Traditional images don’t work with letterpress printing.
Andrea is a photographer from Las Vegas who we’ve worked with in the past (Andrea Tunbridge Photography). She recently reordered letterpress business cards and we wanted to share them on the blog. Because of the plate and printing process involved with letterpress, images don’t always work best with letterpress. We’ll share some of our thoughts and tips on using images in letterpress projects and show you more of these cards we printed for Andrea after the break.
So before I go any further, we can print any image via letterpress even full color ones but it’s good to have an understanding of what the final result will look like. Before the advent of offset printing, images were routinely printed using letterpress.
So what is a Halftone? The halftone process is a technique that reproduces a continuous tone using a series of dots that can vary in size or spacing. This image demonstrates what a halftone looks like closeup:
The above image shows a halftone on the left and what we perceive it to look like on the right. We won’t go into the process involved in creating the dot pattern but its through this process that we can make an image compatible with letterpress. The first image believed to be printed via letterpress dates back to the 1873 in The Daily Graphic and is shown below.
Unless you look closeup at the photo you can’t tell that its composed of thousands of tiny dots.
So what images work best for letterpress? While there are no tried and true rules, our experience has been that single color (grayscale) photos work best. Like I mentioned earlier, we can print 4-color process photos but generally if you need a full color photo we suggest a mixture of offset and letterpress. The images also pop best when they are on a light or white background. Any color in the photo will be converted to a pattern of dots, with dark backgrounds requiring a dense grouping of dots.
Are there any file requirements? Yes. First, you’ll want to make sure that you have the image in a high resolution, around 200 DPI at least. This will ensure that there is enough fidelity in the file to produce a clean halftone. You’ll also want to check the balance of brightness and contrast in the image to ensure light areas print light and dark areas print dark. If the photo is a single color make sure to convert it to grayscale mode.
What will the final print look like? Here are more photos of Andrea’s cards. In the photo below on the right, she included a photo of a vintage camera printed in a light blue. We’ve shown some other pieces with halftones on the blog including: AllPopArt Business Cards, Grape Vine Wedding Invite, Sarah Hinkley Business Cards. Since halftones have fine details in them, don’t expect a heavy impression. We try to strike a balance between the impression and details in the printing and for small images you can get a decent impression.
We printed Andrea’s cards on 110lb cotton paper in pearl white and mixed a custom cornflower blue ink. Finally the cards were round cornered with a 1/4″ radius die.
If you’re looking to include images in your next letterpress project let us know, we’d be happy to help!