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Letterpress 101

We’re talking about one of my absolute favorite topics today, SMPers. Letterpress is how I personally got my start in the wedding industry, so I can appreciate the love (and hard work!) that goes into the process, resulting in some of the prettiest wedding invitations you’ll ever set eyes on. So we teamed up with the lovely gals at Printerette Press and 2nd Truth to give you a behind the scenes peek at just how those gorgeous invites come to life.

CONCEPTUALIZATION

From Printerette PressAt Printerette Press, when we work with clients to create custom designs, we begin the relationship with a consultation – in person or digitally. This is often one of the most fun parts of the process! We love getting to know our clients and piecing together the details that will soon become the perfect pieces for their event. We ask loads of questions (and sometimes they’re a little weird!) to really get to know the people and the event.

Sometimes our clients like to tweak designs from our existing collection to fit their wedding. Other times, we start from scratch to create fully custom pieces just for them. Beginning the design process is where we like to get our hands a little dirty! A lot of our invitation suites incorporate unique details like custom portraiture, hand lettering, watercolor details, etc. so this is the place for us to pull out the sketchbook, paint brushes, and anything else we need to get the creative juices flowing.

We communicate back and forth with our clients using digital proofs. And when the design is approved and ready, we move to print. We offer a few different print methods for our clients, but our most popular is the one that we do in-house: Letterpress.

PLATE MAKING

After our design is approved by our client we are ready to go to print! (In the case of the example shown here, we first had the watercolor peonies digitally printed onto our paper before we begin the letterpress process.) The first step in the letterpress process is to make plates. Each color on a letterpress printed piece requires it’s own run through the press, and thus, it’s own plate. In the case of our wedding invitation example, we created a plate for the reply card and invitation (to be printed in gray), and another plate for the silver foil. So, the invitation will pass through the press twice (once for gray, once for silver foil), and the reply card will pass through just once (for the gray).

Plate making is something we just recently started doing, and let us say it’s been quite the learning experience. That being said, we’re very glad to be able to make them in-house. A well-made plate is one of the most essential pieces of a letterpress job. If you don’t have a good plate, you don’t have a good print. To make a plate, the design is printed in reverse on film and then adhered with suction to photopolymer plastic. Then, we expose it to light for several minutes. Once the design from the film has been exposed to the plastic, we wash away the unexposed plastic so that only our design remains. After drying and exposing the plastic to light one final time to harden the design, we are all set to print!

MIXING INK & CUTTING PAPER

A Pantone color palette (a designer’s color Bible), provides the “recipe” for mixing each color. To mix the gray shown here, we mixed 80% transparent white, 19% black, and 1% red. Getting an ink color precisely correct can be a challenging task – so having a specific formula of a color is really important. That’s where the Pantone formula guide, and our super accurate scale comes in very handy.

PRINTING

One of the more difficult tasks a letterpress printer faces is perfectly lining up the plate to the area of the paper you need to print on (This is called “registration”). Getting everything straight, centered, aligned can take a few tries before we get it perfect. The more colors we have on a job, the more complicated the registration is because it requires that we register multiple plates.

Once the plates are set, it’s go time! Certain things to concentrate on are the amount of pressure + packing you have behind the paper. This allows you to either gently tap the paper, or punch it harder to get a deep impression. We like to print with a really nice, deep impression. To look really letterpress-y, you know?

We have a couple of presses at Printerette Press. The bulk of our jobs are printed on the Heidelberg Windmill, pictured here. The windmill pulls each sheet into it’s clam-shell, prints it, and spits it out on the other side in a windmill motion. It’s very fast, very efficient, and sometimes a little scary. After all of the steps in printing are finished, we trim them up using our stack paper cutter and voila! a handcrafted wedding suite that beautifully sets the tone for our client’s wedding.

WHY IS LETTERPRESS MORE EXPENSIVE?

It is a largely hand done process on antique equipment that yields a texturally luxurious and one of a kind finished product.

IS IT MORE EXPENSIVE FOR MORE COLORS? DOES DIGITAL PRINTING SAVE ON COST?

Each color on a letterpress job requires it’s own run through the press, and it’s own plate. The more colors, the more materials and production time. Digital printing definitely will save on costs due to the less involved printing process. While you can achieve more colors with digital printing, the process is often called “flat” printing, because the final result includes no textural qualities and requires less hands on production. We specialize in letterpress but offer both methods to cater to all kinds of budgets.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN METALLIC FOIL AND LETTERPRESS?

The metallics that you often times see on invitations is an entirely different process called foil stamping. A main difference is when it comes to the color gold for example. If a bride wants pure gold, we typically suggest the route of foil stamping due to the fact that gold letterpress ink typically looks more bronze because it lacks the metallic effect that foil stamping has to offer. The combination of foil stamping and letterpress is unbelievably gorgeous and has quickly become a trending request in our shop.

HOW CUSTOMIZABLE IS THE PROCESS?

The process is incredibly customizable. We specialize in quirky designs that speak to each and every client that we work with. We have a collection of suites to provide brides with a stepping stone, but are always open to tweaking these existing designs, or creating something entirely new!

IS IT ECO-FRIENDLY?

The paper we use is 100% cotton. It is a bi-product of the textile industry and is made up of cotton linters that would otherwise be garbage. We also use soy based inks.

WHAT IS USUAL TURN AROUND TIME?

As soon as the design is approved to print it typically takes around 15 business days for production.

HOW DO I KEEP EVERYTHING IN MY BUDGET?

We pride ourselves in working hands on with our brides to ensure that we can figure out ways of keeping everything in their budget. By working with different print methods and materials, we are able to accommodate nearly any budget.

Design Studio + Letterpress Print Shop: Printerette Press | Photography: 2nd Truth | Stationery: Printerette Press | Venue: Printerette Press

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From The Bride…Our vision was of an intimate, Minnesota summer wedding full of personal details. Knowing that many of our guests would be visiting Minnesota for the first time, we wanted to showcase the beauty of our home state with an outdoor reception. We also loved the romantic feel of having string lights under a starry sky above our dance floor. I had an image from Pinterest which I carried with me to vendor meetings so they could get a clear understanding of the mood we were striving to provoke.

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While the weather did go our way, not everything went according to plan. Despite the limo forgetting to pick up the groomsmen for pictures, despite the antique car breaking down on the way to the reception, despite the groom getting a bloody nose minutes before the ceremony, and despite the father of the bride stepping into a large pile of dog waste right outside the church, our day was flawless. The best advice I was given during the planning process was to control the “controllables” and on the day of the wedding, just let it all go. So, being the type-A bride that I was, I spent months creating color-coded, personalized day-of schedules for each member of the bridal party. Months meeting with vendors to review the floor plans and highly detailed floor and table grids drawn up by me for all pieces of wedding décor. Weeks solving the unexpected like our linens being discontinued before the wedding. And days coordinating a custom designed necklace to be remade in Shanghai and picked up by one of my coworkers after the original was lost in the mail. But, had I not sat back and had faith that all our outstanding wedding vendors would do their jobs, knowing that I had done all I could possibly do to “control” our day to its ultimate perfection, I would not have recognized the magic and memories that encapsulated our wedding. It was truly perfect. A special thank you to all who participated, we couldn’t have done it without you!

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These Vendors are members of our Little Black Book.
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