Back to Blog List

Topics/Previous Posts

The Complete Guide to Custom Letterpress Services (And How They Can Enhance Your Brand)

Multiple letterpress projects organized in a puzzle-like way.

Letterpress printing is a technology that took centuries to develop and was almost rendered out of date with the invention of our modern-day printers. Thankfully we can thank one woman in particular for bringing it back from the brink of forgotten technology - and for good reason too! Regular printing methods just can’t compete with the unique features that custom letterpress printing can offer you. Whether you’re a small business looking to wow your loyal clients. Or a national brand looking for consistency. Letterpress printing can offer you all that and so much more. All while helping you take your branding and marketing above and beyond your competition.

A Brief History of Letterpress

Letterpress printing is the oldest printing method in the world, dating back to 175 AD in China. Calligraphers would carve their symbols and writing into a wooden block. Once that was complete they would then wash off the dust and splinters before applying ink to the raised portion of the block. From there, they would lay a sheet of paper on the block and rub the ink into the paper. Then voila, they can now make over 1,000 copies a day from that block!

Jumping forward over a thousand years to the mid-1400s, we meet Johann Gutenberg. Gutenberg would carve letters into small blocks of wood (rather than an entire page on one block of wood). This allowed him to quickly assemble a page in his printing press. This was much faster than the original Chinese method. 

The letterpress from Johann Gutenberg was the dominant printing method for about 400 years. In 1875 we now encounter the offset printing press. By using a rubber roller, ink was picked up from a piece of stone, then the paper was rolled through the press to transfer the ink. This style of printing is a great alternative to letterpress printing. It closely replicates the crisp details and custom feeling of modern-day letterpress. It also utilizes the same ink processes as letterpress. However, it doesn’t leave an impression on the paper so you lose out on the tactile nature of letterpress. Offset printing was now the way to print until modern-day printing was developed.

Fast forward to modern times, we have the printing that we’re all familiar with. We can find inkjet and laser printers in almost every home, business, or school. An inkjet printer uses multiple tiny nozzles to jet the ink onto the paper. While a laser printer uses toner particles on a roller to fuse the ink to the paper.

A diamond-shaped postcard that says
The Modern Day Letterpress

Letterpress is a very time-intensive process. Metal plates are custom-etched to the desired design, and a different plate has to be made for every color. Then the plate is inked with its color, the sheet is stamped, and the process is repeated. Then the plate is swapped out for the next color, the sheets are reloaded into the machine, and the process repeats. As you can see, businesses shied away from letterpress printing as it wasn’t found to be economical for large-scale marketing projects. But all that has changed as businesses and consumers are wowed and delighted by modern-day letterpress designs and print options. 

You can thank Martha Stewart for that! No, I’m serious, Martha Stewart practically brought letterpress printing back from the dead in the 1990s. You see, up until recently, letterpress machines would barely touch the paper, “kissing” the ink onto the page. This is easily replicated by modern-day inkjet or laser printers for those who prefer speed and affordability. 

However, Martha Stewart in the 90s with her rapidly growing lifestyle business lauded letterpress printing, especially for wedding invitations. You get gorgeous embossing or debossing by using a thick sheet of paper and having the letterpress apply more pressure with the ink. You can feel the print with your hands and see the light catch the ink and the edges of the design. 

And into the present day, letterpress printing has held its position as the way to provide upscale, memorable and unique designs, and businesses have taken notice.

3 Ways for Businesses to Leverage Custom Letterpress Marketing

With this resurgence in letterpress printing, many brands around the world are turning to letterpress for their branding and marketing. The tactile nature of letterpress works wonders when it comes to things like business cards, menus or bags. Its tactile nature allows for some unique branding opportunities for your business.

A business card with the letterpress design.

One of the most effective ways you can use custom letterpress designs in your marketing is also one of the most common - business cards. You can have the press create a debossed logo mark. Or skip the ink and have a blind debossed texture on the card. You can use light pressure to have an incredibly subtle feeling of texture or utilize a super thick and airy paper with high pressure for an almost bouncy texture. Ultimately, you know how important first impressions are and incorporating letterpress into your branding and marketing can impress and delight any future client.

Another way you can uniquely use letterpress is with shopping bags. If you cater to high-end clients, this is one of the best ways to showcase your business's attention to detail. A sturdy yet soft, almost velvety, the shopping bag is great to use for letterpress. Your logo or business name pressed into the bag will provide a memorable experience for your clients. They’ll know that no detail is too small for you and that you’re not just providing a product, but an experience. 

You can create beautiful letter-pressed menus for your restaurant or café. With thick, sturdy paper you can utilize a custom letterpress plate to bring some visual interest to your menus. You can use a deep deboss for the course titles or use eye-catching foil stamping for your business name right at the top. Or just use a blind deboss effect (no ink) to create a subtle texture. 

While these are some methods you can use to wow all of your clients, you can use letterpress for a wide variety of other uses. Some honorable mentions are:

  1. Custom Letterpress Letterheads
  2. Custom Letterpress Invitations
  3. Custom Letterpress Postcards
  4. Custom Letterpress Envelopes
  5. and more…

How to Find the Best Letterpress Printer for Your Business

There are many letterpress shops around the world. But how can you make sure you’re working with the best letterpress printer near you? Thankfully, there are quite a few ways you can identify the best print shops. 

First, understand that letterpress printing is not at all like standard printing. Letterpress operators can’t just click a button and have it print the same every time. Second, not just anyone can do this. Letterpress operators are craftsmen and letterpress is artistry. Becoming a great letterpress printer takes skill, experience and time. 

When you are looking around at various letterpress printers in your area, make sure to ask to see any showcase items they may have. Or ask to see if you can watch the process in action if possible. This is important as it will allow you to see their actual products, which will be the best way to determine their expertise as a letterpress printer.

Ultimately, there are three aspects you should pay close attention to while looking at their products or watching them work.A close up of the texture a custom-printed coaster with black ink letterpress.

Impression Consistency

This is all about the depth of the debossing (the impression) consistent across all the prints. Whether it’s just 50 postcards or 1,000 business cards. Impression consistency will show you that the letterpress operator has very fine control over the machine, ensuring the pressure as the plate pushes on the paper is the same across the board. 

You can easily test the impression consistency by running your fingers across the impression on different final products for the same print job. We recommend you test the impression consistency on the first, middle, and last prints. This will highlight any gradual inconsistencies that add up over time. 

Issues with impression consistency can lead to unbalanced impressions (the left side of the impression is deeper than the right). Ink bleeds (the left side ink doesn’t fill the entire impression, while the right side has ink bleeding outside of the impression). You and I don’t want this to happen.

A close up of a yellow product package with a dark yellow letterpress design.
Color Consistency

Color consistency is all about the color on the first print being the same color as the last print. Letterpress ink isn’t the same as what you’ll find in your printer at home. Rather than using CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key/Black), letterpress machines use Pantone colors. 

Pantone colors allow for near-perfect consistency in the color of the ink (since each color is individually manufactured). However, if you are wanting a color that is not available through Pantone, the letterpress operator will have to mix the colors manually. This is where color consistency comes into play. An experienced craftsman will be able to replicate the color you want and keep it consistent across hundreds or even thousands of prints. 

Letterpress inks are translucent, meaning that they will almost always be a little see-through and show the color of the paper underneath. Inconsistent colors will have some prints look more translucent than others. Inconsistent mixing will have one print have a color that’s a few shades off from another print. 

When your brand is recognizable by its color palette, consistency is key.

A close up of a letterhead and envelope with a very fine lined letterpress design.

Crisp Edges

This is one of the easiest issues to spot with inexperienced letterpress operators. When the press is pushed against the paper, it’s not light pressure, it’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes the machine can sound like it’s about to break with how hard the plate hits the paper! With this amount of force, the operator needs to make sure that they are carefully applying ink to the press. Being sloppy or inconsistent with the ink will have the ink bleed onto the edges of the impression. 

If you’ve ever used an ink stamp it’s easier to visualize. If you’re careful with the ink stamp and put light pressure on the inked plate, then the stamp comes out crisp. But if you push the stamp hard into the inked plate and push it hard on the paper, it just comes out as one big blob of ink. Letterpresses work similarly. 

If the operator puts too much ink on the plate, it will go over the edges when it’s pushed against the paper. This results in a blurry edge that doesn’t look professional. Even if the operator puts the right amount of ink on the plate, you'll get the same result if the pressure is too high. 

An experienced operator knows how to balance the ink and pressure to ensure your prints are crisp, colorful and consistent.


Now that you’re an expert in picking out the best letterpress operators from all the rest, you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be in good hands. How do we know? Because AlphaGraphics of Buckhead includes custom letterpress services and has some of the best operators in the business. 

We know what you should look out for in a printer because it’s what we look for in all of our projects. That’s what separates the best from all the rest. 

If you want to explore custom letterpress branding or marketing for your business, reach out to us and let us know! We’d be happy to help whether you’re local to the Atlanta area or across the nation. 


Guess you learn something new everyday!


Leave a Comment

Only comments approved by post author will be displayed

Back to Blog List