Letterpress Printing - Rise of 'craft' Letterpress

Rise of 'craft' Letterpress

A small amount of high-quality art and hobby letterpress printing remains—fine letterpress work is crisper than offset litho because of its impression into the paper, giving greater visual definition to the type and artwork. Today, many of these small letterpress shops survive by printing fine editions of books or by printing upscale invitations and stationery, often using presses that require the press operator to feed paper one sheet at a time by hand. They are just as likely to use new printing methods as old, for instance by printing photopolymer plates (used in modern rotary letterpress) on restored 19th century presses.

The process requires a high degree of craftsmanship, but in the right hands, letterpress excels at fine typography. It is used by many small presses that produce fine, handmade, limited-edition books, artists' books, and high-end ephemera such as greeting cards and broadsides. Setting type by hand has become less common with the invention of the photopolymer plate.

To bring out the best attributes of letterpress, printers must understand the capabilities and advantages of what can be a very unforgiving medium. For instance, since most letterpress equipment prints only one color at a time (unlike presses for offset printing which often use four-color process printing), printing multiple colors can be challenging. The inking system on letterpress equipment is less precise than on offset presses, which can pose problems with some graphics: detailed, white (or "knocked out") areas, such as small, serif type, or very fine halftone, surrounded by fields of color, can fill in with ink and lose definition. However, a skilled printer can overcome most of these problems. Working with a letterpress also gives the printer the option of using a wider range of paper, including handmade, organic, and tree-free. Letterpress printing allows for a large variety of choices. The classic feel and finish of letterpress papers takes printing back to an era of quality and craftsmanship that is not often found in other printing methods today. Even the smell of the ink, more apparent on a letterpress-printed page than with offset, often appeals to the collector.

While less common in contemporary letterpress printing, it is possible to print halftoned photographs, via photopolymer plates, on letterpress equipment. However, letterpress printing's strengths are crisp lines, patterns, and typography.

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