To press, or not to press? That is the question--and it’s a common question, at that. Why have something printed on a letterpress at all? And when is digital printing a better choice? Here’s the quick and dirty on letterpress printing and knowing if it’s right for you.
1. Spoiler alert: we can’t print photos.
This is THE biggest limitation we face when asked about creating save the dates, baby announcements, etc. Letterpress is not a means by which we can print photos. Photos are comprised of hundreds and thousands of colors, mixing to create other colors, etc. We can print just one color at a time. Obviously, that makes it an impossible task. And we’re including the inability to print gradients (colors fading from dark to light, or from one color to another) in this, too--though we have special caveats we won’t get into here, it stands as a general rule.
GO LETTERPRESS IF: a) You're okay with not using a photo at all and relying more on design, layout, typography and illustration to create a beautiful piece. Letterpress is lovely in and of itself so let it shine in other ways. b) We can print halftone patterns to simulate a photo--think a blown up version of the dots comprising the images in a newspaper, or something like a Roy Lichtenstein piece. This is definitely not a replacement or a work-around to photo-printing, but more of a stylistic choice. The sizes and spacing of the dots creates areas of light and shadow, but does not create different colors themselves. c) The best solution to the photo conundrum, we feel, is designing around a photo and then gluing it onto each piece. We think it’s the best of both worlds. d) You can plan to include a photo in the “package” in some other way--loose in the envelope, attached with decorative tape, twine, etc.
GO DIGITAL IF: You can’t let go of the idea of the photo being printed directly on the paper.
2. Sticker shock.
Letterpress is expensive. And it’s for good reason. The cost of quality supplies is only the tip of the iceberg. A LOT of things go into letterpress, from design to file set up to mixing ink to calibrating the press to the complexity of multi-color jobs... the list goes on an on. If you haven’t seen the process happen from start to finish, there is probably a good deal of mystery in between signing off on your proof and getting your finished pieces in the mail. You’re paying for a very special and specific set of skills your printer has acquired over the years--and professional design experience--to make your project happen and letterpress looks and feels like nothing else.
GO LETTERPRESS IF: You have the budget and understand the tactile quality of letterpress cannot be matched with digital printing.
GO DIGITAL IF: You can’t tell the difference between letterpress and digital.
3. Practice will never make perfect.
No two letterpress pieces are exactly alike, even in the same print run. This is part of the charming quality of letterpress. Slight variations are to be expected and subtle changes from piece to piece are inevitable. Of course there is a quality control aspect and we will remove pages with smudges, glaring blemishes in the paper, etc., but we understand that total perfection is impossible. We also think that these little imperfections are what combats some of the sterility that can accompany a digitally printed piece.
GO LETTERPRESS IF: You like the romance in the idea the each piece was created by hand.
GO DIGITAL IF: You think perfect consistency is key.
Talk to your printer about what you’re looking for. Letterpress isn’t for everyone, and not just for monetary reasons. The project you want printed might actually be impossible to complete exactly how you want it using letterpress printing. Maybe the best solution is a combination of both letterpress and digital. Most printers are happy to bounce around ideas to create the perfect package for you and your specific project needs. If you have any questions for us, specifically, feel free to comment below or shoot us a note using our online form.