. I used a photo to make a print and it turned out really well.

  • The cards look fantastic! It seems letterpress in the US has revived, unlike here in (western) Europe. Is there anyone around who begs to differ (and has some adresses of european letterpress printers)?

  • Great post! I’ve seen these in person and they’re quite lovely. The design represents Joslyn’s blog just perfectly and the quality is obvious. Nice job!

  • I’m now going to snuggle with the cards and notes you made for me – now that I know how much love+energy went into them. ALL your work is sooo beautiful – I’m SUCH a fan!!

  • Rosy – hmm, I’ve never heard of soaking the paper — that being said, maybe its a technique that works? As for paper, a lot of the cotton paper works really well for letterpress printing as it is soft and takes the impression well.

    Lauren: Isn’t that typeface great? A new favorite. It is Business Penmanship by the amazing Ale Paul.

    Thanks again everyone!

  • Hi Rosy, I think the process you are referring to is called dampening. It is not always necessary, but can result in richer, more vibrant ink colors. I learned this technique in my letterpress program as well.

  • i’ve been contemplating making myself some blogger business cards, but never knew they could be quite so simply sweet and oh-so-perfect.

    thank you for the ideas!

  • thank you suann for sharing. it is always nice to see your genious work. it is nicer to see that you take your time to address and answer all the questions. you are SO talented!

  • Really great post – believe it or not, I had never heard of Suann (where have I been??) and now I’m so glad to know where to find her. :) Beautiful work, and she sounds like a beautiful person, too.


  • Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Letterpress for business cards are a great way to make that impression. Thanks, Suann, for unraveling a mystery for the curious.
    For all of you who are in the Western NY area and want to learn and create in letterpress, check us out.

  • As if I wasn’t in love with letterpress before … seeing the process step by step definitely makes me want to give it a try. Do you ever offer workshops for people who want to start doing letterpress?

  • Love, love, love that you shared pics of the process. Letterpress has really influenced trends in surface patterns in the last 5 years. Such a wonderful reprieve from our highly digital 3D, flash world.

  • Letterpress designs have always interested me and I always wondered about the process – thanks a ton for sharing the step by step – in such beautiful pictures too. It is pretty involved and not for the meek hearted. Feels good to know why letter pressed products are so pricy – totally worth it, though!

  • Hi, first of all thank you so much for this little tutorial. Your designs looked great!
    I was wondering where you got your letterpress from. I have been searching for a place to get one for the past few months..
    Also could you tell me the average price for a plate?
    Thank you so much for letting me know!

  • RE soaking the paper–this is super easy to do, and really helps if you have a platen press+large print area+large dense solid. We just get a big ziplock, spray some water into it, and then spray every other sheet in the stack of paper, stacking one on top of the next in the bag. Then seal the bag, and put something heavy on top of the stack (so the sheets don’t buckle). If you have time (letting the stack sit overnight is best), flip the stack over after 6 hours or so. The sheets will feel cool, but not wet, having sucked up the water like little sponges!

  • Fabulous!

    I have a totally off-topic question, but I adore the perfect ballet flats in the photo and am trying to figure out the designer…anyone know?

  • Hi Suann –
    I happened across this post a little late (obviously!).

    I recently acquired a big 10×15 C&P press and am slowly learning on it. I noticed you’re not using gauge pins – what are you using instead? I have a large base and find that it’s pretty difficult to always be able to place gauge pins outside its borders. It looks like maybe you’re using tape and something else?


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