The letterpress can elevate your projects to another level, but not everything can be letterpressed. Here’s a few things to consider when designing.

Format

Letterpress plates type and design specifications can vary between the shops that create them, but typically they’ll want a vector illustration, such as an InDesign or Illustrator file, to create a polymer plate. If you use any type in your design, you’ll want to outline the text to maintain your design.

Creating outlines in Adobe Illustrator.

Creating outlines in Adobe Illustrator.

 

Line Thickness

Typically, platemakers want type no smaller than 6 points and lines at least .25 point (.0035 inch). The plates are raised polymer used to create a relief. If your design is too small or too thin, they will not hold up in the platemaking process.

Create a line, adjust the length/height to .25 point/.0035 inch, and give it a thick stroke.

Create a line, adjust the length/height to .25 point/.0035 inch, and give it a thick stroke.

 

Place that test line over the smallest lines on your artwork. Anything smaller than your test line needs enlarged.

Place that test line over the smallest lines on your artwork. Anything smaller than your test line needs enlarged.

 

Solid Fills

Letterpress ink is translucent, therefore floods of color need to be carefully considered. The paper will show through on large floods, giving it a textured, almost suede appearance. This gives a beautiful vintage quality, but you need to be sure it’s what you want. Also, large solid fills will not leave as deep or crisp an impression on the paper as a smaller area.

Paper showing through large flood areas.

Paper showing through large flood areas.

 

Using the paper texture to enhance the design aesthetic.

Using the paper texture to enhance the design aesthetic.

 

Registration

Designing for multiple colors? You’ll need to consider the registration. Open, spacious designs make for a simple registration, but tighter designs, where colors are overlapping or touching, make for a more complex registration. Whatever the complexity, always include registration marks in a multicolor design. (For the simpler ones, you can even just use the crop marks as registration marks.)

A design with simple registration, allowing for an easier setup.

A design with simple registration, allowing for an easier setup.

 

This design is much tighter, creating a more complex registration and setup. 

This design is much tighter, creating a more complex registration and setup.

 

One-Sided or Two?

Though one-sided printing is the ideal, two-sided letterpress printing is possible. The biggest concern in two-sided printing is bruising, or the impression from one side showing on the reverse. This issue can be minimized by choosing a thicker stock or reducing the pressure, if the job allows for it.

Bruising slightly occurred on this 2-sided notecard. 

Bruising slightly occurred on this 2-sided notecard.

 

Reverse Type

As previously mentioned, letterpress ink is translucent so it’s recommended to use dark ink on a light stock. Therefore, reverse type, or printing a light color on a dark background, is also very tricky on the letterpress. Most colors won’t show very well on a dark stock, so you’ll achieve more of a deboss than print. There’s also the option of making it a double-pass (printing it twice), but that risks ruining the crisp indents the letterpress creates on the first pass.

The white ink is very translucent on this black stock.

The white ink is very translucent on this black stock.

 

Silver ink was used for large flood areas on this dark stock, giving it a unique texture.

Silver ink was used for large flood areas on this dark stock, giving it a unique texture.

 

Now you have some tips for creating the perfect letterpress-friendly design, but what should you know about colors? Keep reading and check out FGS’s Letterpress 101: Colors!

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