Letterpress Printing FAQs

Ink Questions

Can you print white ink on black paper?

Yes, but it may not turn out how you expect. WE DO NOT PRINT WHITE INK ON DARK PAPER. White ink does not turn out bright white and light colors will not print lighter than the stock color they are printing on. Since white ink and light colored inks are not very opaque, the ink will print on the paper with a large amount of transparency. A white ink has almost a blueish appearance. This ink transparency is more evident the darker the paper color.
See this post on our blog for a comparison of white and silver inks.
See this post for some black paper business card examples.

Can you print lots of colors?

Letterpress prints one color at a time. We can print as many spot colors as you want, but it does get expensive because of the time that goes into production. Each color must be plated, set up, printed and washed up separately.

Can you print tints of a color?

For letterpress to print a tint we must print a halftone screen. (Think of a coarse grayscale newspaper image) We almost always recommend printing a second color rather than a line screen tint. This is especially true of small type and fine details.

How do you match my color?

We print using Solid UNCOATED Pantone inks, which can appear dramatically different on screen, please be sure to view a physical Pantone swatch book when selecting your colors. If you are unable to access a Solid Uncoated Pantone swatch book you may mail us a physical sample of the color (fabric, paper, etc) to match to. Our final print colors will not match your on-screen preview.

Can I specify a Coated Pantone ink color?

Because we print on uncoated stocks, any inks we print will achieve an uncoated appearance. We do not match other swatch types such as COATED, PROCESS or RGB.  You must view UNCOATED Pantone colors to view results closest to what we will achieve.

Can you print a glossy ink?

No, a glossy ink sheen will not be achieved with letterpress on uncoated papers.  If an element must be glossy, we typically recommend that we print a foil.

Can you print metallic inks?

Yes, we love metallic colors. Metallic inks are a notable for their opacity and will print opaque on colored stocks. With the exception of metallic inks, letterpress inks are transparent. Silver ink is often our suggested substitution for designs that come to us with a white ink specified on a dark colored or black paper.

Are metallic inks shiny?

Metallic ink can offer a nice sheen, but it is a dull appearance rather than shiny since we are printing on uncoated paper. Make sure and look at the limited range of the Pantone UNCOATED ink swatches. If an element must be shiny, we typically recommend that we print a foil rather than an ink. See our Hot Foil FAQ.

What is a blind impression?

A blind impression is one without ink. This is a subtle way to add texture without color. Generally, we do not recommend a blind impression for small text information or on colored paper stocks. The results can be very subtle with a blind impression because only the depth of impression defines the artwork. We usually recommend a tonal impression.

What is a tonal ink impression?

When something is printed blind it relies solely on good lighting conditions to be legible. Our solution is to print using a tonal ink, which creates just enough contrast between the artwork and the paper to make your contact information visible. We like to print small amount of ink, at least a varnish, for a slight tonal shift. This can look like a blind impression, but it is putting ink on paper for a tone-on-tone effect. We often print the same colored ink on the colored paper. (example: red ink on red paper)
See a tonal ink / white paper example on our blog.
See a tonal ink / colored paper example on our blog.

What kind of ink do you use?

We use soy-based printing inks and hand mix each color as we need them. Hand mixing allows us to reduce what we use and make just the amount of ink we need for a job. This way we do not have hundreds of pounds of ink sitting on the shelf hoping to be used for a job someday.


Paper Questions

How thick a paper can you print?

We can print on some stuff that would choke digital or offset presses. We print 220lb cover stock all day long. We can hand feed paper much thicker.

What kind of paper do you use?

Since most of our clients prefer a deep impression, our preference is a cotton fiber paper. Often times this is a budget driven decision. Cotton is a more expensive material. We print on many different papers, as long as they are uncoated. We keep a large paper inventory as house sheets as well.  If can you communicate a project budget, we can make paper recommendations.

What is the difference between cotton and wood fiber papers?

Cotton papers are much softer than wood pulp based stocks, thereby allowing for greater sculptural impression and enhancing the beauty of modern letterpress printing. Any paper that is uncoated with good bulk can get a nice impression.

What papers don’t work well?

Papers that come from the mill with a heavy texture already applied to them or dense sheets that are extra compressed. ( textures like linen, felt, ultra smoothed, parchment, leatherette) In these kinds of sheets the fibers are already compressed and do not lend themselves to additional heavy impression from letterpress printing.

Can you match an ink color to a paper color?

Yes, we very often match paper stock color with a printed ink. Note that the dye of the paper versus the ink of the print will have some inherent difference, but we can get a custom color ink mix to match closely to pretty much anything people send us.

Can you print colored inks on colored papers?

A tone-on-tone effect is the result of printing ink on a colored paper. We recommend using the “multiple” filter in Adobe Illustrator to get on on screen indication of overprinting color results. It isn’t a perfect match but does give a good approximation. See our blog example with dark red ink on red paper.

Can you use coated papers?

We can, but only with a kiss impression. We typically print only on uncoated papers. With coated papers and heavy impression, the coated surface tends to crack under pressure or squeeze ink on the edges of the impression. If you’d like a coated paper, go for offset or digital printing.

How large a sheet can you print?

Our largest sheet size is 21 x 28. This is extra large for letterpress! We can plate a continuous area up to 19 x 25 inches. However, if you are thinking about a large piece see please see our Poster FAQ. Printing of poster size press sheets is expensive and typically needs at least a few hundred sheets to make it worthwhile.


Press Check Questions

Can I press check my project?

We always encourage clients to look at their job on press. This allows us to quickly make color and impression adjustments to your preferences. If you or your client is unable to visit us for the press check we can offer a Press Test or a Virtual Press Check.

What is a Virtual Press check?

If you or your client are unable to to see your job locally in our shop, we do offer the option to take photos and show you the job as we run it. There is an additional charge for this and you must be available by email during press time so we can get approval to proceed right away.

What is a Press Test?

We are experts in working with clients over a distance with our Press Test process. This process is especially good for clients that want to see ink on paper before a job runs. A press test is a portion of your artwork on the paper you have selected. We print a range of impression depths and ink densities, and send them to you for approval. Press tests do require additional fees and time.


Letterpress Process Questions

What is modern letterpress?

While letterpress previously relied on hand set wood and metal types along with specially made engravings, modern plastic plates allow us to print artwork from digital files. For plating, we use photopolymer – a light sensitive plastic exposed using high resolution image setter film. We generate our own film and plates in house. These plates use an adhesive backing and mount to an aluminum base in order to bring the relief plate to the proper height the previously used wood and metal types.

Can you print photos?

We can print a line screened, halftone style photo. Think about a grayscale newspaper image – that is the effect we will print. We typically print an image with anywhere from 50-100 line halftone screens. We push the values in the image to land mostly between 20 and 80 percent. More than 80% starts can start to fill with ink, and less than 20% may risk washing away in the plating process. Halftone images can be a challenge to ink up on letterpress and require a robust inking system with lots of pressure.

Can you print big runs?

There seems to be a general assumption that letterpress as a printing method is not suited to longer runs. NOT SO! We have six cylinder presses precisely because we’ve seen much more interest in larger scale letterpress work. This is an area where we excel. There aren’t many letterpress shops out there that can handle the same set of specifications that we can handle. We have a commitment to making letterpress a relevant production method for any size commercial project. Our press capacity and the quality of our vintage equipment makes us a giant in letterpress printing.

How do I begin my project with Studio On Fire?

Please visit either our contact or estimates pages.