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What Can You Tell Me About Printing on a Letterpress?

What can you tell me about printing on a letterpress? Is this a very expensive method? What quantities are best suited for this type of printing? Are there only certain papers that can be used? Can you recommend some vendors who do this type of work?

Letterpress printing may be a bit anachronistic, but it is still alive and well. Most practitioners these days are hobbyists who simply like the whole concept of doing the entire print production process by hand. Some even go so far as to cast their own hot metal type. There are also some active letterpress specialty printers, primarily doing special invitation and announcement work.

Letterpress printing is generally considerably more expensive than commercial offset or digital printing for a couple of reasons. First, it is extremely labor intensive, and secondly, one of the main things people like about letterpress printing is the look and feel of the final product. That often means printing on special and sometimes even handmade papers, which can come at a steep price. On the other hand, used letterpress equipment has been fairly inexpensive to come by, so the start up cost can be quite low and many of the hobbyist printers have a very low overhead. Of course as the presses and parts get harder to find, the price is bound to keep inching upward.

Commercial printers still use old letterpress machines primarily for die-cutting and numbering. A lot more pressure can be applied to the paper with a letterpress device, making it ideal for impact printing like embossing and die cutting. The machines were very solid and some have been in continuous production for a century or more.

For a great overview of the process and an extensive list of sources for letterpress printers, equipment, parts and vendors visit


Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at

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