How to Make Lasting Impressions with Letterpress

So, I showed you some cards with homemade letterpress items this week. For example did I used a pretty wreath printing plate with yellow ink on the handmade tag here:

Now, for those of you who wonder if this letterpress thing is for you, too, I took some photos along the route to demonstrate just how easy peasy and gratifying letterpressing is. What you need is

  • a manual die-cutting machine
  • a letterpress platform to run through the die-cutting machine
  • letterpress ink and paper
  • a brayer to spread the ink
  • a printing plate with your desired design

In my case, I used a Studio Calico exclusive monogram plate (beautifully designed by lettering artist Lindsay Sherbondy) with two coordinating dies:

New letterpress printing plates usually come as a whole, so you need to cut out the designs with some scissors. The plate isn't too thick so a regular scissors will probably work but my choice for this process is a pair of sturdy Tim Holtz Tonic Non-Stick Snips (which my brother jokingly referred to as 'secateurs'). Why? Because they even go through the thin metal with which the dies were joined together at first! Here's a look at the full Lindsay Letters letterpress plate and dies I used for this:

One thing to note is that you want to leave very little boarder around the print designs. If you leave to much of the polymer around the actual designs, it will show as an unwanted impression on your paper later. Ask me how I know ;-)

When your preferred designs are cut, you are ready to put the tiniest amount of letterpress ink from the tube down on an even surface. What you see in the picture below is almost too much if you only plan on making a few prints. My ink plate here was part of a letterpress bundle by Lifestyle Crafts but basically just a flat surface, which you don't worry about it getting dirty, will do.

Next, use a brayer (I recommend something wider than what comes in the letterpress bundle) to spread the ink. If you have some time, go grab a coffee and leave the inks sit on the ink plate for a while. I've heard the color goes on more evenly onto the print designs later this way.

Then, prepare your letterpress plate by temporarily adhering the print design to the upper grid part of the printing platform and put some ink guide strips left and right of the design. Evenly cover the brayer with ink and roll it over the print design. It should now look something like this:

Last steps for letterpressing: Remove the ink guide strips. Place some letterpress (cotton) paper on the opposite, lower side of the plate. Close the printing platform and roll the whole thing through your die-cutting machine. When you open the printing platform after this, you are left with a beautiful, deep impression of your design:

See? Easy as pie and it makes for an extra special texture on your paper-crafting projects :) Talking about projects, I didn't stop at just making elements for my cards. I made me some matching monogrammed envelopes, too.

… and I got a little adventurous by pressing into balsa wood. Since this type of wood is really soft, you get a visible, deep impression. It looks amazing in reality!

After all the inking and printing, you may ask yourself how to get all to color off of your brayer, ink and printing plates. The printing ink is oil based and a little tricky to handle in the cleaning department. What worked pretty well for me in the end is a mix of vegetable oil and dish soap all at once. Rub, rinse, and enjoy your homemade letterpress goodies!

What do you think, will you give it a try? Or am I taking to a pro even and you have some tips to share? Anyway, I'd love to hear from you! Happy weekend :)