Graphic designer wanting to understand pricing better

I have a problem…my clients want letterpress. However they don’t have a large budget. I have found a few letterpress printers that do good work for a price I can afford…but they won’t print on my favorite paper : lettra 220 pearl white. Can anyone explain this to me and maybe make a suggestion? Most of my clients need small quantities 25, 50 1 or 2 color pieces (wedding invites and custom stationery) if that helps any.

thanks in advance!

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Oh, I love Crane’s Lettra, too. The 220 is my favorite, but I wouldn’t put it through my cylinder press because of how it would have to bend. If you could find someone to print the job on a platen press, that would work out perfectly. I run Crane’s Lettra 110 through my Vandercook all the time and it’s absolutely beautiful!

From my perspective, letterpress has a time-consuming setup, and thus is better suited to longer runs. If you were to ask for 150 (or 500) cards, the price per set would drop dramatically.

Also, Lettra is only sold in large quantities, so unless your printer uses it regularly, it’s probably a special order with lots of waste—and you’re going to be saddled with that cost.

Oh interesting…thank you both for the insight. So how can I find a printer who regularly stocks lettra 220?


The Mandate Press does.

Depending on the variety what you’re designing, it might be more practical to buy the paper yourself, since you are more likely to have enough volume to get a decent price. It would also simplify life for your printing vendor as they don’t have to try to stock paper for “just you”.

Orders of runs under 100 = expensive and pita to a printer and most likely are not going to be priced at a reasonable rate. Custom + short run = expensive.

If you buy parent sheets of Lettra, Keldon Paper will sell it in single sheets.

You could suggest the 110 Lettra instead of the 220 if you go with a printer who prints on a cylinder proof press. Its just like if you were to put card stock thru a desktop printer: it won’t fit because of the bulk of the paper. Not every press is ideal for every paper type.

And pricing: letterpress printer have a lot of manual tasks for setting up p print job. No matter if they are printing 100 or 1,000 setting up the press takes about the same amount of time. You pay for labor at a much higher percentage per piece with small quantities. For example, I recently quoted out invites for a small wedding. She wanted 50 invites, and the price I gave her rounded out to over $10 per invitation. but if she had wanted 250 invites, it would have been more like $4 per invitation because the set up, clean up and any hand setting type takes the same amount of time. The actual printing part of a job is probably the least time consuming, strangely enough.

It sounds like you might want to look at learning letterpress printing, if not to add to your business, then to understand it in order to better inform your clients.

If you are dealing with printers using a Vandercook (even a power model) for jobwork, there are no efficiencies, no economies of scale with larger quantities. Every additional sheet cranked out is more time and more effort. Yet these lists attest that many designers wanting to be printers take the Vandercook as a production press, or even less efficient, a tabletop platen. But for these people, printing may be supplemental to design income; if they then take on printing for other designers, why should they reduce their rate for printing just to satisfy budget customers?
Some continue on to automatic feed presses. But the lists also show that feeding or scoring Lettra is not easy either, and #220 is impossible for many auto feeders. Even #110 Lettra is at the thickness limit of Heidelberg K-cylinders.
In my opinion, the printer who might meet your customer’s low-cost demands would probably be using a hand-fed platen press. That is where feeding #220 stock is not a problem, and where unit cost can go down with increased quantity.

Would a Windmill have problems with Lettra 220?

I am not a Windmill printer (one of you can correct me here), but the Windmill manual says maximum thickness for packing plus paper to be printed is .040”. Since #110 Lettra is .021”, double that and it is two thousandths more than can be run, with no packing. Of course experienced printers can sometimes take things beyond what is recommended. But my experience with the feeder on the Heidelberg cylinder, similar to the Windmill in pickup at least, makes me think the sheet is probably too stiff and bulky to run without problems.
Plus, none of the Windmill/photopolymer printers I know would be in the lowest cost category, a concern in the original post. Some of the C&P/photopolymer printers might be relatively cheap.

i’ve never run lettra, but i’m running 140# index on one windmill to perforate it and on another to number it, no problem, some heavy stock will give me a hard time, but the windmill will run most stock well, thick stock like chipboard will sometimes get a mark on the lead edge from the gripper, i recently ran railroad board on both my windmills, a slight impression on the lead edge from the gripper, other than that it printed well. Dick G.

I’ve run Lettra 220# on my windmill w/o incident. Definitely not my favorite paper though…

I can’t see why you would refuse to print on 220# Lettra, but I can see why you’d bill extra for it. That stuff is expensive, like yanking a buck out of your pocket every time you misfeed a sheet.

If you’re meeting with a client in person, it’s a good idea to offer a compromise by showing them a similar paper that you prefer to run.

Lettra is really more of a brand now, and I run into a lot of clients who just request it by habit, usually after they saw it mentioned on Etsy or in relation to another project. But they never seem to understand why it’s costing them so much!

On really short runs, it might be a good idea to re-examine why you want to go letterpress. No offense, but there’s plenty of other processes that can get the job done (like screenprinting) with less hassle. Don’t fight the medium…

Sheild, I don’t know if these are the shops you are dealing with, but there are letterpress shops that can offer discount pricing because they have been able to streamline their process to boost production. They have basic boundaries they stay within to keep the cost down. Their prices may look attractive, but they turn down work that fall outside their parameters.

Truly custom shops can cater to every want, but you have to be prepared to pay for it.

But your statement: “I have a problem…my clients want letterpress. However they don’t have a large budget.”
is something we printers hear very often. Letterpress is an expensive process… period. Sometimes the client needs to be realistic as to what they can afford. Its up to you as the designer to help educate them.

I totally agree with Bill: “Sometimes the client needs to be realistic as to what they can afford. Its up to you as the designer to help educate them.”

Many clients have absolutely no idea what’s involved in letterpress (and why would they?)
An explanation of the letterpress process and the reasons behind the pricing can help them either adjust their budget or their expectations — and make those expectations easier for you to realistically meet!

Letterpress doesn’t have to be expensive. I find when I compare actual prices for wedding invitations that are provided through a stationer, that it can be price competitive. I personally would be ashamed to charge some of the prices I have seen, especially for the kind of work being provided. As a printer I can often explain costs and time, and offer alternatives in design that will fit a particular budget. As a graphic designer one should be aware of your many options as to paper and format. Developing a strong relationship with a few printers who can explain some of the money traps would be very helpful, like multiple colors and extra wash-ups, charges for proofing or time that the press is down while waiting for a color check. Not enough designers let the printers do what they do best. I have had designers try to micro-manage my work, and that’s where the costs really mount. I had a friend, Dot Bailey, who had been the printing business for 50+ years. Once, while we were discussing pricing, she off-handedly mentioned a D.T.O. charge. I asked, “What’s that?” She replied, “Dot’s ticked off!”


Paul, i don’t have the years that Dot has (49) in printing, but i too have a d.t.o. charge, i haven’t had much luck dealing with designers of graphic artists, when someone tells me they are a designer my d.t.o. charge is used. Dick’s Ticked Off charge as i call it. Dick G.

DTP, You’ve explained some of the parameters that I mentioned above. But you’re right. Letterpress doesn’t have to be expensive (this is relative of course), but when the client wants Lettra 220, its up to the designer to let them know why that can’t be had within budget, and what is in the budget.
If it’s the designer wondering why 220 is out of budget, then they can only benefit from a closer relationship with a letterpressman they trust. It’s extremely important for designers to know what is available and for what price, and how to design to maximize letterpresses strengths while minimizing it’s weaknesses. I spend countless hours going over prospective work with designers, its time we don’t get paid for, but ultimately everyone benefits.

By the way, I’ve just decided to change my PIA charge into a DTO charge. They’ll never crack that code.

Since a lot of communities have commercial retail paper stores, I’ve gotten into the habit of recommending a few kinds of paper with which I like to work. Usually the envelopes are somewhat limited, especially for the formal invites, so it tends to narrow down the choices. I also encourage them to buy the paper (as long as I am willing to print on it), to save the expense of me having to chase it down, and having to tie up my funds. In that way they feel like they are making a constructive choice, and the designer can spend quality time with the client and not impede my progress in the shop.


p.s. I had a designer come into my shop and demand polymer plates. I explained to her that I didn’t have the set-up for polymer, but could do exactly the same thing with magnesium or zinc plates, even showing her the difference. She walked out, still repeating that she had to have polymer. Sometimes our best attempts at education don’t take.

Thats funny Paul, I’ve had the same thing happen to me. Apparently I wasn’t “pure” because I didn’t use photopolymer. You just quietly (and thankfully) let them leave.
But you do have to wonder where they did get their education.

I do quite a lot of printing on Lettra 600, as we’re sort of specializing in business cards.
I’ve made some subtle adjustments on the 10x15 Windmill, and it feeds just beautifully.

However, running 50 invitations on 600gsm Lettra will most certainly be exorbitant, per-piece. Easily $7-8 or more per piece, after considering MY cost of a single press-sheet is over $1, the setup and makeready time is the same as if I was running 1000 pieces, not to mention the overhead and administrative costs of dozens of emails back and forth.

On the other hand, I very much appreciate working with designers, and have made it my primary business.
As a typographer and type designer myself, I appreciate the good stuff when it’s coming in, and am happy to try to make the very best rendering of a fine design.

This of course means using digital files, and photopolymer works quite well for this. I’ve also been very happy with mag plates in the past, but now I can make my plates in house, which is much more cost effective (only send out for the film). It’s not possible to manage a commercial letterpress shop without printing from plates.

At the same time, I’d just as well not do design for end-users, since there’s way too much opinion involved and very little compensation for the effort.

“your mileage may vary”



“Slow Print” - I thought I recognized the name.

Maxim Zhukov spoke very highly of you and at great length during a typography seminar in Moscow.