Letterpress printing is a form of relief printing. A raised surface inked, and then pressed into paper. (Think cutting a shape on a potato and then pressing it onto a piece of paper!)
Johann Gutenberg created the first press with moveable type in the 15th century. He was able to create letters out of metal, put them in a wood frame, and arranged them to create a page. Then rearranged to create another. (This part was VERY time consuming!) But creating one page at a time and printing large quantities is exactly what he was looking to do!
Many printers today still use moveable type, but with modern changes. Over 7 centuries, artists and printers have had more room and time to explore alternatives to wood or metal letters or images. Linoleum can be used, and so can other metals! A variety of paper is being used in letterpress printing, and the softer the paper, the more the indentation the image will have.
When letterpress first started with Gutenberg, the effect letterpress leaves with the deep impression wasn’t what he was thinking about. He wanted a way to print large quantities in an easy way. Now, letterpress is greatly sought after for its charming effect. (You can see the impressions below on this image! Nice and deep!)
Letterpress is a such time consuming process because each color in an image, (the red and the blue in the above image), are different plates. Meaning, the plate for the red has to be taken out of the press, and another plate has to be inked and then put in. The other problem is making sure that the registration (making sure its lined up) on the paper is perfect before the blue is printed from another plate!
Keep in mind, when you’re ordering your invitations or stationery, that this process of printing is the oldest form! Creating your beautiful stationery is a creating a part of history.
I’ll leave you folks with the piece of history i created in college. Meet Eliza.