Sunday, March 11, 2007

creating artwork for letterpress

If you've designed for offset printing, you'll find that letterpress printing is easy to design for as well. Here are guidelines that Boxcar Press's letterpress pre-press shop and Bella Figura gives designers interested in letterpress printing. Guidelines for preparing artwork might vary from shop to shop, so always check with your printer about their policies beforehand!


Choosing colors: Use Pantone uncoated solid spot colors only—don't use process, RGB, CMYK, LAB, or Indexed colors. The colors in your document should correspond to the ink colors we’ll use when printing. i.e. if we’ll be printing in two ink colors, make sure only two spot colors are used throughout your files. While letterpress printing traditionally uses 1 or 2 spot colors; 3 or 4 spot colors make for an extravagant and lavish production.

Fonts: We recommend using type no smaller than 6 point. Letterpress excels at printing type and handles most fonts very well. Be sure to see our application-specific instructions below for instructions on supplying us your fonts.

Images: Vector images (from Illustrator or Freehand) work very well. For raster images (from Photoshop), avoid the grayscale color mode for your images. Use a 1200 dpi bitmap instead. See the application-specific information below for more information.

Line width: Lines should be 0.25 point (or .003”) or thicker. Don't use hairlines, please!

Trim size: Show the final trim size either by using a 1 point 100% black border, or by setting the document size to the trim size.

Dies and scores: Letterpress printing presses can also die-cut and score paper—even with very thick stocks. Die cuts should be clearly indicated by a 1 point 100% magenta line; scores should be indicated by a 1 point 100% cyan line. We'd be happy to consult you on your die pattern to make sure that it will work with our equipment.

Bleeds: If you’re using a bleed, extend your artwork at least 1/16” past the trim.

Screens: Letterpress excels at printing colors at 100%. If you’d like to incorporate a lighter color, we recommend using a second lighter ink color instead of a screen. Screens are more suited for offset printing, not letterpress.

Reverse type: Depending on the size of the reverse type, your reverses can clog up on the press. Because of this, we recommend a type size of 12 point or larger for reverse type, though this does vary depending on the typeface that you use. You may have to add a small stroke to the reverse type to compensate for letterpress ink gain. Also, if we're printing text and the solid area around your reverse type in the same color, we may need to print the solid area in a separate print run. Extra press runs do increase the cost of printing.

Light ink on dark paper: With letterpress, we tend to print dark ink on light paper, because that is letterpress printing’s strength! Light ink on dark paper is really best suited for engraving. When a client wants to incorporate a darker color, we might suggest printing an offset flood on the back side of a light colored paper, or duplexing a dark colored paper to a light colored paper. That said, if you really want light ink on dark paper, just be prepared for paper show through. With letterpress, we use translucent inks. Printing light ink on dark paper will be like using a thin coat of white paint on a brown wall: you’ll see the brown color through the paint. If using a pure white ink or metallic ink, we can run a piece through the press twice, at an additional cost, to create a more dense color.

Large solids (areas larger than ½” thick): Letterpress printed solids look different from offset printed solids. The paper tends to show through large solids, creating a slightly textured look that’s almost suede-like (we think this is a beautiful look by the way!). If you have a large solid and thin text in the same color, we’ll need to print the solid in a separate press run, to give the text a good deep impression and proper inking. Extra press runs do increase the cost of printing. Large solid areas can cause buckling of the paper, especially if using a thinner machine-made paper stock. You’ll also notice the depth of impression may appear less noticeable on really large letterpress solids—it doesn't have the contrast that line-art or type would have.

Envelopes: In general, letterpress prints envelopes well. If your artwork is anything other than a return address, consult with us about placement of your art on envelopes. Depending on the envelope, there may be limitations to where you can place your art.

Paper size
: If you're printing a piece larger than 9x12, please consult with us about what maximum paper size you can use for your design. Depending on the nature of the artwork and the quantity we're printing, we can recommend a format that works well for our equipment.


Adobe Illustrator
: Illustrator works very well for drawing artwork and setting type. Before sending your Illustrator file to us, outline the type (Type>Outline) and save the layout as a new file name (so that you can go back to edit the type if necessary later). Also, embed all linked images (an option in the Links palette). Preferred file formats: EPS or PDF.

Adobe InDesign: InDesign work very well for typesetting and layout. You can gather all the files we need with the File>Package... feature. Preferred file format: INDD or a exported PDF.

Adobe Photoshop: If possible, use only for imagery. Type should be designed in Illustrator, InDesign, or Quark instead of Photoshop. Bitmap images at 1200 dpi work best (you can set this in Image>Mode... menu with the 50% Threshold method). Preferred file format: TIFF (with LZW compression).