Deep Impression Printing is the new standard

After many emails with a would be customer and sending him 100 lb Cougar Cover and 100 Classic Crest Cover both I feel are first class paper.

The customer wrote back he was wanted 3 or 4 times thicker and the samples didn’t have the type pushed into the paper. He say that not letterpress printing, unless the type is pushed deep into the paper.

So, the days of nice sharp printing on good stock are gone.

Push the type into the stock and people are happy.

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Give the customer what they want to the point of them happy to pay. The bottom line here is, yours,,,,,, you may feel like you are selling your soul to the devil,,,, but hey,,, if the check doesn’t bounce, who cares. I deal with, “The crease is on the wrong side”, all the time…. That’s Retail for you…..

Are you suggesting that papers thicker than those you suggested to your client are inherently inferior due to their heft? That quality and heavier weights than those listed are mutually exclusive properties, in all papers on the market?

Can a skilled printer not get a sharp print on them? Or on a coaster? And are there no printers capable of delivering an impression simultaneously both sharp and tangible?

Unless that is true, I fail to reach the conclusion that “poor printing” is somehow the standard.

In my experience, there is ample evidence that many shops around the world would beg to differ with that conclusion, and whose work delivering on those variables pays handsomely.

I even believe there are a few such printers on this forum, who produce very fine editions and commercial jobs alike, with a sharp, tangible impression on even the heftiest of papers.

Of course, you are entitled to turn down work because it disagrees with you, but if the classic ideals of printing are to be held forever as the only correct ones it is just as well to drive all of our presses to the junkyard.

We can surely not compete on price, speed of turnaround or flexibility. In the best-case scenario preserved artificially, as a nostalgic hobby or museum exhibition, a glimpse into a trade left behind by technology.

Kimaboe, I think you have missed the OP’s point here.
I believe he is trying to convey the frustration and disappointment the general public has, of this “new image” of letterpress work. One which purists of our trade shun and scoff at, as the result of inexperience and or just sloppy work.
We get it here, understanding that, this “deep impression” was not acceptable in that a 50-100, Etc. page book, for example, printed back in the day, using a letterpress process, simply would not “lay on itself” nicely due to the “variable data” contained on each individual sheet or page.
I do understand that, the public, in search of “something new and unique” has returned to letterpress, as a desire for this 3rd dimension in printing. Adding “the feel” to one’s finished product is marketable in today’s environment. Thermography for example, is simply adding a 3D “feel” to the printing process.
So, return to your mug of Grog and smile at Mick O M, (where is his page of over reactive dribble here?) and relax. I think the OP is just making an observation about a, (for us), discouraging trend in our trade.
I can only imagine that Al Gore, and the rest that invented the internet, aren’t real pleased with some of the uses of their Ideas, but we live with it…

What I am saying, is the public thinks real letterpress is on stock 2/16 or or more, with the image pushed into it.

The customer wasted ten email asking me about the paper I offered. And, he would never tell me what he wanted. So, I sent him two first class sheets of care stock and a sample of some type main lines.

He wrote back, it was letterpress printing I offer, he wanted the 2/16 stock with the letters pushed into the paper. He said that was real letterpress.

I wrote him back say I had the stock he want 100 cotton and would push the type into the paper as he requested.

Now, he writes back this morning, one day when he know what he wants to say on his card he contact me.

Well, the high end/high margin customers are becoming conditioned to think “letterpress” is thick paper with a type punch. Well, we’re not going to stop “progress” so either we adapt or quit.

Aaron: You actually have a tremendous advantage in that you have hot metal composition in house—no type to wear out and no plates to wait on for delivery.

There is actually a lot of skill in getting heavy impression printing to look good. I think the biggest of these are 1) proper roller setting 2) proper makeready and 3) proper stock and stock handling in bindery operations.

A pressman with a background in kiss impression actually has an advantage in heavy impression, especially if well versed in makeready technique. It may gall your sensibilities, but the customer is always right (so long as their checks are good!).

Eric, I simply disagreed with his conclusion, i.e. that most clients today want heavy-impression, quality be-damned. And that heavy impression somehow means poor quality by default.

We can all sympathize with the client-dealings, and most of the time we all wish we could let quality be the only consideration in our work. But most often there are other considerations, I suspect fashion has always been a factor.

As printers it is our job to educate the client so we can deliver a well made product, they can get something they enjoy and we can get paid for our work.

I’ve had many an email chain such as the one Aaron describes. And more often than not I have been able to convince clients to dial back on the heavy impression to allow for thinner papers. Sometimes not so much, and a few times it all boiled down to nothing, as Aaron experienced.

Its part of doing business…

You win some, you lose some.

Nothing wrong with venting every once in a while, though. :)

Now, he wants be to send the stock and all the type faces and colors I offer.

He only asking for a $57 business cards. I placed an ad for 500 Business cards on 100lb Cougar Cover in black Ink for $57.

I think this customer is just play games.

At one time he wanted prices for 100, 250 or 500, my reply was the $57 for 1 to 500 cards.

I have 2,000 fonts on my Mac, if I want to make a plate. But, at a plate would add $20 to my cost

So, how do I deal with this everyday a new email request. When it started four weeks ago, it was a black and white 4 line Linotype job.

Now, it a major deal.

he needs to show some “good faith” here and settle up for work that has been done and supplies that have been used.
I will offer samples for free, but customer must supply the stock, and i use “standing dies”. i can get small qty’s of foil for dirt cheap.
He won’t be in the mood to waste so much of your time, when it turns into wasting his money.
The free samples i offer, are generally governed by time. “this is what i can give you in an hour.” Of course, the level of the given customer is a big factor….. I try to keep samples of previous runs, to hand out, if they come close to what customer is looking for.

How in the world you can print 500 cards on cougar, even in black ink, for 57.00, and turn any profit, is beyond me.

I say this because I can’t even ink up, and wash up, for 57.00. To say nothing about the discussion of materials.

costs can vary by region, by a wide margin, then there is what the market will bear. But i hear you Haven, time is time.

If your customers can’t discern your work from offset or digital services, then those services are your competition. You can get upset about their lack of sophistication and give up, or you can attempt to find some middle ground. I’d choose the option that involves printing.


Am I miss figuring the cost of paper?

I buy my 100 lb COUGAR COVER for $60 for 1,000 8.5x11.

So I come with a cost of $4.00 for 500 2”x3.5”

Am I doing my figuring wrong?

How many cards do you get out of an 8.5 x 11? If your figuring the cost per card base on your M-price for stock it would be:
$60.00 / 1000 / n-out x 500 = $ each card

so if you get 6 out:
$60.00 / 1000 = $.06 per sheet
$0.06 / 6 = $0.01 per card
$0.01 x 500 = $5.00 for 500 cards.

As to the whole deep impression thing being poor printing, I’ve found it takes a LOT more precision to get sharp crisp deep impression artwork over kiss impression. With kiss impress if the rollers are a bit low and ink the shoulders it’s OK as your impression isn’t enough to pick it up. When printing with deep impression your rollers have to be spot on to ink ONLY the face of the artwork so when the sheet is embossed it deposits ink only in the bottom of the impression and not along the sides of the emboss.

I figure 8,000 2x3.5 cards out of 8.5x11 sheet. I cut the 8.5x11 into 4.25 x5.5 sheets and print the cards two up.

I figure 16 divided into $60 = $3.75 per 500 cards.

I am I wrong, please tell em.

at 8 out of an 8.5 x 11 I get $3.75 for 500 as well.

Do you mark up the cost of your paper? You should be making a good profit there. And to Daniel’s (The Arm) point, if you are competing against offset and digital, then you’ll lose every time. The reason people want impression is because you can’t get it with offset. It’s what makes letterpress viable these days. Because it’s done in relatively small quantities, it carries an artistic, handmade appeal. That’s worth charging more for. You won’t sell letterpress to people who don’t care about it. Better off sending those guys to the local quick print shop.

500 cards for $57 seems impossibly cheap. I guess if it’s just your hobby you only need to recoup the cost of materials. But, if you’re running a business, I can’t imagine how that could be worth your time?

Part of pricing your work is to cover your time with customers. I think we all get customers like Aaron is describing, but there is no reason you shouldn’t be getting paid for the service you’re providing. Even if that includes quoting different quantities, providing paper samples, and even accommodating requests you don’t necessarily think are best.

There’s a good reason letterpress printing is expensive - it takes a lot of time and care to both work with the customers and create the final printed piece.

If the paper cost $4, a box cost $1 misc shop supplies cost me $3 gives me a total cost of $8.

So, at $57 for 500 you’re saying I losing money?

If my Intertype is working, a basic card takes me 20 (real less) minutes, lock up and make ready, for my 8x12 C&P and running about 45 min cutting 10 minutes total of a little over an hour.

I just do not see how I am losing money at $57 for 500 cards.

making or losing money mostly depends on your overhead. If your by yourself, working out of your basement you have a LOT less over head than someone with renting a storefront, employees, healthcare, taxes, utilities, etc…

Honestly I thought the $57 for 500 cards was not really that far off the mark either. This being for 500 2” x 3 1/2” cards on Cougar 100 lb cover, printed one color with composition being straight type matter printed from linecast slugs.

This would be a job one could print two or three up and knock off the press in 125 to 250 impressions. Machine composition would be about 15 min, press work a half hour (including make-ready). Bindery would be 10 min. tops. So just shy of an hour—at $60 an hour.

Note that the pricing makes more sense if run in company with other jobs—not assigning all start up (an hour on the Intertype) and shut down (inking up/wash down of the press) to the one job. If you assign all of these items to the one job, then yes, your pricing will be much higher.

It comes down to whether you are considering yourself an “artist”, which it the trade is transitioning to; vs being a production person, who considers composition and printing as a manufacturing process.

I think the simplest solution to this customer is to go to a local paper house and purchase some double thick cover (Cougar available up to 160 lb doublethick cover), give it some punch and take the money and run. Oh, and charge the customer an extra $15 for the “special” paper

Aaron - I suppose I have much more overhead than you do. You didn’t mention what it costs to advertise, the heat and cool the work area, to maintain your presses, to maintain your Intertype, to buy lead, to repair your intertype when it’s not working, to clean your presses, to buy ink, to buy and maintain supplies etc.

But most of all, your original post was upset at a potential customer and your correspondence with them. Many times, half (or more) of the time I spend on a project can be interacting with customers, sending mockups, sending samples and educating them on what letterpress printing is and what it excels at.

There is a lot of time, money and expertise that I believe isn’t accounted for in the pricing of your cards.

Now, I’ll say that everything above is simply from my perspective - I’m running a letterpress printing business and am now supporting my family with it full time. (I just quit my day job to do what I love) So, I need to pay attention to all these variables much more closely than a hobby printer who just wants to make a few extra bucks on the side. So, In no way am I judging the way you’re pricing your cards - I don’t know your situation.

Regarding the original post - I’ve been on Briar Press for some time and every month or so it seems there is a post pitting impression printing against kiss printing and it gets old. Both have their place. Both can be done very well and both can be done very poorly. Printing with an impression is a modern spin on an old process. They can both exist with integrity. Can we leave it at that?

Aaron - it seems like you have a great opportunity to educate your customer on what letterpress really is.

Ok everyone, I have rent of $700 per month. Due the fact after3 years I only done $1,000 in business due to my location.

Any business, would be great.

I have mailed out samples, I have printed things for FREE. And I have talked to many people.

Still NO business.

$0.02 here
My limited credentials:
I started my letterpress journey in school in 1947
I learned what we called fine printing where one printed on the paper and not into it.
I enjoy hand setting type and hand feeding a press.
I teach letterpress printing and enjoy perpetuating the craft.

I tell my students that there is no real need for letterpress printing. It is fun to do and there are a few things that can only be done by letterpress. Still, I stand by the statement.
It is the challenge I give the student who may think that she or he can make money at the craft.
Fortunately there are a few who have found a way to make some money, and a few who even earn their living at it.
There is very little requirement for numbering of forms, but there is some. Those who fill this niche can make a few dollars.
If the artists and the customers wish to have deep impression printing (I have referred to this as smash printing) then that is a niche for the craft. Those who insist that this is poor workmanship are indeed entitled to their opinion. They may enjoy that opinion on the side of the road, all alone.
Who will say that the clothing styles and automobile designs of the 1950s were true art and that those of today are garbage.
I will teach my students how to do smash printing if they wish, BUT NOT WITH MY TYPE. Do all the heavy impression you wish with your poly plates.

I just worry about the effect of heavy impressions on presses. They weren’t designed for this!

I agree Bill.. It seems only possible that the “new” ways of today were simply arrived at by making a mistake. Not knowing the correct packing or pressure of impression, taking a chance.
I just bet at some point, there was an expression of “look at that” — “Oh that can’t be right” —- “But it looks Pretty” Basically, you can thank Martha Stewart for most of what goes on today with deep impression.

I would never ever buy any used type today, for fear it’s all smashed.

I sure do love my Ludlows, fresh type every job.

Bell and Theo - I’m curious if you’ve tried printing with an impression on soft paper with polymer plates? There’s no harm - you don’t have to over work the press and there’s no type to smash. There’s really no downside at all, besides offending your own printing sensibilities.

I think everybody agrees that printing with a deep impression with metal type is not good. We can put that to bed. That’s not how modern letterpress printers are achieving impression - it’s with polymer plates. A better discussion is talking about how an old and beloved printing method is being strongly revived today by a generation of young printers who both love the craft and want to produce beautiful work for customers.

It frustrates me to see the polarization with the letterpress community between this old and new style of printing. People like me who absolutely adore this trade are rescuing presses from being scrapped and sharing the history with our kids at the same time.

I strongly believe that both approaches can work side by side with responsible printing and press maintenance - I’ve been doing it for five years now.

Deep impression is not new. You do what needs to be done be it kiss print, deboss, emboss, die cut, crease, score, perforate, foil stamp etc. A press is still just a tool carrier.

My Pearl 11 is a hybrid of two of them. Both had been broken at the platen hinge on the frame by excessive pressure — one had been repaired and that was the basis for the hybridization, but the other one had been broken while the former owner was trying to smash-print a polymer plate, so polymer is not a sure way to prevent damage, merely a way to preserve metal type. But presses are a dime a dozen, right?


Bob - Exactly. Polymer isn’t a free pass to be reckless.

What’s the variable here? It’s the pressman, not the plate or otherwise. Responsible printing and maintenance is the key.

Certainly not offending mine or anyone’s sensibilities…
Knowing there is type being smashed.. That’s all they have. What ever trips your trigger.
Deep Impression is not the “new standard” it’s just what ever your job requires and the paper your using. Would you deep impression 20lb or carbon less? NO

Owning a commercial letterpress printing company, I have printed on many types of paper. Amongst the literal tons of paper that travel thru here on a yearly basis, 99% is “kiss Impression” as some want to call it.
Most of what is done here, is for function ability, not to be looked at, as being pretty.

Considering myself like many others do here, a Journeyman Printer, an not so much an Artist, more over a Tradesman, this is an example why there will different answers and opinions to subjects on this board. You may not agree with what you read, but we have to remember were not always right just because you can post it here. Some may think their an “authority” but their really not, even after 37 years, others have even more. I am still seeing first time equipment and learning daily. The answers may come from self taught, a college guess to an experienced Tradesman.
No one is really wrong, but some are very misinformed and come here for answers. Some don’t want to hear it even after numerous identical solutions are suggested.

Many have an effort in saving equipment, mine personally is extensive to a bit excessive. Traveling all over the country picking up presses and delivering them to people who have no way to transport. Knowing I am helping to preserve this equipment for what ever stage of experience the operator may have. Hoping they remain well after they turn it on.

I’ve been hearing a NPR sponsorship from an on-line business card source called and this morning not only talked to them but visited their web site to find a line of letterpress business cards starting at $59.00. They use an honest-to-God 10x15 Heidelberg, use the same tools many of us use for the letterpress cards, and through their marketing are offering very affordable cards. I’m sure the pricing is driven through a certain level of volume work, not just one or two jobs a day, or week. Aaron’s price is not bad in comparison, but in his case one or two jobs a year is not self-sustaining. What Moo is offering is design, a variety of choices, and something called marketing.

As to equipment, the printers who are doing deep impression, or smash for the detractors, are using presses like Kluges, Heidelbergs and other heavy duty presses. In my view, anyone going into this with a Pearl, 8x12 C&P, table top press, etc., is embarking on an ultimate mission of frustration and failure. The huge success of photopolymer plates in letterpress as an alternative to metal type should be a clear sign that the few who choose to mangle their metal type are misguided to be sure, but they soon find out the error of their ways. Other plates, like regular photoengravings, find heavy use in letterpress. Photoengraving is not dead—look at Owosso, a photoengraver I just talked to in Georgia who has 30 employees, and large scale copper engraver like Metal Magic in Phoenix to show the volume of work being done today. For the hobbyist, amateur, or the industry derisive term “bedroom printer,” the thought of deep impression work is contrary to their thinking. Even kiss impression requires a certain amount of impression for the ink to transfer—ink doesn’t jump from the printing surface to the paper without physical contact.

The long term debate on Briar over deep impression vs. kiss or traditional letterpress should have run its course by now. One thing I use to judge what is happening in letterpress even world-wide is a review of the photos, some 19,000 now, on the flickr letterpress site

and it is interesting to see some really nice work coming out of several European printers—and much of it is deep impression.

the moo pricing is not comparable. The letterpress portion of the cards is pre-printed graphics. The actual name/type/data is digital.

Well, there are any number of ways we can package printing. In a fashion, we should be happy that the public is buying printing at all, and not just resorting to some mobile app.

One regular job I had involved nothing but imprinting seed packets with the three lines for the store and a couple lines for the variety and price. These were four color envelopes and I’ve printed many thousands of them. It’s letterpress and litho, so who gives a fruit over letterpress and digital?

With regards to the original poster, the challenge is to place some distance in being “pure” to the craft of letterpress printing and to use the skill sets and equipment, in combination with whatever else, to make a living—or at least pay the rent.

duplicate post

Fritz- you didn’t mention the quantity; 59.00 for FIFTY cards.

Aaron is offering 59.00 for 500 cards.

Moo is also offering a choice between some dozen designs. Personalized information, to be sure, but they are probably printing stockpiles of the designs and running plates that split out to multiple customer’s orders.

At 1.09 a card, I’d say that’s pretty expensive compared to Aaron’s prices.


Different materials and also added process (multiple sides/colors), but still- pricier.

HavenPress, you missed my post. They’re not running plates for people’s orders at all. The customized portion is printing digital.

Correct, I did miss that. Interesting. So the letterpress is just an accent to their already existing digital product.

Yeah. They bulk print “shells” with neat-o letterpress graphics (hot pink rectangles, blind impression patterns), then they use an Indigo or whatever to print your info on those blanks.

Yep. Well, Moo has it pretty figured out.
I think they have established a niche market and are exploiting it successfully.
I honestly have to applaud their understanding of a ‘widget’, and how to sell it, even if I don’t personally respect their approach or find it suited to my tastes. But it makes for conversation I suppose.

I’m happy not to really be in the stationery game any longer, aside from case by case ‘easy’ black ink business card jobs.

For those not familiar with them, it is worth noting that Moo is one of the biggest, if not *the* biggest, online mail-order digital printers out there. Between their offices in London and their US business, they have a couple of hundred employees. They print millions of cards every month and ship to 200 countries.

Since they treat the preprinted letterpress blanks as just another stock for digital printing, they’ve probably got weeks worth of supply printed and ready for each option. It might not be custom work, but there is a market, and I suspect a wildly profitable one considering how heavily they market that option.

“Since they treat the preprinted letterpress blanks as just another stock for digital printing, they’ve probably got weeks worth of supply printed and ready for each option. It might not be custom work, but there is a market, and I suspect a wildly profitable one considering how heavily they market that option.”

“Yep. Well, Moo has it pretty figured out.
I think they have established a niche market and are exploiting it successfully.
I honestly have to applaud their understanding of a ‘widget’, and how to sell it, even if I don’t personally respect their approach or find it suited to my tastes. But it makes for conversation I suppose.

I’m happy not to really be in the stationery game any longer, aside from case by case ‘easy’ black ink business card jobs.”