Fine type and metal vs. photopolymer

I am zeroing in on purchasing my first letterpress and will be a complete newbie when I get it, other than what I’ve learned here and in conversation with the seller of the press.

For printing fancy script, I’d like to use a font that is very fine or “slim”. I’m talking about fancy script fonts. I’ve noticed that the characters I’ve seen done in letterpress tend to be thicker or heavier. Is this because of necessity? Or will I be able to print lettering the thickness of, say, something I’ve written with my extra fine point rollerball pen? It occurs to me that the photopolymer plates are the reason for the thick letters, and that perhaps if I have metal plates made, I can go with slimmer characters. This is just something I think might be the case, and would appreciate knowing if there’s any truth to that notion.

Also, I have seen some conversations here about photopolymer vs. metal plates. I have one particular card I purchased that was done with a metal plate, and it is the most gorgeous and rich ink coverage I’ve seen. I don’t know if it is the press, the person doing the work, the ink, the plate… But I am after that very rich look for what will be my own work.

Any thoughts will be so helpful.

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If you plan to use deep impression, the current rage in letterpress for cards and wedding stuff, you’ll destroy the fine-line script types in very short order — they were made for the days of careful kiss impression. The heavier lines you see are probably deep punched into the paper. If you want to do that sort of printing I suggest you use photocomposition of the scripts you want to use and have magnesium or copper photoengraving plates made and mounted on wood. You can smack them as hard as you want. You are also going to have trouble buying new type in those scripts, so to use type you will have to use valuable antique types.

The rich look is also partly to do with the choice of paper and inks — study the work you like carefully and learn to emulate it without punching the paper — unless that is also part of the look you want.


We need to move into the late 20th Century here and use scripts that are composed on the computer that are digital files that can be converted into metal or photopolymer plates with relative ease. I don’t know of any photocomposition of type being done today—maybe some where but not as a general practice. A good photopolymer plate will hold fine lines under deep impression if made properly—harder durometer plates will work better and those tend to be the metal backed plates. Or a good quality metal plate, probably copper. I would not recommend a wood mounted engraving for deep impression—the wood can compress, even fail under impression, and wood used today is wildly inaccurate. Use of a metal base using toggle hooks or Bunter posts will give excellent impression and consistent results. One advantage of copper is its scrap value so that a 5 gallon pail of plates will be worth the effort to trade in for cash.

Indeed, save the metal type for show and tell, or for short run light impression work. I treasure my metal scripts and know that most of them, except Brush, Kaufman, or some of the bolder European scripts, should be used with extreme care.

Fritz is correct,

a metal backed Polymerplate can hold fine Line and deep impression just fine, even over long runs. But they need to be done perfectly correct.

Metalplates, copper plates etc. as mentioned also are perfect if used correctly, the make ready, ink tension and stock is selected perfect.

Any Metal type is not suitable for the abuse of deep impression without loosing Form or value.

Yes! I want to do careful kiss impression on my Script typeface. I should have said that, but I didn’t realize it or even know the term until you just now said it, AdLib.

Fritz, my intention is to design something like calligraphy on the computer, and have it made into a plate. So, given that I am going to do kiss impression (love that descriptive term), do you guys think I can use the photopolymer plates with a metal back? Or should I go copper?

For my solid objects, like the solid one-color silhouette of an animal, I will want to make an impression on the paper. I’m thinking copper is definitely in order for that. ?

I also should have said that I am going to use Crane all cotton Kid finish paper and card stock. I know that does not punch in well, but I don’t care, I’m not after the pillowed effect, I’m after the rich sink-into-it velvety look of the ink.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me.

Thanks for the clarification, typenut. I guess I have my answer on the plate issue.

I’m grateful for the comments.