Image of a close up of a letterpress printed greeting card with a blue trumpet on a green background

The Beauty of Letterpress

The classic feel and finish of letterpress cards takes printing back to an era of quality and craftsmanship.  At Quince & Quill we stock letterpress greetings cards from several brands working with this wonderful process.

Letterpress printing is a form of relief printing, today identifiable by the impression it makes on thick paper and recognised for a tactile and refined quality.

Letterpress is one of the oldest methods of getting the printed word on to a page and, in the Western Hemisphere, its development is credited to Johannes Gutenberg in about 1440. The process involved individually cast, moveable type that were set together in a sturdy wooden “forme” (frame) to create any desired word or sentence. Gutenberg invented a press that this wooden frame was placed into, the type was inked and the paper laid carefully on the press where pressure was applied from above, which flattened and pressed the paper onto the inked type.  This technique became the leading form of printing for the subsequent hundreds of years after its invention.

In the most part, letterpress only started to become out-of-date commercially from the 1970s due to the introduction of computers that replaced the letterpress’s abilities more efficiently.  Towards the end of the century many printing establishments went out of business and sold or discarded these beautiful printing machines. The craft was continued by artisans and revived by a growing demand for the “one-off” and hand-crafted products.

Each letterpress printed greetings card has been handled, prepared and checked individually. Whilst this is a labour and time-consuming process, it is also one that feeds the senses, from the coldness and weight of metal type, the smell of oil and ink, the rhythm of printing machines cycling quietly to the enjoyment of seeing the printed page.

It is a unique and involved process; only one colour can be applied at a time, so a print with multiple colours require a different plate for each colour that is to be applied.  After the first plate has gone through the press, it needs to be left to dry and the press reset for the next plate.

Whilst the craft follows the traditional methods, new technology offers the possibility for modern additions.  Moveable types, for example, were made from wood or metal plates but today they can be produced in a polymer. This allows artisans to make letterpress prints from designs made on a computer.  Interestingly, the intention of historical letterpress products was not to leave an impression on the paper but today’s characteristic tactile impression is actually the result of the use of polymer plates; a unique culmination of past and present.


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