oh Letterpress…let me count the ways

As a graphic designer I admit that I love everything about the art of design and printing.  Today so much of what we do is digital and this definitely has its benefits, but sometimes I think it is important to remember the traditions and the history behind graphic design and its true art form.

Graphic Design History

One of the great art techniques is Letterpress which dates back to the mid 15th century.  Letterpress is the art of relief printing in which a reversed, raised surface is inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper to obtain a positive right-reading image.  These days it may seem time consuming or cumbersome, but the product you get from this is unmatched and truly beautiful.

These days a typical use for letterpress is a special event or occasion like a wedding.  You will also see it in poster designs and business cards.  It is not the most cost-effective choice, so I would suggest to be selective when you use this print method.


This month my local chapter of AIGA is hosting a LetterPress Fest – consisting of multiple events centered around the art of LetterPress!  Yesterday it was kicked off by a morning coffee “Buzz” with a local LetterPress company Crayton-Heritage.  You can see more of their work on Facebook as well.  Crayton-Heritage is a 5-man shop in Charlotte, NC that works predominately on their roll press.  They have created beautiful invitations since 1934.

They passed around samples and shared advice when designing for Letterpress.  See below for some tips!

  • They prefer to receive files in pdf formats with color separations.  Letter press happens one color at a time so color separation is key for them.
  • Always outline your fonts before turning over the file.
  • They prefer at least an 1/8″ bleed for all trim cutting that needs to take place.
  • Font size should not go under 6 point font to make sure that they can in the plate correctly.
  • USE your white space!
  • Letterpress does not work well with large blocks of color.
  • Most fonts are ok to use, but effects like a drop shadow does not work well.
  • When having lines line art a stroke of .3 is as small as they can work with
  • Add more tracking and ledding than you would expect.  The extra space allows them to “hit” harder creating that great letterpress indention.
  • Paper choice is as important as the design.
  • They can create thicker papers by adding colors together with a layering technique.  This looks very cool with a beveled cut on the edges.
  • Envelopes are always printed open – so one color is one cost – front and back!
  • They can work with calligraphy and scans of calligrapher’s work.  I may have to try this!
  • They still hand-stitch, but do not do a lot of binding – so prepare for your own binding.

There is so much to learn about letter press.  I am looking forward to this week with AIGA.  We will have films, panel discussions and demonstrations.

Jim Sherraden, Owner: Hatch Show Print will be here to tell us about his shop.  They are located in Nashville, TN and have created concert posters since 1879.

I have a few of their posters of my own.  Look at what i found the last time I was in Nashville!


Two of the Ladies of Letterpress as well as Kyle Durrie from the The Movable Type Truck will be there.  The Movable Type Truck is  a touring letterpress mobile that provides letterpress workshops for designers, curious hobbyists, homeschool students, and everyone else she can fit into her moving studio.  You can follow her blog to see where she is around the country…printing up a storm!

I’ll leave today with a picture of one of my all time favorite finds!  I picked this up at an antique yard for $30!!!  I have it in my office and would LOVE to put it to use one day.  I haven’t moved anything since I got it and love that you can still see where people had spelled out names.  Such wonderful art history that we can’t forget!



About dryinkdesigns

A marketing and business development background is the foundation for Mandi Boedicker’s passion for creating memorable branding support for a number of clients. Initially a graphic designer by trade, Boedicker’s marketing experience in the construction industry sparked a passion for networking and community partnerships. Dry Ink Designs was a natural next step. Boedicker’s freelance client work had spanned over ten years already while maintaining a full-time career, so she turned her creative energy into a career that benefitted the relationships she was building. Strengths in calligraphy, painting and photography soon grew into strengths in corporate identity strategy and marketing/communications support.
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3 Responses to oh Letterpress…let me count the ways

  1. Lucy says:

    Love your posts. They are educational, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I am semi-retired, otherwise I would send some business your way!

  2. Pingback: I’ve been everywhere man | dry ink designs

  3. Pingback: different styles of wedding stationery | Sunny Slide Up

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