Designing for letterpress requires a different approach as to other print techniques you may be familiar with. Understanding this technique from a design and technical perspective is key to craft the best results of your letterpress print.
Set your types no smaller than 6pt to compensate for ink absorption.
Identify all thin lines and terminals, especially prevalent in script and italic typefaces. Sometimes, these ares may require an additional 0.1 outline stroke to ensure they print properly.
Convert all text to outlines (curves), and increase tracking to at least +5 to compensate for print impression (the deboss) into the paper.
Reverse type set on a solid colour block should be no smaller than 12pt. This is to avoid the type being clogged up with the ink. To compensate for ink gain, you may also need to add a small stroke to the type.
Use vector-based images whenever possible.
If using hand-drawn art or other images being scanned, all images must be converted to line art.
Raster images can be letterpress printed, but it requires more specific effort to be set up in Bitmap mode. To achieve this, select Image > Mode > Greyscale in Photoshop. Then, convert it again via Image > Mode > Bitmap. Output resolution must be set at 1200dpi, with a 50% Threshold or Halftone Screen method. For best results, we recommend adjusting image levels and tone before converting to Bitmap mode.
Use Pantone uncoated spot colour only. Avoid CMYK process colours at all times.
It is not possible to print white ink on a black or dark coloured paper stock. The dark colour stock will show through the white ink. If you would like to use a dark coloured paper then a metallic ink would be recommended.
Lines and strokes should be set at 0.6pt or thicker. If it is an isolated line, please use a minimum of 0.6pt.
Bleed & Crop Marks
Set bleed for all elements at 5mm, and export with crop marks. Export your PDF with 0.6pt stroke weight crop marks and a 5mm of bleed.
50 x 90mm (min) – 150 x 220mm (max)
An additional fee is applicable for printing artwork which features a continuous border within 5mm, and running parallel to the edge of your finished piece. Reason behind is that cotton papers are extremely soft, and therefore difficult to cut straight in large volumes. When we cut pieces down to actual sizes, there are wastage’s associated with imperfect cuts caused by soft slipping cotton paper. Wastage is exaggerated with borders parallel to the edge of finished pieces, and to compensate, we must print a great total volume compared to the artwork without parallel borders.
Accuracy of Printing Registration
Avoid putting 2 colours side by side. Due to the nature of letterpress and limitation of the machine, we ink the paper, one colour and one piece at a time. While putting on the second colour side by side with the previous colour, it has big possibility off register and we can’t get the perfect impression. You either want the effect of overlapping colours or try to avoid this at all costs.
Large Solid Areas
Use solid fills moderately. Letterpress can’t successfully reproduce large block areas of colour. We do not recommend floating the entire page with large solid areas of colour. It reduces the total amount of printing impression (deboss) available.
Ink coverage should be less than half of the total printable area, and more “white” area on paper than printed paper in the finished design.
Try to Avoid This Because……
Solid areas of colour are not ideal for letterpress
Solid colour is difficult to control and there are variation in colours in each run. Some pieces may have darker ink density, some may turn out to have lighter density. We keep a sharp eye on consistency while printing, but no matter what there are slight colour dissimilarity, simply because colour is added and controlled manually.
Solid area may appear “salty”
It may be necessary to print with less ink density in solid area to keep the fine details in your artwork as crisp as possible. We call the resulting mottled ink appearance “saltiness”. Depending on the colour you have in combination with the paper, they may be more or less saltiness in the final printed pieces. Darker colour on cotton stock demonstrate the most salty appearance while light colour on smooth stock will show less salty appearance.
Large solid area do not offer impression
Solid area of colours (colour flood) do not generally make use of the sculptural impression possible with letterpress printing. Text, line work and pattern represent ideal while graphic elements or text reversing out of solid areas do not. Knocked out artwork will not create much, if any, noticeable impression into the paper.
Large area of impression cause sheet distortion
Letterpress with heavy impression is physically altering the thickness of the paper. With large areas of artwork under heavy impression, the sheet may want to bubble or curl. We sometimes call this the “potato chip” effect. The more artwork area on a press sheet, the less likely it is that the final printed piece will lay completely flat.
Restriction Is Not Always A Bad Thing
Every now and then, we may take freedom for granted. But now, we enjoy working with restriction. It is the characteristic of letterpress and it makes you focus on the most essential, nothing extraneous.