Before you dive into a project for the letterpress, it’s important to keep your budget and deadline in mind. Here’s some things to consider when thinking about the cost and time that a project might cost you.
Obviously, the more colors that you want to use, the more time and money you’ll spend on a project. Generally, each color needs its own plate and is run separately. For each color, then, you’ll be purchasing the ink, the plate, and the letterpress set up, production, and clean up. Keep in mind that the sheets will also need to dry at least overnight in between runs. You can see how this quickly adds up in cost and time for more than two or three color jobs.
As mentioned in the previous post, registration is a consideration for a design with multiple colors. Simple registrations are much easier to set up and run, so complex ones cost more since they require a longer setup and run time. You’ll also need to include space in the plate for registration marks.
Overall, bigger quantities equal bigger cost and more time. However, much of the cost of letterpress printing is actually in the job setup (ink, plates, letterpress setup/cleanup), so you’ll find that some shops may have a minimum requirement, and your per piece cost might significantly decrease if you increase your quantity.
The wonderful thing about polymer printing plates is that they are very resilient. They can last for over a year if taken care of properly. If you have a project that you’ll be frequently reprinting, such as business cards, this will definitely save you time and money in the long run.
The maximum sheet size you can run varies according to the press, but typically they can print well over a standard letter size sheet. When doing smaller sized designs, it is much more cost and time effective to create a multiple-up plate. That is, placing 2 or more images on the same plate, whether you’re repeating the same image or using different versions.
Aside from printing, the letterpress can also score, perforate, and die cut paper. These tasks are frequently completed together in one pass to save time and money. When incorporating these tasks in a project you want to print on the letterpress, though, you’ll have to do the printing in a separate run. The letterpress uses rollers that transfer the ink to the plate before pressing it on the paper, so including any other forms in the same pass would cause those forms to print.
Don’t forget about your paper! The paper you choose can make or break a project, so choose wisely. Nearly any kind of paper can be used on the letterpress, depending on what you want to achieve. Most often you’ll want a white or near-white uncoated stock. For the typical letterpress look with a noticeable relief, try a soft cotton paper such as Crane’s Lettra (our favorite!). Papers with less than 100% cotton or other materials, such as Legion Bamboo, tend to offer tighter fibers while still providing relief printing. As mentioned before, metallic inks don’t pop on these kinds of paper as much as foil stamping. One way around this, however, is using a coated stock on the letterpress. Printing on silk or glossy paper won’t give your impressions much depth, but they’ll reflect inks, especially metallic ones, much better.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Let’s wrap it up with our number one piece of advice on FGS’s Letterpress 101: Final Thoughts!