Best ways to print black and white photo on letterpress?

What are the best ways to print a black and white photograph on a letterpress?

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A laser printer will do a much better job than almost any letterpress process. Then print any text with the printing press.

You can have a halftone cut made from a digital image at Owosso Graphic Arts, or some similar outfit, and print from that, but the resolution won’t be nearly as good and the higher resolution halftones are a challenge to print by letterpress. If you have to do it letterpress, use the smoothest paper you can and make sure your rollers are in top shape and adjusted correctly. Do your makeready carefully and watch your inking constantly. I think a cylinder press will be easier than a platen press for this kind of printing.

Seriously, I’d do it with a laser printer. A lot less hassle and it will likely look better.

I can’t give you the best of the advices but if you like a picture printed letterpress, I do print it for you.


Hi HD - Thanks for the offer but I’ll pass. If you don’t mind teaching a newbie, what is your best method for printing a photo on your letterpress?


buy an old cut of a picture from someone and practice with it you need a fair amount of pressure to print a halftone, small presses, like table tops will be harder, if you don’t try to do a large picture it should work, about half the size of your chase is maxium. good luck dick g.

j archibald

Well, a metal plate will be better. Zinc. I have printed photos using steel backed photopolymer plates. It may take a couple of plates depending how small screen value you are using and the only way to be sure if the plate is good (sometimes one or other dot is washed out) is by proofing it. Basically, if you have a good plate you have got yourself a photo.

Find a plate maker that can give you a good plate and for printing, any press will do. Will print different ways in different presses, with different results (or the ‘better’ the press, better results).

Plus, take it easy while making ready your press :)

One thing which often plagues letterpress halftones is the loss of highlight dots (the lighter areas of the image. This can be used as an effect (vignetting), but for good reproduction, you will want to make certain you can reproduce those fine dots which must appear for the tones of the halftone to look smooth and even. As a rule, you will gain in contrast with the printed copy.

The other end of the scale is important, too. You don’t want the shadows to plug up, so you want an adequate dot printing there so you can retain shadow detail.

Although it may seem to be an unnecessary expense, it is good to scan in a step scale, or create a digital file with graduated blocks of different percentage dots in the screen ruling you plan to use. Go from a 5% to a 95% dot in your file, and do the gradtions at 5% steps. Make a plate and print it on the paper you intend to use to see what dots drop out or fill in. Then you will know what your process is capable of reproducing and can use those %dot settings for your highlight and shadow areas.

Plainly mark the graduated blocks so you can relate the %dot to particular squares.

Letterpress, or any relief printing method, is not the idea process for printing photographs. It can be done of course, but it does entail a loss of detail and tonal values.

As far as producing the half-tone blocks goes, I’d have to agree with Devil Tail, and recommend that you send an actual photograph to the platemaker instead of a digital file. I know in my own shop, we get much better results when working with originals.

I’d also recommend metal plates. PP plates can and do work for this purpose, but I’ve found that zinc tends to carry a sharper image for more impressions.

Devils Tail Press : I’ll be using a 9x6 tabletop platen press of a generic manufacturer (no markings on it). Paper quality likely will be a hibrite, probably 35 pound, paper. Glad to know that sending the actual image is recommended. Thank you!

Dickg: Thanks for the tip! This is one reason I appreciate - I get to hear your words of wisdom. Thank you.

HD - I appreciate your comments. I have heard PP plates are good for typography but that my luck would be better to print photographs on a flatbed cylinder rather than my tabletop. I’ll be careful on that makeready, too. :)

jhenry - An excellent idea and, really, part of the learning curve of my machine’s performance. Using that plate on the various types of paper I use also could help me in the future, too. Thank you!

Winking Cat : Any recommendations on how to store a zinc plate to avoid oxidation? Thanks for your thoughts.

contact me and i will send you a old halftone (if i can find them) i have tons of them packed away somewhere, just pay postage dick g.

If I’m not mistaken shellac was used to cover zinc plates, before packing them and storing them.


I’m interested in this topic also. I don’t have the artistic skills to produce a genuine woodcut style image by myself, but what about edge detection and vector conversion, or a photo filter to producing hatching?

Are there any attractive options out there that don’t require a lot of skill or intervention from the user?