Letterpress custom stationery: step by step

Here’s a little wander through the process of creating custom letterpress stationery – mostly pictures; a few words.

First, the design: here’s a strange strobey picture of my Mac screen…

The design is converted to a black and white image and sent to the platemakers in Michigan via their web site.

Here’s the finished magnesium plate, locked up in the chase with some lovely old wooden furniture, all ready to print:

First we ink up the press (after putting oil in every hole, of course! Every hole, every time…).

I mixed this pretty blue by hand:

Then I take a test impression to set the gauge pins. I take another test impression to position the image properly on the paper and make sure we have an even impression of the right depth.

If the impression is not deep enough, I add more packing below the tympan (top sheet, where the gauge pins are set). If the inking is uneven, I add tape to the rails to correct the roller height (always iffy on ooooold presses like these). If the impression is uneven, I quietly say bad words and dive into makeready (which is a bit like making topographical maps out of fine sheets of paper beneath the tympan, correcting the surface to make the final impression even… time-consuming!)

As you can see, I use and re-use and re-use cards from previous jobs for test impressions. Waste not, save trees…

Here we’re about to make the very first “real” card.

Mmm… a lovely fresh sheet, full of possibility…

And look! Delight…

(That pointless gauge pin in the picture above is there from a previous venture, and I only thought to remove it after I took this photo. Oh.)

Here’s where I measure, down to the last point (less than a millimetre) to make sure the name is perfectly aligned with the top of the card. I’ve since bought an Align Mate (for the princely sum of $7) to make this step more straightforward.

And ta-daaaaa!  A whole set of beautiful custom letterpress notes, ready for a very happy Sarah.

(Scroll back up to the very first picture to take another look at the finished product in direct light!)

As you can see, this was a one-colour project with a small image area. Jobs with multiple colours and larger images just… get… more and more… complicated.  But when you’re an addict, no bump in the path to letterpress bliss looks too tough to handle.

That’s it! Safe trip home, folks…



Filed under Letterpress Notecards, Stationery, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Letterpress custom stationery: step by step

  1. Wow, fascinating to see the whole process from screen to card stock!

  2. Britt

    I’ve seen some of your excellent work when visiting Sarah and Mark. Thanks for sharing the process!

  3. Thanks so much you guys — I’ve been meaning to do a step-by-step for ages but once I get absorbed in the printing I always end up forgetting to take photos! I felt so pleased with myself that I remembered this time.

  4. love the step by step! i’ve been wanting to take a LP class for ages! so enjoyed seeing this like this 🙂


  5. Ashley

    So glad I came upon your blog today and found this post. I am scheduled to take both an Illustrator class and my first letterpress class in the next few weeks. It’s so great to see the whole custom design process from start to finish.


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