PP Plates vs Hand Cut Wood Blocks vs Handset Type

The other day in a discussion with one of my printer friends, I mentioned that I print a lot of hand-cut woodblocks in my work, especially for do-dads, illumniated caps, and so forth. Almost immediately he said “That’s not letterpress”. This of course was coming from a guy who prints all of his work using PP plates.

My contention in the discussion was that it most certainly IS letterpress, and has a long tradition for such uses. Functionally, what is the difference between PPplates and handcut blocks? Both use raised surfaces to put ink onto paper using a press. It really doesn’t matter how the block / plate was produced.

SO… here in today’s world, what IS letterpress? Traditionally it was defined as using movable type, but that went away when PP plates (or earlier photo-engraved plates) came into usage. With that definition out the window, what constitutes Letterpress Printing, as opposed to say… um…. Japanese Woodcuts? At what point does letterpress become printmaking?

Now… one might say that it is intent, that letterpress is more about text than images…. but where does that then put posters? Many of those are both Art and Text…. both printmaking and letterpress.

To me, it’s all good… and the finished page is the most important thing, but what are your thoughts on the matter?

It’s a question I’ve pondered at length… with no real answers. It seems to me like the advent of PP plates altered our naming nomenclature, and blurred the distinctions we used to use.

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Any Plate with a raised surface is Letterpress, as you cut wood, you take out the negative space and retain a raised space.

Handset Type, Hot metal Type and Polymerplate, Wood type and Woodcut is Letterpresss

Copperplate etching, engraving, Mezzotint, Wood engraving , Serigraphy, Stone Litho is Printmaking.

But a Printmaker is not a Letterpress Printer.

His comment, “That’s not letterpress” is absurd. For a very long time woodcuts were produced creating large broadsides and small prints. Tell him to check out the great work at Globe printing, Hamilton, and Hatch.

Still amused at his comment.
Inky Lips Press

To me, letterpress printing is printing with type, real type, metal or wood. I consider linocuts and wood cuts, and wood engravings as illustrations that are relief printed. Photopolymer printing is flexography. Yes, I’m splitting hairs. And to be honest, I feel like I’m cheating when I’m printing from Linotype and Ludlow type.

Casey- I know Hatch very well, and very few would deny that their work is “Letterpress”. I’m with you on that one.

Typenut- what about zinc and copper cuts? They are technically etchings, since they are cut using acid. I don’t see the distinction between a PP plate and a zinc cut, since both are relief print surfaces. The distinction starts to blur a bit here.

John- that’s an older definition…. but is certainly backed up by years of tradion. Moore’s Universal Assistant defines letterpress as “printing done using moveable type on a press”. So it’s at least as valid as any other definition.

It’s an interesting discussion so far. Thanks for your ideas.

Perhaps the overall word to define what you are doing is really the term “Relief”. The process of producting an image from a raised surface. In this case it does not matter what the base material is composed of but only the fact that the printing surface or image is raised above it.