Deep impression w.Polymer?

Are there physical limitations on how deep an impression one can get w. polymer plates? I found a datasheet at stating Face Relief is only .027”. If that’s as deep as you can get with it, I suppose it’s the reason people go magnesium, right?

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Standard cardstock for business cards ranges from 10 to 15 points. A point is .001 (a thousandth) of an inch. So even 220 lb. Lettra is about .028” and you’re not going to smash the paper down to that thousandth of an inch, no matter what.

Opinions vary on whether or not to use polymer, but a lot of people feel it’s the best choice for deep impression printing, mostly because of it’s (relative) low cost.

How deep of an impression are you looking for? Keep in mind that extremely deep impression printing could easily damage your press and wreck your printing material in short order.

I had some acceptably deep impressions using type and was looking at polymers for future projects, hence my question.

I would not suggest using your type for an impression at all. Any depth of impression using metal type will damage it forever. It will round the nice serfs off and in some cases break the hair line strokes. Wood type can also have irreversible damage to it when hit hard. Remember, type was made to kiss the paper.

That’s where photopolymer can be used. However, as mentioned in this thread, you can and will damage to your press.

Inky Lips Letterpress
Kissing The Paper With Inky Lips™

We were using a photopolymer plate and the boss kept insisting on increasing the impression. I told him it was not a good idea and would not be resonsible for the press. He kept insisting on increasing it, but when the press jammed he finally got the message. Fortunately I was able slighty rock the press and release the impression lever. They listen to me now! Ron

Its not just the *depth* of impression but also the *clarity* (quality/legibility) of the impression.

My short newbie experience is that for deep impression, magnesium is as good as photopolymer. But for clarity I’ve finally decided that magnesium is better.

Mag plates will start pitting or deteriorating if they aren’t protected. We smear petroleum jelly (Vasoline) on them between usages. Ron


Most photopolymer plates in the letterpress formulation with give you plenty of impression. And yes, the impression is limited, but it does not matter if it is a .038 or .60 plates, the “relative reverse relief depth” is the same (which is revealed in the specs).

Not sure how much you actually need but I’ve been printing a few projects on 505 gsm paper, on Vandercooks, and with a minimum of .028 packing, that is pretty much crunch time.

And that is plenty without destroying the surface of the paper, which may or may not be a concern with the deep relief folks but it certainly is if you are printing on a previously printed surface, such as giclee.

I picked up a Universal III auto that I am using for such a project and while I can’t feel the stress, the press certainly shows it. I’ve quickly become friends with the fuse department at Graingers. Deep impression is NOT good for your press.

If you have a Heidelberg and it is clamming shut on you and/or you are having to replace the “doughnut,” you are pushing its tolerances as well.


I knew about the danger of too much impression, but it wasn’t till the press did clam shut that they finally believed me. It’a amazing how someone always knows more than the person running the machine. I usually back the impression off and gradually bring it up. Ron

Glad to see the Issue of HEAVY Impression was addressed. I realize the effect your after, but there is a limit and most i’ve scene lately as samples on web sites are ridiculous. You don’t want the Braille effect on the back side of the sheet. I can’t understand why anyone would want this. This only represents the operators lack of “knowledge for the trade”. The repercussions are very costly; smashed type, & damaged presses. I caution those of you are who actively involved in using too much “squeeze”. This goes without saying, the machines and equipment you are using are in limited supply, don’t wear them out. Solve your problems and think of “kiss printing”. You will get better quality all the way around.
When in doubt ask a Journeyman Letterpress Printer….

When in doubt the last thing I would do would be to ask a “Journeyman Letterpress Printer,” whatever the hell that is, or to address a question to an email list.

Impression is not an “aesthetic,” it is a technical consideration that is linked to proper ink film and in regard to resistance of the printing paper. It is not a question of “deep impression” or “kiss impression” as a consistent approach but rather what is the correct approach for the job at hand. Both are simplistic and easy approaches to a matter that should rightly deserve more consideration.


Shame on you Gerald such language…
I’m sure you know this, why did you ask.
A Journeyman Letterpress Printer is someone who has served an apprenticeship in the Trade, it is also a lifetime achievement. It’s at least a 5 year experience in the trade not including classroom instruction or a BFA requirement/option.

Impression is exactly what it is and nothing else, Heavy Impression is a bad thing. KISS printing is the industry standard, to get a good clean image and not damage your image, packing, or press.

When in doubt ask a Journeyman Letterpress Printer

Thankyou Theo for commenting on Bieler Press’ unfortunate language in this stream. Not necessary in a technical discussion on this website which is read by many. His attitude to those of us who have committed a lifetime to letterpress printing and to the trade is not warranted.
Let us strive to apply the qualities of great and adventurous and traditional letterpress printing to our spoken and written forms of communication.
William Amer, Australian


Say what you will about the aesthetic of deep impression printing, but I find the argument that it is damaging and only practiced by amateurs offensive.

99% of practitioners are printing from photopolymer plates—not damaging soft lead type. That same vast majority are exclusively printing on extremely soft papers which require much less impressional strength to bite into. If these people were die-cutting similar sized formes out of 15pt C1S I bet you would have no qualms with what they were doing and I’m sure they would be doing more harm to their presses than they currently are.

It’s important to understand tradition and technology, but most leaders in the practice of deep impression have more than 5 years trade experience: they are the new journeymen and women.


Theo cracks me up with his reference to an “industry standard.” What industry? I’ve never seen a trade magazine for letterpress.

I entirely agree with Paul. I wouldn’t use “deep impression” for lead type, but photopolymer seems fine to use to me.

Many different people come to letterpress. Some were classically trained and are carrying on those ways. Others are preservationist, who are concerned with historical accuracy and “doing it as it was done.” Still yet, there are people who seek impression as a characteristic of the medium.

If kiss impression is of such importance, may I recommend a nice offset printer? Or better yet…. DIGITAL? :P

(I have a lot of respect for each of the paths to letterpress I named above, but honestly the argument of kiss-printing-is-correct vs. deep-impression-is-amateurish is wearing thin. There are proper ways to go about doing both, and no blanket statement will convince me otherwise.)

Hello… We can agree to disagree.. Although if you talk to a Journeyman Letterpress Printer, (JLP) in your area, you will hear alot of what I am saying.

Just out of curiousty, I want to see how much people know.
These are some of the terms they taught in trade school.
But, is anyone not aware of these terms; Hot Type Styles, Cold Type Styles, registration, work n’ turn, Dot gain, kiss printing, lock-up, & skip wheels, just to name a few terms. Anyone care to add any terms after defining these?

Die cutting does not damage a press if done correctly. Sharp rule is thinner than the leg of a 14 pt L and clears a path as it penetrates the stock. I realize that without some depth to impression you might as well go offset or digital.
There is no industry standard to a hobby regardless of how lucrative it is.
If presses had not been used to die cut they would have been melted down or sold overseas long ago.
My presses die cut emboss foil stamp and kisscut imprint and number and I will not do anything to jeopardize that ability.

Theo, you are on a discussion list that caters to folks just coming into letterpress. You do realize I hope, that there are more experienced printers here as well?

One can bluster about the glory and benefits of vocational training all day long, but so what? I am wondering if you have a web presence to show us the wonderful products your training has provided for?


I graduated from the printing course at a vocational school in 1966, my first job was in an old letterpress shop in my town. Still remember the first thing my foreman told me “Forget what you learned in school. now we’re going to teach you to print” Dick G.

Many years ago I asked my teacher , “What is difference between letterpress and offset printing?” He said, “Come forth young lass, and I will show you.” As I approached his desk, he pulled out his hankie, kissed it, then touched my cheek with it, “this is offset printing.” “Now let me show you letterpress.” At that point he threw the hankie down and proceeded to kiss me directly on the face and said, “That is the difference.”

Hello Girl with a kluge,

If you print a broadside with that story, I will buy a copy.


Jeez, I know what hot type is, and cold type, and type style, but what do YOU mean by “hot type styles” and “cold type styles”? And what do you mean by “the industry”? Letterpress is a minor part of the printing trade as a whole, and it consists of differing niche and specialty markets. There really is not as much common practice as we sometimes imagine. Many commercial printers with letterpress equipment are more properly “finishers” and rarely use ink except for numbering and dwindling crash imprint work. However some have found new customers inking up and whacking away with heavy-impression social work, and the market expects it. And in many cases the market does not expect an all-around printer, but rather just a pressman. Designers want someone who will do presswork to their specs, don’t want any critique about legibility or tradition or whether a kiss impression is correct, because to them that can’t be sold if it isn’t obviously not offset or laser-printed. If the only thing you can offer as a printer is a kiss impression, you’d better be doing your own work, or have exceptionally good luck finding customers. If all you can offer is heavy impression, and do it cleanly, customers will want what you have. The printers I respect most are those who can do impression appropriate to the design, the type, paper, ink, and the customer, and these are huge variables. Some papers marketed for letterpress now are soft and compressible, and can be whacked without punching through the back. But if you only see this work on websites, you wouldn’t know that.
I never heard of the JLP designation before. If it really is a qualification under the GCIU, it can’t have the same depth and breadth of training that happened in the earlier unions. All the real journeymen I have known, from the ITU and IPPA and IPEU, apprenticed in the ’50s and ’60s, and only a couple are still active in the trade (the one ’70s ITU apprentice I know did mainly Phototypositor work, though that didn’t stop him from later becoming a great Monotype operator and all-around printer; compare the many earlier volumes of ITU apprentice books to the two volumes of the ’70s); most non-union vocational training such as the NY School of Printing must have been phasing out letterpress in the ’70s, as were junior colleges. The revived letterpress instruction that is known as Book Arts has limited continuity with earlier vocational instruction.
Most of us working today just have differing levels and areas of school training, on-the-job experience, and self-teaching rather than real apprenticeships; some hobbyists have had the good fortune to find a mentor. But such mentoring and on-the-job training is highly variable, taking just the phrase “work-and-turn” as an example, since many older (and possibly journeyman) printers use it incorrectly to describe a work-and-whirl (or -twirl or -spin) imposition. This is a problem of localized on-the-job training without standardized textbook study.
And by the way, people often make the distinction that they would never do heavy impression from metal type but that it is fine from photopolymer or metal plate. I certainly would use foundry type for light impression or damp printing, but have no problem using expendable (and recastable) Linotype and Ludlow matter for a heavier impression where it is desired.

I think Eric/parallel imp states it well.
Letterpress printing is currently very little commercial printing. It has become an art form. As such, the artists and those who purchase the product have the say of how it is to look and feel.
We may not care for another person’s taste in music or choice of clothing, but we normally bite our tongue and do not criticize that the person does not do as we do. There should be room for all of us in the craft. I believe we should help one another, or be silent.
I learned the craft 60 years ago in school. Indeed I was taught to print on the paper and not into it. We printed on both sides. We were also taught to ink the press properly and do the make ready in order to print a halftone photo. We rarely got real newspaper quality on a 10 x 15 C & P, but we learned the concept.
I know about the hell box and type lice.
My students are not allowed to do smash printing with my type, but I will show them how to do attractive deeper impression with their poly plates if that is what they wish. I do teach them what we used to call fine letterpress printing to start with.
I do find crisp black on white ink drawings render very well when made into a poly plate and printed with a little punch into the paper.
May we discuss the craft, and even disagree in a friendly manner. I believe the purpose of the forum is to assist the new folks in our attempt to perpetuate the black art, and to exchange information so that even we oldsters may learn something new.

Well said Inky…..

Well said Inky

The term is widley used, Journeyman applies to Plumbers/Pipe fitters, electricians, etc. Letterpress was & always has been an art form, with layout and design sometimes right from the stone.
Not all shops were Union.

Some who like to keep the tradition might like to know (if they don’t) that there were fonts that were never cast into metal. This makes them “cold type fonts”. Some type styles eventually made it into both Hot and Cold Type styles.

One can bluster about the wonderful products, they create and which may be your speciality, that’s great. But, no one would be interested in the fruits of my labor or would I need a Web page to show them. The Three-up, Three part receipt books perf, number and scored, Customer receipt books which are required by the Amish who use the old way of keeping records or towing companys. Clubs and Associations needing numbered raffle tickets, The 6 tons of 40pt chipboard printed and then shipped all around the world glued to a product as a spacer. The thousands of candy boxes that are scored for quick assembly at the Workshops. Envelope printing two up, & Business Cards.

Don’t discount the letterpress trade, it’s alive and well. Even more call some of the places like Owosso Graphics, who make letterpress cuts, they will tell you it’s not like it used to be and but neither is offset.
I have a ludlow and set lines of type, for local letterpress printers. Because I have a collection that is hard to find font styles. (scripts) People who are printing napkins and etc.

Printing terms are generally the same all over, explained and shown with a demonstration to clear any confusion. The terms may not apply to most people, because there are few people in full production shops. But don’t make new words up.

For those of you in the letterpress (JLP) trade a long time. Share some of your knowledge, pic a subject and talk about it. Hopefully, your shown appreciation and others inquire for more.

Come on Journeyman means leaving the masters shop and working for someone else for pay in their shop. Self taught in your own shop makes you a master in your own shop not a journeyman unless you can get a job for pay from someone else.
BTW new shop location Peterborough Ontario

Well said, Inky…

and to bring you up to speed on our progress since our visit, we are slowly getting ready to print on our press (been very busy since we spoke, and the press-restoration has taken a back seat to studies over the last few months). We’ve cleaned the working surfaces and custom rollers arrived a few weeks back. We got both a boxcar base and a small assortment of lead type, and will be using them appropriately for different types of work.

Letterpress is a historic craft, and like any craft, its traditions are not to be forgotten, still, it is my opinion that one method does not exclude the other if both are being sought after by clients, which they clearly are. If both “kissing” and “smashing” printers are getting work, and enjoying themselves, let us agree to disagree on aesthetics and adherence to traditional practices, or embrace both for maximum range. And at the end of the day, be happy that presses are still around, cranking out work…


I never heard of “JLP” as if it were an industry standard usage. It may be the current state of affairs that “journeyman” merely means employee, but it used to indicate a completed apprenticeship in whatever craft with both general and specialized skills. Today a journeyman plumber would know how to work with galvanized pipe and cast iron as well as ABS, where a printer now described as a journeyman might be trained only as a pressman and know more about numbering machines than type, thanks to surviving commercial work being fairly specialized. A surprising amount of letterpress work is being done by offset printers who dusted off Kluges or Windmills that hadn’t been used for anything but perfing or numbering for decades, and who think a pica is a mountain rodent.
As for standard terminology and making phrases up, for example “hot and cold type styles”, most printers would use the words hot type face or cold type face rather than type style. A style is a variation of a type face, or of type in general. Garamond is a type face, or a type family, but bold italic would be a type style.
I often make this kind of pedantic objection, because careless or incorrect use of terminology online can become entrenched in the dialogue. Some uses, like “font” for typeface are here to stay but a font is better described as a sale unit of a typeface, whether it is packaged foundry type (a typecase would contain multiple fonts of a single typeface to be complete), a box of Linotype mats, or a phototype film spool. It is only with digital typesetting that a typeface came to be called a font.

This has been a long and interesting thread. Like a long conversation, the subject and comments have shifted. I had thought that Brother Forme might chime in. He has been absent for a long time. Does anyone know if he is on the right side of the sod?
I think if we are going to practice this ancient craft and try to pass it along, we should also attempt to perpetuate the traditional names, words, jargon, etc. and find a way to teach the language to the newcomers also.
I have started a new thread titled Nomenclature, Terminology and Jargon that will help to do as I suggest.
View it and jump in if you wish.

It would be very difficult for anyone to respond to all the directions that the orginal topics are taken. It’s funny how some replies are made as if the original one is totally wrong. People with 50 years experience and less read this continuting conversation and think, I was there once. I tried to offer my expertise and I was talked to the same way. So I quit offering it. Even to just spark a conversation, it was responded to as if there was frustration, lack of respect for ones lifelong profession. I have been contacted by many (5) who use to offer their advise, this will happen no more. You have discounted, the last of them. SO PEOPLE, you want to learn something with tradition and a rich history with those who have a wealthy knowledge of it? Do you want to talk down to them and then only know what you think to be right. A Journeyman whether its a plumber, electrician or a printer, is not self taught, how can you confuse this issue? I am learning fast there is a difference in a response from a Journeyman Printer and a know-it-all, do nothing to help those learning but confuse the issues.

Again journeyman is a skilled person who can leave the masters shop and get paid for his/her skills regardless of the trade be it blacksmith or electrician.

If you triple-distill the original posts, it is that heavy impression is wrong, and that any journeyman would agree, the implication being that only their opinion counts. That is what I would call talking down. And while I have a completely traditional shop and practice, I am very aware of the trade and the people coming into it having changed considerably in recent decades.
As I see it, the trade and its training has changed so much since I started nearly 40 years ago, moving from general to specialty printing, that the contentions of the original posts seem ridiculous, especially in the context of BriarPress. There is no longer any standardized training, and by journeyman letterpess printer, we are really talking about pressmen mostly. There aren’t enough compositors, Linotype operators, stonemen, etc. to count statistically. All the start-up commercial presses I hear about are strictly photopolymer-and-Heidelberg, doing market-satisfying heavy impression. Fortunately for them, many can learn to operate a Heidelberg right from the manual (oh no, more self-teaching).


Yeah, “truth be told,” as they say. Though, a lot of good that does.


This thread topic is “deep impression w.Polymer?”. Not “Let’s get all self-indulgent about our own experience”.

The world is not against “Journeymen”, or whatever you want to call yourselves. There is a high level of respect for the art which we share, which will forever evolve and mature, long after we all die.

Writing volumes of self-indulging paragraphs about your countless experiences, despite how accurate and valuable they in fact are, does not address the original query raised.

Writing volumes of self-indulging paragraphs about your experience, also does not make your perspectives and opinions more correct on the Internet. Everyone already highly respects you.

Most frustratingly, writing volumes of self-indulging paragraphs about your experience, simply turns people away from your valuable perspectives. Perspectives which we want to hear and know.

Respect is earnt. Not given with “Journeymen” titles, or self-indulging paragraphs.

Answering the original question posed, helps gain that respect more than anything else.

Just scroll up, and revise this thread to see how ridiculous this practice has become. Things like this scare away the future. Our future of letterpress printing.

I think you can easily get an impression that is deeper than the paper is thick in some instances.

Just for clarification, I’m imagining this on a Vandercook, but could likely do this on most any platen press through maybe not quite as deep.

Clearly, if you took a sheet of bond paper, removed some of the normal packing you would expect to use, then added SOFT packing behind the bond, and printed it using a photopolymer plate, you could easily get an impression that is essentially DEEPER than the thickness of the paper. Of course you would have the image protruding out of the back of the sheet of paper essentially the same amount.

I’m not sure if you could do this with 220# Lettra, but I bet you could get close. The problem with using such thick paper is that you cannot take off enough normal packing to let the plate push far enough into the paper. But you could go a long ways into it.

If the brusing on the back didn’t bother you, you are done.

If it does bother you, you might consider how you could use a larger sheet to HIDE the back. For instance if you were printing DEEP on the front of a greeting card that was 4” x 6” just add another panel that you could fold back that would hide the damage.

Attached is an invitation we printed that does this. While we didn’t impress the image as much as this thread is talking about, the front of the card had the word “Presidential” which we wanted to hit pretty hard. In the original design, which was going to be printed offset, the cover was backed by the full panel of the school’s logo. These two images were going to be pushing against each other. Clearly we didn’t want the word Presidential coming up in the middle of the logo. We made it a five panel invite and just folded over the end panels, gluing them with a thin strip of PVA to conceal the damage to the insides.

Printed on 110# Lettra in silver (logo) and black.

image: ursinus-invitations.jpg