What is Letterpress?

LETTERPRESS WEDDING
January 15, 2017

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Did you know…wedding invitations all started with a town crier? Before printing presses, a gentleman would walk through the streets announcing in a loud voice the wedding – traditionally, anyone within earshot became part of the celebration. Thankfully wedding invitations have changed a little!
 
With technology and different printing methods we are able to make and send beautiful mail to our carefully curated guest lists (not all those in earshot). Of all the invitations sent and received, one of the most gorgeous and recognizable is a letterpress invitation. Running a finger over the deep impression and cotton paper, you can literally feel each part of the printed design…but what goes into this letterpress invitation?
 
Letterpress has it’s own history too – starting about 600 years before the magazine Martha Stewart Weddings published an article featuring letterpress wedding invitations, which brought back interest in this outdated form of printing. A man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press with movable type. He started the era of mass communication, which forever changed society and spread the knowledge, science, and literacy. For the next 500 years, the printing press remained greatly unchanged until another type of printing came into play in the middle of the 1900’s. Offset printing, followed by digital printing, almost rendered letterpress obsolete. Letterpress’s recent revival has brought back this ancestor of printing back to us. In our print shop in Vermont, our letterpress’s presence is humbling – weighing in at 1 ton or 2,000 pounds – it’s amazing that its 96-year-old frame can produce something so beautiful and delicate. We often wonder where she’s been all these years, prior to getting her from an antique collector out of Rhode Island. Her legacy continues as we print beautiful invitations and stationery on her.
 
So what does go into the invitation and what makes it unique, besides the history? Technology allows us to use computer software to create stunning designs and then order a polymer plate (which looks a lot like a rubber stamp) of that design. The entire printing process generally takes a few weeks and is more involved than pressing a button. Once the couple gets in touch with us, we either design a custom invitation suite for them or they choose one from our design library. We then send them a PDF proof of the invitation suite, and after that’s approved we order the materials needed for your invitation. We order a polymer plate, cotton paper and envelopes to print on. From here the process gets very hands-on. We hand-mix the ink colors according to our Pantone Formula Guide, oil up the machine and set the design up on the press. After inking the press and rollers with one color, we test a few sheets to ensure the alignment, color and impression is all perfect. If everything looks great, we then print the invitation suite, hand feeding each sheet of paper at a time. If there is a second color, we clean the machine up and restart the process with the next color. A quantity of 100 simple 2-color invitations, reply cards and printed return addresses, can be about 700 runs through the press – which is all operated by foot pumping. When everything has been printed, we clean up the press and lastly, double-check all the pieces to ensure they are equally beautiful before shipping out the package to the lucky couple.