What is Letterpress?

Letterpress is a type of ‘relief’ printing where the printing areas are raised above the non-printing areas. Ink is rolled across the letter or shape and paper is then pressed down onto it. When the paper is lifted up the ink has been transferred to the paper. This process can be repeated any number of times.

The type is ordinarily made from wood or metal, although some modern examples may make use of plastics.

Traditionally the letterpress printer would have a variety of fonts available, organised by different sizes with each letter being an individual sort. These would be stored in a type case – large chests with drawers for each font, each divided in to sections for letters and sizes. The compositor would then have to typeset by hand, adding each letter to a composing stick that would be set to the desired width, for example the width of a newspaper column. The type would be arranged upside down and back to front as the final print would be a mirror image.

The words would be correctly laid out using leading to separate lines and spacing to separate words. Each are strips of metal that will not print. This adjustment of space between the type is known as kerning.

brought together to make a forme

offset lithographic press or the flexographic press



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