File Preparations

Here’s what you need to know when designing for letterpress.

Letterpress: A Crash-Course Introduction

If you can design it on your computer, it can be printed letterpress. Letterpress printing is essentially the printing of a series of spot colors, which is to say it is not a four-color process. Each color is a separate print run and the ink color for each run is mixed to match the PMS (uncoated) color that you specify. You can have as many colors as you want but, again, each color will require its own run.

The impression that is made in the paper depends on a number of things: The thickness of the paper (the thicker the paper, the more impression can be achieved). The hardness of the paper (the softer the paper the deeper the impression). The size of the type (the smaller and finer the type the more quickly it will distort under pressure). The density of the image (the more lines of type or art that there is the less impression they will make). For this last one think of walking across a field of snow wearing snowshoes. Now walk across that same field in a pair of high heels. Which footwear leaves a deeper impression in the snow?

Halftones can be used though they will not leave any impression, or bite, in the paper. They work best with papers that are very smooth. Any texture that the paper has will cause the screen to fill in and the image will become muddy. Do not let your screens get too fine. A 120 line screen works well.

Almost all papers work well for letterpress printing. In fact, I have only ever had one paper specified in 20 years of printing that did not work with the letterpress process. And I chose that paper myself. Oh well, live and learn.

I print most of the jobs that I get using photopolymer plates. Over the centuries wood, lead, copper, zinc, magnesium, and other materials have been used to transfer the ink to the paper in letterpress printing. Photopolymer, the latest material in this long list, is ideally suited for forming the bridge between your computer and the letterpress process, And it is the most ecologically friendly material that has ever been put to this use.

How to prepare and send your files.

The first step is to send me your files so that I can have a film negative made from them. The film is used to expose the photopolymer. Files created in InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop all will work fine if you pay attention to some simple guidelines.

File format

The bottom line is that PDF files are the easiest for you to create and are the easiest for me to use.


The art should be line art rendered in solid PMS (Uncoated) colors. Do not use grayscale, process, RGB, CMYK, or Indexed colors.


If you are working with Adobe Illustrator, then all fonts must be converted to outline (Type>Outline). For work created using In Design, all files should be packaged (File>Package) then collect for output and zip the folders.

Email addresses are often designed to be very small and therefore the dots (as in “dot” com) in anything smaller than 12 point type should be made to be two point sizes larger than the rest of the type. Trust me, neither you nor anyone else will notice the size difference, and it will keep them from disappearing in the plate making process.


The edge of your sheet should be indicated by a 1 point line or by crop marks at the corners and bleeds need to extend past the edge of the sheet by 1/16 of an inch. On two-sided work indicate how the sides back up with one another.

Perforation placement can be indicated by a dotted line and score placement by a solid line in a color that is different from the job’s ink colors.

Portfolios and Presentation Boxes

In the past 26 years, I have constructed many portfolios for photographers and other creative people to promote their work. I’ve also made many presentation boxes for people to use to pitch a big idea to an important client or to recognize someone’s achievements. The materials I incorporate range from traditional binding cloth and leather to wood, metal, acrylic rubber, stone, and glass. Attention to detail is always part of the process.

If you have an idea, contact me and let’s talk about the possibilities. If you don’t know where to start, I can work with you to come up with some creative options.