Type and impression

I have been looking online at smaples of printers work. I see a major problem. People that have not learned the art of letterpress think you have to push the type into the stock. The type doesnot need to been pushed into the stock as deep as I am seeing online. The type just needs to kiss the stock with just a little impress.
The type in not to look as a valley into the stock. Good letterpress only as a very impression into the stock.
Mail me you samples and I will happy to tell you iff your impress is too deep.

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Customers are actually looking for the debossed look on business cards etc. Sounds strange, but look at the link in the troubleshooting thread from “Heidelberg Windmill: How many pressure? and clink on the link in the thread. This is the look that people are paying for. We used to have to throw these cards away and start over.

Perhaps your customers are trying to get the look of an engraved card were a second pass on the press with embossing dies raises the image from the paper leaving an indentation on the revers side of the card?


It’s your business, whatever you’re doing with embossing, debossing, smashing, crushing, smashing gauge pins, etc., do it with photopolymer plates, shmoxcar base, and whatever. SAVE THE REAL TYPE FOR THE REAL PRINTERS! This smashed look shows the work of amateurs following a fad that soon will die. Real printing will rise again! AMEN!!!


The current practice of deep impression doesn’t require any skill set, even the most newest of newbies can do it, and it makes everyone happy and excited about letterpress. What’s the problem?


I second Gerald’s feelings. I do agree that people need to know that they risk damaging irreplaceable type by printing with a heavy impression. So far, however, everyone who has chimed in (save Gerald) is doing nothing to better this community or encourage people to print more.

Sure, the deep-impression trend is tiresome and challenges the practices of a 600-year-old trade for which everyone here should have a respect, but I find it less tiresome than the handful of fundamentalists around lauding themselves as “real” printers who practice “real printing.” We’re all here to transfer ink to paper and anyone who is creating interesting printed matter or going the extra mile to make someone else’s idea perfect is just as “real” a printer as anyone else (even if they are printing deep-impression.)


Again, why does it matter that the gentleman from whom you learned to print said that? What makes printing “good”? The tenets taught by a man you happened to know, or a product that is appealing to the producer or the consumer?

From what I’ve gathered, printing heavily into soft papers does little to damage equipment—please chime in if I’m incorrect. If that is correct, then I see no reason to oppose the practice and don’t understand why you do.


Not sure if this was directed to me. But if it was, I don’t condone sloppy work nor chastise it. Different strokes for different folks. As a teacher, I don’t run the risk of losing someone if i don’t force them to do it my way. They will find their own way or they won’t. All I can do is provide direction. They will do with that what they will. One really can’t foresee what will eventually happen, but guidance often has surprising results even if of the unexpected.



I’m not sure it is a matter of what is judged “good,” however that is determined, but more like what can be accomplished. Certainly, a more experienced and trained printer is going to be able to pull off more difficult kinds of work and consistent levels of work, than someone doing simple deep impression into an invitation card. Would you not agree? And would that not have some experiential merit of a qualitative kind?

One goes to a doctor for health problems, a lawyer for legal problems, not going to get into going to someone for financial advice, but… in some circles letterpress printing can be considered fairly high end. And professional. I admire printing for pleasure, but quite frankly, not at the expense of forgetting what letterpress printing can be. And, it can be quite dramatically beautiful. Far more than just heavy impression.




Final footnote to this. I actually had a Hatch ex-employee as a student a while back. He did comment that he was never aware of “all of this.” Quite frankly, I am far more excited by the enthusiasm shown for letterpress by the newbies than I am for the “this is how is has to be done” folks. There were all kinds of ways for it to be done. Victor Hammer was not technical school graduate, and yet produced far, far better work than most industry trained folk. There is no one way. There are just many roads. Some of which are fairly well traveled, others of which, have not yet been discovered.



As a letterpress printer from the early 60’s, I was only wanting to show the new printers that pushing the type into the stock was not real letterpress as I learned it. To me it looked like the mats we used at the newspaper to cast the plates for the web presses.

If you are pushing your handset foundry type into the stock, the life of the type is going to be very short.

This debate has popped up from time to time in other posts and I’ve always refrained from jumping in because I don’t consider myself to be as knowledgeable on the subject as those of you who have posted above. I’ve learned only from my grandfather, from books, and from the posts I read on this site. I don’t believe that my opinion will change any minds of those who so strongly believe that impression is ‘wrong’. I do believe, however, that there should be enough respect for those starting out and trying to learn that they are not altogether passed off as not being “real printers”.
Letterpress printing is an art form. As with most art forms it started off as a method of communication and has evolved. As with all art forms, there are movements in which certain practices are ‘trendy’. As with all art forms, the movements that experiment or move away from the traditional method are deemed wrong and dismissed as being irreverent. As with all art forms, those movements are critical to the survival of the art form itself; they allow for the evolution of a craft and the inspiration of a future generation of artists.
Experimentation should be embraced and encouraged. In painting there was Braques/Picasso, Kandinsky, Pollack, Warhol, Haring, etc. In architecture there was Corbusier, VanDeRohe, Fuller, Wright, Gehry, etc. All of these were passed of as callous, ignorant and unworthy. All of these have contributed unimaginable amounts to their art, carved their own place in history and inspired countless others to take up that same art (whether following the movement that inspired them or finding their own way).
To write off people who are trying to develop their art is what I find callous and ignorant. Just because someone is not doing it your way or the way you were taught, does not make it wrong, it makes it different.
That said, all the people I mentioned above did study the traditional, formal techniques before branching off. That’s crucial. I strongly believe that before you can break the rules you need to practice them and fully understand them. Once that ‘proper’ foundation is laid, any experimentation is an educational tool and a point of inspiration.
I personally love to use varying levels of impression in my work. I think it gives my pieces a unique feel and it uses the impression as a tool to achieve something more, rather than to mask any deficiency in my skills as a printer.
To clarify (before I get any comments about it) I am in no way comparing myself to the greats that I mentioned above. That would be arrogant and, well… absurd. I am just using them as examples of people who have been ridiculed for trying something different and being trendy, but who also contributed more than their antagonizers ever did.

my 2 cents.

Will some printers mail me the new style of printing, so I can see them. I only have what the printing looks like on my computer.

I once again say I am sorry if people think I am telling them that their way is wrong.
email me and I give you my mailing address to send me a sample of the new letterpress look.

[email protected]


further explanation would be appreciated… as would some respect.

“Right” and “wrong” is defined by the client paying for the job.

If Ben Franklin had written a book saying how much he loved a deep impression, would you “real” printers be singing a different tune

I’ve been waiting for this discussion to crop up again so I could pass on a quotation from Paragraphs on Printing by Bruce Rogers. In discussing the merits of dampening your paper, he says:

The punching of the type into the softened paper raises printing almost from a two- to a three-dimensional medium, and the slight halo or highlight created around the individual recessed letters gives a sparkle and life to the page which cannot be obtained by dry printing. Moreover, as less ink is required, a cleaner impression is possible and the vigorous pressure of the type into the paper causes the print to become an integral part of the paper, rather than merely to lie on the surface. (pp. 42-44 of the Dover paperback)

Now, one of the key words here is “almost from a two- to a three-dimensional medium,” and his use of the word “punching” does not, I’m sure, have its contemporary meaning. I think, however, that the effect he describes is more than the “kiss” lauded by classically trained commercial printers but far less than the abominations we see on some Lettra business cards.

If we dampen our paper and aim, as Paul says, to have the type go no more than halfway into it, I believe we can achieve lovely pieces that are unmistakeably letterpress without screaming so.


Letterpress printing is a skill and Trade, plenty of Books and Periodicals around and available from the “Old Days” of how to.
What destroys Type and Presses is the failure in knowledge and skill of press maintenance and make ready in type setting.
As long as Letterpress is sold as an Adventure and experience in Printing, we fail to properly instruct the interested ones in proper procedure , technique and application. Printing is not something you can learn in a short time.


What I’m asking you to respect is that other people have opinions. (inappropriately phrased retaliatory comment edited out). That is fine. My life will be perfectly happy without your respect, though it (along with a bit of tact) would be appreciated and would normally be considered common decency.
I don’t recall ever saying that I used deep impression with lead or wood type. If I choose to use deep impression, I use photopolymer. I do so because I understand what I am working with and take care of my equipment appropriately.
I don’t also don’t recall saying that I punch the impression as hard as I can, though you obviously assumed it. You yourself said that you go about half the depth of the paper, which would include “printing a portion of the beard”.
There are those of us who appreciate art and there are those of us who do exactly what we were told and refuse to believe that anything outside of that box exists. I choose to appreciate art and create things that I think are beautiful. I have turned away customers who want something that I do not think is beautiful, who want seeded paper or a deep impression on index stock or chipboard, who want an ultra deep impression (which can be created without damaging the press by using soft packing or a blanket on the platen) but want to see nothing on the reverse side (which can’t be created without eventually damaging the press). As I said before, you have to know what you’re dealing with and understand the limitations and reasons before you can break the rules.
As for your comment that you have the whole history of printing for 500 years backing you up, well… I will have to assume you have seen every print and read every source on printing history for that. I recall in one of the previous posts that at some point early in that 500 years of history an impression was considered good practice. I will try to locate that thread for you again.
Pass me off as ridiculous, or open your mind, it’s your choice. I think we all know which one you’ll choose. My original post was not meant for you, it was meant for those who read these message boards looking for information and different perspectives. You said your peace, I’ve said mine. There is absolutely no need for you to belittle others just because you don’t agree.

This entire discussion is similar to “old school” photographers claiming that digital cameras are the devil’s work and images captured with them are somehow “less” than those captured with film.

I like type, and I like photopolymer. I also wouldn’t trade my Mac for a typewriter.

I think there’s room in the current world for the old and the new, but we should all be aware that evolution will take place in the arts. Why fight it?

Y’know, I really don’t understand all the rage. Where were you when irreplaceable letterpress equipment was going to the scrap dealer? You should be raving about that, instead of criticizing people who have found use and value in obsolete, depreciated printing equipment.

Quoting Rich Polinski of Front Room Press in this discussion http://www.briarpress.org/6325
“As far as deep impressions go, the amount of impression has seemed to vary throughout the history of printing. On the original wooden and later hand presses, a look at original examples of printing done on these presses shows what can only be described as a deep impression, at least considering the thickness of the papers being used. I’ve read items from many modern hand press users that seem to indicate that this is pretty much normal for that type of press. Even platen and early cylinder press printing had this quality to a greater or lesser degree. The effort to keep an impression from being too deep seems to have had its basis more in practical concerns than artistic. From my research this started to change with the advent and increased general use of offset printing that was regarded as a better quality of printing. It was then that the level of impression seems to have become more of a commercial and artistic issue as those competing with offset presses strove to turn out work that was “equal in quality”. It was at this point I believe that the “kiss impression” began its rise to the place of the standard of quality for letterpress printing.

Later, when letterpress printing had almost ceased altogether in commercial printing and computers had arrived on the scene allowing anyone with one in their home to have their own print shop on a desk top those remaining letterpress printers were once again in the position of trying to make their craft profitable, or at least more profitable than it was. So whereas at one time the means to this end was to try and become as similar to the new standard as possible, now the means to the end was to become different from the current standard. Thus the deep impression as a matter of design and commercial viability began.”

It’s worth mentioning that any standard ink jet or laser printer can do a fine job at a “kissing” the paper. Letterpress on the other hand, has more to offer.



Boys, lets kiss and makeup, this will only make Elizabeth holler at us. Dick G.


Hey Dick,

What type of “kiss” do you mean? A light surface peck or a “deep” tongue that really makes an impression on the other person? Had to ask.


You’re right, I shouldn’t have called you arrogant and/or close-minded. There is nothing else there that you quoted that is belittling or disrespectful.
I am acting like a grown-up and have edited my post to get rid of the inappropriate name-calling. I was upset at being told that I am not worthy of being respected and being called ridiculous, inexperienced, unskilled, ignorant, etc., etc., etc…..

What exactly IS the argument?

Some people like a deep impression, some don’t.



megahurt is right on… who signs the check? i have seen people pay nice money for something i think sucks…. even to the point i Really don’t want my name on it…. but these days??? the check don’t bounce, i give’m every square ounce……

Paul, how did you know i didn’t shave this morning, that telescope of yours is very powerful. Dick G.


This is an example of what’s going on:


My concerns as a teacher are introducing students to letterpress and letting them make it their own. I do show examples of fine printing and techniques. But I don’t make a point of forcing it as I will lose most of them. My concern is not to lose most of them, and to present to those, who are so inclined to go to the next level, with the example of our forefathers.

I’ve introduced an awful lot of folks to letterpress and many of them have gone on to practice it. And some of them are stellar examples of fine press printing today.

The world has changed, and not necessarily to the bad. Sometimes one just has to let go of past ways of doing things and let it be. One can’t force another to do things a certain way just because that is the “correct” way of doing things. Everyone has to find their own way. And some will but not because anything was forced on them, but more that they were inspired to do so.


Whether you like it or not, deep impressions are here to stay. you can get 500 full colour business for £50 now, so if people are going to spend 3 times (or more) that, then they want it to have a finish or texture that is obviously hand finished. This is where deep relief comes in - it’s immediately obvious that it is letterpressed and cannot be replicated on a modern printer.

I have seen some incredible stuff done with deep impressions and blind debossing. As with most things in life, the issue isn’t really about it being done, it’s about it being done proplery

These arguments are tedious and won’t change any minds, but I get annoyed whenever someone says heavy impression is the primary reason for letterpress, otherwise offset or laser printing is indistinguishable and cheaper. Only the young, raised on computers, who have seen type on screen (interspersed with video games) would think that way, certainly not those of us that came into typography through metal type, whether or not we use digital type.
From my point of view, the book is the most serious work a letterpress printer can do (though on this site you might think it would be posters). OK, heavy impression work is now almost a given for ephemera where attention only goes to the front of the sheet, and the target demographic is so overstimulated by the total graphic assault on the senses (digital billboards! ad screens over the urinal! animated type everywhere!) that such impression is needed to get their attention.
But you can’t treat book pages that way, and if you try, you just lose the impression when you back up. Yes, you can get some impression on cotton paper, especially printed damp. What do you do when the customer can only afford 80# book? Unless you want to limit yourself to social printing, or do free-form book arts, having the skill to achieve a kiss impression where necessary is a positve thing, not an anachronism. It is an important part of the whole.


Well, that is the gist of it isn’t it. Letterpress has been neatly cleaved into two.


I agree with “It is an important part of the whole”. I’d say they are all EQUALLY important parts of the whole. None universally better than any other.

I used to see the letterpress world like a color wheel: the commercial part of the spectrum, the fine press part, and the hobbyist/amatuer. All three were connected; many hobbyists and fine press printers had commercial experience, and some fine press types overlapped into commercial and/or hobbyist areas. And some of us, using subtractive color theory, sat somewhere in the overlap where black is produced.
The landscape is a lot more complicated now, and the flat wheel model is now overlapping spheres with book artists and designer-printers and others in the mix. But the overlap the traditional commercial letterpress segment is almost gone, and the commercial segment itself has changed. Many of the entrepreneurs doing heavy impression work came from other craft areas, lithographers and foil stampers who saw a niche in which they could regain lost work as digital imaging and the web replaced paper going through a printing press. So it should not be a surprise that the skill-sets valued when I started are not the ones that will bring in the bucks today. Even so, I get a lot more pleasure doing things the old ways than I do talking with customers asking what the traps are and what line screen I can hold. The divide is digital, not photopolymer. Many straddle the divide, but the argument is between the completely digital and those with a broader practice.

“Well, that is the gist of it isn’t it. Letterpress has been neatly cleaved into two.”


I agree….

Seems like there are 2 camps these days…
the printers who are practicing a craft and the designers and hobbyists that think that letterpress means hit it as hard as you can.
While I may not agree with ‘gummy bear rollers’ and building your own press out of wood, I get that people are into it and that’s fine, to each his own.
But when I teach a class or go to someones house to instruct them on a press that they bought, I try to instill the respect for the machines as well as the craft.

It seems to me that the craft I’ve taken 25 years to learn has become ‘trendy’…oh well.

I don’t see a split

The only split is open mind vs. closed mind.


I was thinking of starting a new FAD. Not enough ink with worn out type. Do you think it might fly?

image: PIC_2423_1.JPG


I was rather hoping you could make hairlines a fad for all of us with tired mats.

If you can sell the graphic concept, go for it—just don’t call it the “best” work that letterpress can do. In conversations with some, a lot of people feel letterpress is all about broken type and poor printing as “rustic” concept.

We can do better than that and I hope most of you will do so.


As for the new potential fad, it already happened in the mid-to-late ’90s. Art directors asked for this effect (see for example Jack Daniels ads of that period, set and repro’d at M&H), but before long they stopped buying repro proofs and just Photoshopped it all.
I still maintain that there is a fundamentally different mindset among those whose typographic practice is only digital, and who see no value in metal type, and those whose practice is rooted in handsetting, whatever method is now used; those who see deep impression as the only reason to use letterpress are genereally digital exclusively. Many of us who started in traditional typography adopted digital typesetting as well, so I would say it isn’t an issue of open vs. closed minds, but narrow (digital only) vs. broad (metal and digital) practice. Now if all you do is run a press and you don’t actually set type, the argument may seem irrelevant, but typography is the heart of letterpress.


Another way of looking at this.

If it were not for the deep impression approach and photopolymer plates, etc., there would be far, far less interest in letterpress today. Indeed, support systems may not even exist for us old school practitioners.

The paper and equipment distributors benefit from this and have risen to the occasion, thus so do the traditionalists benefit. More of a win, win situation.

If someone chooses to print a certain way because it is fashionable, so what if it doesn’t match standards that have nothing to do with their purpose.

There are better ways to do things, better techniques, better tools, better applications, better approaches. Can’t hurt to occasionally reveal these, but best to do so in a non-critical manner.




I’ll stand by both of my statements. My post and your quote of my earlier post.

If you can’t figure that out, your boots are stuck in the mud, just where you want to be.




Something you don’t seem to get about posting. If you specifically call someone out you should expect them to reply. They will reply in a manner that is responsive to the call out. To then play innocent or plead hurt is a bit pathetic.


I honestly think that this thread will contribute to the significant decline in the quality of this website.

Once people get all butt-hurt over someone disagreeing about the way they like to push type into paper, they will not come to the site as much or will be less inclined to answer a question from someone on the other side of the deep-impression-fence. And that basically takes away the usefulness of this entire site.

I hope it gets deleted and mark this entire topic of discussion as off limits here. There’s no difference between this and arguing over a religion.

This site is a great source of information to anyone interested in letterpress and related topics.

Megahurt, this thread crystallizes and documents a pivotal development in the history of letterpress printing. I certainly hope it is not deleted.


First of all, know how to print. I print from Polymerplate, Type and for large prints with deep impression, etched plates.
I had submitted a Book printed from Type to an international Competition and it was rejected on technical issues as being printed silkscreen.
So, there is the standard?

First, learn how to print - the tension of the ink, the color of the ink to the color of the paper, proper typesetting, make ready. Look at printed Samples from centuries past, print on different papers, machine made, mould made, hand made to extend your horizon. Learn, that you can hold 4 pt. Type from a polymerplate. Printing is a Vocation, a Trade, a Skill, not you buy a press or have access to one and that makes you a printer.

image: Impression.gif


Typenut, congratulations on your rejection. What a demonstration of how far behind the industry has left its roots.

The only thing constant is change. Hopefully we will weather these current fads. The pendulum always swings back and forth and inevitably attention will turn back to some of the truly classic typography and printing that many of us have had the opportunity to absorb and admire. After all, you can’t be a ‘classic’ for just a little while. Today’s crash printing and hillbilly graphics will hopefully run their coarse and inevitably some will eventually “rediscover” the classics and start a revival movement in that direction and the constant change cycle will remain in motion.

Something that reaqlly amuses me is the new interest in mid-century furniture, etc. There was a reason that all of that stuff dissappeared (it was CRAP). I know because I was there!!!! Avacado-colored refrigerators, YUCH!!!!!



I suspect this as well. All it will take is a dramatic technological or economic or social or political change.

A similar thing happened with digital type design and typography in the 1990s. The grunge/deconstructivist/post-modern movement that held sway with the advent of the new technology eventually petered out. Far too many amateur and unskilled participants, nowhere to go theoretically (“a blip in the continuum,” as one author unsuspectingly titled a book”); and classical typography began to re-emerge.

It also didn’t hurt that the technology for font design and production took a decidedly more complicated nature after the turn of the century.


I love a good philosophical arguement, especially when all of the gang is involved! Reading over the posts, I can see good points made by folks on either side of the discussion…… some of which I agree with, and some that I think are not quite right.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of “debossing” or “deep impression”, or of relying upon Lettra to get a good impression. The finished products tend to look amateurish in my eyes. BUT…. I’m certainly not opposed to others experimenting with such techniques. That’s how we as a community learn and progress.

Here’s how I view it: as folks experiment with fads, new techniques, and alternative processes, we all learn from it. Some of the techniques thus developed turn out to be fads or are recognized as crapola….. and they are eventually discarded…..like the Avacodo Refrigerator. (actually, I HAVE an avacodo refrigerator in my shop….. but I didn’t actually buy it. It came with the building)

A few however, are accepted by the public and by the printing community…. and eventually become “standard practice”. A good case in point is the whole idea of “digital letterpress”. Not too terribly long ago, the entire concept was considered heresy by “real letterpress” people….. but thanks to the efforts of many people, it is now an accepted part of the letterpress world. Yep…. Digitally Typeset PP plates (which many folks here do very well), was itself once an “alternative technique”. Nowadays, it is one of the standard practices.

As far as aesthetics go, we could debate that for years and never come to concensus of opinion. Some folks like deep impression, some don’t. Some of us take great pride in crisp, cleanly printed lines…… and other folks don’t care at all. Some people go to great lengths to make their work look rustic….. other folks hate rustic. In this regard, there is no right or wrong. Aesthetics are much like religion, politics, and the battle of the sexes….. people have their opinions based upon their own tastes, experiences, and artistic viewpoints. Many of their ideas are a bit odd, I admit….. but in their eyes, I’m sure of our ideas are a bit strange, too.

If this stuff is amateurish, then by all means I strive to always be an amateur.


Megahurt, it’s beautiful stuff you produce. Technically and esthetically. Not my personal taste, but perfect. A good example of what you can do when you know what you’re talking about.

What I have noticed over the last few months, is that a lot of people seem to be buying Windmills and other heavy equipment and want to get deep impression instantly.

It would be so beneficial if they would give themselves the time to go through the whole process, to learn how the press works, what inks do, how they react (or don’t) on paper etc. Basically to print some straightforward things.

The impatience and the lack of common sense strikes me again and again and it sometimes scares me. Recently somebody bought a press and when delivered it got stuck on the lawn outside his place, didn’t the buyer reflect before setting off?

Letterpress is definitely not only metal type and kiss impression—I know that and use PP plates myself—but if you want to break the rules, you should first of all know or learn those rules.

I hope this thread won’t be deleted, as this is what this site is all about; exchanging ideas, knowledge, views and feelings. That too, is very important, we can all learn from each other.


Oh no, that isn’t my stuff, just stuff that I love to look at. They do lots of embossing and deep impression, and I think the work they’re producing is artful and classy. I highly doubt any amateur could do what they are doing.

I recently purchased a windmill to begin to learn the trade of letterpress. I realise it’s a long journey that will take many years, just to get the basic fundamentals somewhat right.

I’m also young (29), and at the same time have great respect for doing things correctly, conserving type, looking after machinery and respecting the trade.

What I don’t have respect for, are old-timers who feel they have a right to dictate the future - and tread all over those disagree with their traditional background.

Said with the greatest respect; Who are you to say what is right, and what will be wrong in the future?

Let the people decide.

Some of the comments expressed in this thread are downright laughable. Said with such ridiculous arrogance and self-importance.

No one “owns” this trade of letterpress. Yes, you have more experience. Yes, you have more knowledge, and Yes newer generations should listen and follow carefully what you suggest - for their own good.

But, no, you shouldn’t rubbish an alternative opinion. It just makes you look insecure about your own purpose.

As many others have said, perhaps the most appropriate methodology is to learn and always respect the basics, before venturing into deep impression.

At the same time, you guys (we) gotta wake up and realise that the world has changed. Deep impression is not just another 90s fad. The paradigm of communications has fundamentally changed in the past 3 years. The need and relevance of printing has been adjusted. Deep impression is a (the) major drawcard of letterpress.

I’m sure I speak for others; Newer users want to respect and learn off others who are more experienced. But help us do this, by not treading on alternative directions.


Yes, you are correct. Deep impression is not just another 90s fad. It began about 2001 as far as I can tell (based on contemporary usage of the term).

You are suggesting, I assume, one should accept change. Well, yes, but you also might also want to think a bit forward and realize that the “paradigm of communication” and consumer interest (your “drawcard”) are also subject to change.

Of significance in that regard and in regard to the “old-timers” is that they are not necessarily stuck in the past, they are survivors of the past. They have been through changes, time and time again.



Although I enjoy a deeper impression, I suppose it’s slightly relative as I don’t print so deep as to show through to the back side of the sheet.

Sure it’s not the pinnacle of classical pressmanship, but I still enjoy hearing the opinions and thoughts of the old guys in the corner. This argument comes up from time to time, and I don’t have a problem with it. It’s okay with me if someone doesn’t approve of my methods. I’m comfortable that I’m taking care of my equipment (hey, it wasn’t scrapped after all) and my clients are happy. Frankly speaking, a lot of classical knowledge on these presses is going out the window as people move on, pass away, etc. Good thing that these conversations exist on Briar Press; otherwise they would have already surrendered themselves to the ether.

Gerald, Julie Holcombe was doing deep impression invitation work early in the 90s if not before. Hers is very clean work that influenced many others; her old shop in the SF Print Center might even be considered Ground Zero for deep impression, or deep drive as it was derided. And not surprisingly, The Old Guys here when she was starting out would not give her the time of day. The Old Guys are even older now, but she’s still printing and probably doing well.

Hi Eric

Actually, she was working with photopolymer plates and Bunting flatbases before the 90s. I still have a print copy of this article by Will Powers:

Step-by-Step Graphics, Volume 5, Number 6, September/October 1989. “Letterpress: Alive and Printing” by Will H. Powers (Profusely illustrated article describing the process of pre-digital letterpress printing with photopolymer plates at Julie Holcomb Printers).

[The above is from the bibliography in the first edition of PDT. Powers was mainly focused on describing this new technique, but far as I recall, makes no mention of “deep drive.”]

Though they had been making magnetic bases for custom projects, Bunting first released its flatbases to the market in 1985 so she was quick to latch on.


Julie started out in the back room of a bookstore with a Vandercook and handset type, maybe early to mid 80s. It wasn’t long before she had commercial space in the Print Center and multiple Heidelbergs, platen and cylinder (and a Vandercook 32-28, now for sale at Hicks Bros.).
The first Mac in 1984 didn’t produce the quality of typesetting it did later, so having Bunting bases in 1985 then wouldn’t mean the exact same work methods it does today. Before DTP improved, Julie was getting type composition from M&H. I would be my guess that metal was used directly at first, then repro proofs for plates as the impressional technique evolved, or maybe even phototype. But once DTP compared favorably to traditional typesetting, there was not even a quad of typemetal left in the shop.

Great discussion, all. It’s really interesting to know that all this is going on behind the scenes. I am new in the letterpress trade and an learning all that I can absorb every day. What I learned from this thread is to keep an open mind always. The difference between those who are cynical and those who are not is quite clear. Thank you to those who contributed well thought out and insightful discussion points. It really is very helpful to a beginner.

Excuse me for showing up at this discussion a little late, I’ve been stuck inside one of the cavernous impressions we created here at Studio On Fire and it took some time to escape…

Megahurt - Thanks for calling out our blog www.beastpieces.com - it means a lot to us when people speak highly of the work we produce. We’ve been printing since 1999, and are very quality and detail focused printers.

Gerald - You said, “The current practice of deep impression doesn’t require any skill set, even the most newest of newbies can do it, and it makes everyone happy and excited about letterpress. What’s the problem?”

You really believe that? I would sharply disagree with you and contend that doing most anything of quality and craft takes a high level of expertise. Deep impression is not an exception. Your comment stood out among the others in this thread precisely because it is dismissive of the skill set required to achieve deep impression and misleading to newbies. Quite frankly, you are being cavalier in speaking to something we as a studio consider a well developed skill set. A printer still has to know all the details that are trademarks of quality work - wisdom in selection of materials, good make ready with even impression, a crisp image with proper ink density and of course not damaging the material you printing. (we print with polymer, not type) In my opinion, good press work that happens to have deep impression is not inferior press work produced with a lesser skill set. An important distinction I think.

And Aaron P. who started this thread - Just why would printers want to mail you samples of their work for you to tell ‘em like it is? That’s kinda funny! Whatever your background for this type of judgment offering, you are welcome to see samples and comment on our blog on any project you like.


This begs the question though, why deep impression as a qualitative concern? Should not the goal of the well-rounded and experienced printer be more concerned with appropriate impression for the task at hand? Obviously, a deep impression is not applicable to all approaches but is seemingly limited to certain contemporary markets.


Interesting, it seems no matter what direction I go in for craft or art there are always these arguments. There is more than enough room in the craft of letterpress for both the subtle kiss and the hammered text.

The most important thing, IMHO is that the impression matches the work, like fine art where the idea ought to govern the medium it is expressed in.
You can always give the client several varying levels of impression and let them choose but, ultimately they write the check. While many clients live by “the customer is always right” i prefer “the customer is often wrong, it is our job to help them to the right conclusion and not insult them along the way.”

I have however learned that letterpress is a trendy thing these days. I find this funny as it is a new venture for me but I have a life long obsession with books and the printed word.

As a side note, it is hard to follow a thread with “n/a” interspersed, I get the feeling however that it did not contribute to the thread overall.

So in case it seems as though I rambled:
1. Impression should fit the job
2. Client should be given options and explanations
3. Client should be massaged to the right conclusion
4. Eat dinner and get your fill cause the client pays the bills!

To which must be added,
5. stock and press and ink must be suitable for expected impression, no matter how much massage is used

True enough p_Imp true enough.
That however, is the craft aspect and unless you have that mentality already, no amount of classes/jobs/time with the press will you see those relationships.