What is letterpress printing? Applications, uses and everything you need to know

impresión tipográfica

Letterpress printing system

Letterpress printing was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, a German who was born in 1400 and who, before his death in 1468, left our society one of the most important inventions in all of history. In the fifteenth century there were many problems to get information to the lower-income classes, which is why the invention of letterpress printing was so important, for the simple reason of allowing the information to reach many people at a considerable cost. low.

Definition of letterpress printing

Before knowing the definition of letterpress printing, it is important to understand the concept of letterpress. Typography is known in many parts of the world as an art or a technique that consists in not only managing the letterpress printing process, but also in the selection of fonts (typefaces) so that the printing obtained is of the best quality. possible.

Now if it is possible to better understand the concept of letterpress printing that can simply be understood as the plan to follow to make a printing on different types of paper through a somewhat complex process in which different parts of the typography system participate.


Like any printing system, it has its benefits and problems, the case of letterpress printing is no exception, but here we share some characteristics that would definitely highlight its attributes over the other options;)

  • Can be deployed for low volume
  • Quality is not lost throughout the realization
  • The porosity and the weight of the paper are not a problem as in other printing options such as offset.
  • The printing process can be carried out in almost any cellulosic format
  • At present it is used for author work, such as copy and card printing, as well as for alternative operations for another printing system.

Letterpress printing process

Depending on the type of letterpress machine that is being used, the printing process may vary a bit, but in general we can explain the letterpress printing process in a fairly simple way in 3 steps:

1.The first step consists of preparing the letterpress printer, within this process we can recognize other threads:Assembly or composition of the plate, a process which consists of adding the types and making a subjection of them.

Then the plate should be placed in the printer in the same position as the printing rollers and the paper added.

2.Then, as a second step we have the application of ink in the printer (specifically in the ink rollers). Usually this process is carried out using a specialized spatula.

3.The final step is precisely the letterpress printing on the selected paper, in this part of the process the ink is applied to the types of the plate and while the cylinders are rolling on the paper the image is marked on the paper (by the pressure between plate and paper generated by the cylinders).

It is important to clarify that (as we said before) the letterpress printing process explained above is a generalization, this means that, depending on the machine and the type of paper used, the process may vary a bit.

If you are more about graphics than words, here I share an infographic of the letterpress printing process, use it without problem I will not demand copyright if I see it out there;)

Materials typography

In the letterpress printing process, different materials are used for typography, below we will mention some of the most important:

  • Materials for printing. Different types of paper can be used in the letterpress process, for example, uncoated paper, cotton fiber papers, colored papers, special papers, among others.
  • Materials for types. In history different materials have been used to design the types, in general a basic composition has approximately 90% lead, 6% antimony and 4% tin.
  • For the plates. In the beginning, the plates were built with lead and wood, today, different materials are used that better withstand pressure, for example, photopolymers, wood, among other things.
  • For dyes or inks. Evolution has led typographers to use different types of inks for letterpress printing, today oil and resin-based inks (usually synthetic) are often used.

What is it for?

Currently, the use is the use of typofrafica printing, it is mainly highlighted in complementary operations, such as stamping, numbering, folding, stitching and stamping, also in low-numbered final arts such as cards, forms, invitations, among others.

Letterpress printing systems

Letterpress printing systems are known as one of the best inventions or creations in all of history, thus having a truly incomparable effect on society. When Gutenberg created the first letterpress printing systems, he surely did not understand the importance that his invention would have in society and even in the future, since thanks to the appearance of the printing press many people stopped being illiterate to find manuscripts that did not have to see only with the information that the convents wanted to expose.

Letterpress printing advantages and disadvantages

Advantages of letterpress printing

  • The process is quite simple and after a slightly high first investment, it is not necessary to make many more exaggerated expenses.
  • It is possible to personalize the prints and obtain them with a much more marked and different relief than with other methods or printing processes.
  • Letterpress printing allows the use of different types of paper (such as cardboard, offset paper, among others), something that in other types of printing can be complicated.

Disadvantages of topographic printing

  • The process is simple but somewhat slow.
  • Problems can occur with the use of color (usually you must wait until one color dries before applying the next).
  • It can be difficult to print images.

Typographic families

One of the greats of the Maximilien Vox typography talks about the fact that there are mainly four typographic families (there are also other typographic classifications) that are differentiated by some of their most relevant characteristics:

  • Script fonts. The main purpose of script font families is to try to imitate handwriting. Script fonts are also classified into three different types: gothic, manual, and calligraphy type.
  • Roman typography. The Roman typeface according to Vox includes the largest number of typeface families and also includes several of the most used worldwide. They are quite regular fonts and both the curves and the straight lines of the letters are highlighted. One of the great advantages is that their texts are friendly to the eye, that is, they offer ease to be read.
  • Fantasy fonts. Fantasy typeface is completely different from all other typefaces, it includes letter designs that are not among the most recognized or expected by readers.
  • Palo Seco fonts. The sans serif typeface looks for a design that can go unnoticed, that is, a simple design but that can be easily read. Within the Palo seco classification we can also find the grotesque, neo-grotesque, humanistic, geometric, among others.

Types of letterpress machines

Types of letterpress machines

There are mainly three types of letterpress machines, flat machines, cylindrical flat machines and cylinder machines.

  • Flat machines. They were the first letterpress machines, in them both the paper and the plate are placed on a flat surface. They are not complicated to operate or use and their versatility is presented as their greatest advantage.
  • Flat cylindrical machines. In this case, the plate remains on a flat surface, but the paper is placed on a cylinder that performs movements on the plate. They can be used (after some modifications) for cutting and even folding.
  • Cylinder machines. For cylinder machines, both the plate and the paper are placed on cylindrical surfaces. One of the advantages of this type of machine is to be able to take advantage of the process and pass the paper through two different cylinders, this means two different printing colors at the same time.

Typographic design today

The typographic design had a quite strong blow with the appearance of other printing methods that can be simpler and have less expenditure in terms of time and money, despite this, in recent years it has been relaunched in a quite interesting way, giving people a completely special relief finish that is extremely difficult to obtain using other methods. The truth is that there is no doubt that typographic design still has a lot of market today and that it can give our business, company or product a completely different and special image.
Finally, and since we love design on this portal, we share an excellent video that we find about the 10 most important rules when making a typographic design.

Finally, and since we love design on this portal, we share an excellent video that we find about the 10 most important rules when making a typographic design.