Welcome to the world of letterpress, where the press and process control what you can do with your design! It might seem a little intimidating at times, but keep in mind that letterpress has been around for hundreds of years, so all of the hard stuff has already been figured out. These tips are our general rules of thumb that will help to answer the question of "is there anything I should keep in mind when submitting artwork?" If you still have questions about whether or not your artwork is suitable for letterpress, send it on over to us and we'll review it.
It is important to outline everything in your artwork, especially the type. We may not have the exact typeface that you used in your artwork, so to ensure that we are seeing what we are supposed to be seeing remember to outline.
There is Such a Thing as Too Thin
Don't put your line weights on a diet. Lines that are too thin - typically anything under about .25 point - can get lost or literally fall off the plate while printing. Super thin lines are also less precise and tend to look less neat when trying to get a nice deep deboss in the paper. This also applies to typefaces with very thin components such as some script typefaces, or type with very fine serifs. Try to stick to a type size of 6pt or larger. Reverse type can tend to fill up with ink if it's too small, so try to stick to a type size of no smaller than about 12pt (though this does vary depending on typeface).
Don't be Shady
When designing for letterpress think solid colors. If we tried from now to eternity we would not be able to print shadows or gradients. It's the nature of letterpress! If your artwork calls for shading, try using cross hatched lines or dots to give the effect. If you are feeling ambitious, and would like to use a halftone, our plates can hold 100 LPI (lines per inch).
One Color at a Time
Every color in your design will require a separate printing plate, set up, and will get it's own run through the press. It's just one of those facts of letterpress printing. This is why with each additional color the price also increases. This is also why crop marks on your artwork are helpful to align the colors during printing. There are some creative ways of creating a third (or more) color though. Because letterpress ink is transparent by nature, overlapping two colors to create a third is a technique often used with great results.
Speaking of Transparency
Always keep in mind, letterpress ink is transparent. This means that even when printed on top of a darker color, a light color will not show. The same goes for light ink (especially white) on a dark paper. The exception to this rule is metallic silver ink, which has a surprisingly vibrant appearance on darker paper. If your project calls for a darker colored paper, it's best to stick with darker ink colors or metallics. Another great solution is to opt for a clear varnish to give a subtle, but readable effect.
Space is at a premium in the Laughing Owl shop. This is because we think it's important to have a variety of presses that allow us to print a variety of projects. When it comes to size, we can offer options. For very small pieces such as business cards we'll use one of our platen presses, like our workhorse 1928 Chandler & Price. From there, we can print any size all the way up to 18"x24" which we would print on our "lamborghini" 1939 Vandercook 219. If your project fits within that range, we can print it!
Letterpress printing is not ideal for printing large floods of color. This is due to several factors including the absorbant nature of some papers, and the amount of ink that is able to be transfered, among others. This is not to say that we never print large coverage areas, but the print will tend to look suede-like or slightly faded. Sometimes this only adds character to the project, and highlights the handprinted and vintage nature of letterpress. Another thing to keep in mind when printing large floods of color, is that overall the printing impression in the paper will be less. This is because there is more surface area on the printing plate, and the press has to work that much harder to press plate into paper. Lastly, if a flood of color is being printed along with more delicate lines or text, a separate run through the press may be required, and would be priced as another color.
We are happy to print full bleed (when the artwork extends past the edge of the paper). When designing full bleed artwork, extend the design at least 1/16" outside of your artboard in illustrator and/or use crop marks to show the finish size.
Metallic inks tend to look a little flat on uncoated papers (like Lettra). They do have a slight shimmer, but cannot compete with the shine of a foil stamped print. They are however more opaque than regular flat inks, and can definitely add a pop to a project, especially when printed on darker papers.
There are some restrictions when it comes to two sided printing. We typically recommend using only heavier weight papers (such as Lettra 220lb) when printing both sides. Because what everybody wants to see when they envision a letterpress print is a deep deboss, if using a less heavy paper (like Lettra 110lb) the impression on the front of the print will show through on the back. Another thing to keep in mind when printing both sides is that we will always print the "feature" side last. This will allow for the deepest, most crisp deboss on the most important side.
Because of the process of letterpress printing - platemaking, press setup, etc., - we tend to stay away from very small quantity projects. Depending on the project (not including business cards or coasters) our minimum is typically a quantity of 50. As far as maximum quantities go, the sky is the limit!
Trapping is a term used to describe the compensation for misregistration between colors that should have hairline registration (when two colors are accurately aligned to be touching). When you are feeding paper by hand into an antique press it is very ifficult to achieve hairline registration. For this reason, we ask that you trap any colors by at least .375pt that should have hairline registration. This gives us a little bit of wiggle room, and ensures that there will be no gaps between two colors that should be touching.