To learn about the art of Letterpress, we spent a morning with talented team Danika and Doug from D&d Letterpress in Sydney. They were not only super talented at what they do, they were incredibly generous with their time teaching us all about the art of letterpress.
Letterpress has become extremely popular for wedding invitations, stationery and business cards. "We offer a large range of papers in our collection and are open to experimenting with anything and everything. The papers in our collection have been selected by us for their ability to leave a deep impression in the page," said Dankia.
Papers can range in quality and thickness, however there are certain types of paper that are and are not suitable for letterpress.
"Our favourite papers are the ones that are either 100% cotton or have some cotton content in them, making them soft and fluffy and gorgeous to touch! Most of our papers come in a large range of weights (thickness) too from 300gsm up to 850gsm which offers an additional point of difference from digital printing which can only manage up to 300gsm in most cases."
what is letterpress?
Letterpress printing is a very old technique which requires the use of a printing press. It was invented in the mid-15th century by Johannes Gutenberg and quickly became the way all books and newspapers were printed. It was used right up until the end of the 20th Century when offset printing replaced it.
A traditional letterpress uses a movable raised image made from wood or metal to form a print. To create an impression, printers would need to compose individual letters and then lock them into the press and put ink rollers (which you can see in the video below). Paper was laid on top and then slid into the press. Pressure was applied manually by tightening the screws and ink was then pushed onto the paper.
Today companies can have artwork digitally applied onto photopolymer plates (these are plastic thick sheets that when exposed to ultraviolet light can be moulded into customised designs). This technique also means that customised illustrations and drawings can be included in your design.
Step 1: Consultation
This is really important. You want to be sure you view some of the designs and discuss all your ideas. You want to be confident that you understand the process and what looks you can achieve with letterpress. This is a very specific art form so the designers will explain to you what styles can be achieved.
"We meet with our clients or chat via email and phone to get an idea of the style of their wedding and what they might like for their invitations. If they are meeting with us then we encourage them to look through our portfolio of designs which gives us a great idea of what they like and don't like", said Danika.
You'll then be presented with a quote.
Step 2: Design
Your wedding invitations will set the tone for the entire event. This is why it is so important that you work with designers who can bring your vision to life, help you during the creative process and provide only the best quality materials and finishes.
"We move to the design stage using Adobe software on the computer and once the designs are prepared we supply the client with digital proofs for feedback. Once we've made final tweaks and we've receiving final approval we go to print!", said Danika.
It is really important that you allocate yourself plenty of time to check revisions and send them back to the designer. This will make their job easier and prevent anything being delayed. Check for typo's and that the dates, location details and names are all correct. Printing can be expensive so you want to get it right before you approve the final print run!
Step 3: Printing
This is where the magic happens! Your final design will be printed onto gorgeous thick paper with the letterpress machines.
"Once the artwork has been signed off we create a photopolymer printing plate from the artwork which gets mounted into the press. The image and text area of the printing plate have a raised surface which gets inked up as the rollers come over the plate. The raised surface which is now inked (or in the case of a 'blind impression', not inked) comes into contact with the paper and the press, with more than a tonne of weight behind it, literally presses the image into the page creating that gorgeous impression or deboss on the paper."
Ever different colour that you use requires a new printing plate to be produced and put through the machine on a separate run. So the more colours you want in your print, the more plates that need to be produced and time spent in production. "Extremely precise registration over the previous colour is needed to ensure it prints in the correct position", Danika explained.
There are thousands of colours that you can choose from when having your stationery letter-pressed. "We custom mix our inks by hand and eye based on the Pantone Colour Matching System [and] anyone feeling a little overwhelmed by choice, we have 18 D&d house colours that we've carefully chosen and mixed based on what we find is popular and prints beautifully".
Once the ink is dry (which is up to 6 hours), it is cut to size and assessed for quality. Sometimes the designer will paint the edges of the paper for some added elegance.
Letterpress printing takes a lot more effort and manual labour than laser printing. Generally speaking you also need much better paper stock and craftsmanship when printing on letterpress. There are options couples can take however to reduce costs, such as only printing with one colour or printing on a single side.
D&d Letterpress use a range of unique printing processes in their studio. They have a gorgeous 1923 Chandler & Price made in Ohio which is hand fed and foot treadled. It is a really amazing experiencing producing your own stationery on such an old machine. We had a turn of the machine and it was fantastic - you put your whole energy into the production from designing the artwork to physically pushing down on the press. We became part of the art form!
D&d also have some modern machines which are slightly automated such as the 1950's German Heidelberg Platens. This is what the majority of their invitation suites are printed on as it is quicker and not quite so labour intensive. We've seen some of the beautiful designs that have been produced. From simplistic traditional press to delicate watercolour artworks, D&d have a talent for creating breathtaking designs.
Watch this exclusive video on D&d Letterpress and how they do their awesome work - hot off the press! This video was produced by some really talented Sydney wedding videographers, Paper Cranes.