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Letterpress, Flat, Foil, Engrave, Emboss, Etch


Flat printing is a reference to a number of quick, modern, multi-colored print methods such as digital or offset printing. These leave no impression of the front or back of the paper. Machines take a maximum of #130 (one hundred thirty-pound) papers that are certified by the paper manufacturer to successfully go through certain types of modern equipment. Using this print method is most economical when the certified paper is used, however specialty papers that are not created for toners, digital inks, and mechanical rollers, can cause flat printing to be more costly than certain types of specialty printing. Additionally, employing this print method on 'thicker' paper can only be achieved by printing, then gluing a number of papers together to achieve the desired thickness. If a multi-colored finish is the desired result, this may still be the most cost-effective means, however, if a single color result on thickened paper is the desired result, other methods may be less expensive.

What Flat Printing Does Well
  • Offers a nice range of colors and gradients
  • Represents photography and watercolor well
  • Is usually a lower cost when printed on traditional papers
What Flat Printing Does Not Do Well
  • Print 'photo-quality' images on thick or non-coated papers
  • Offer metallic and fluorescent ink colors (the example on the right is digital printing with a foil process added for the shiny gold)
  • Maintain consistency in color from order to order
  • Match well with other print methods, especially pastel and saturated colors
  • Maintain close registration when combined with other processes
  • Offer hand-mixed colors


Letterpress printing is a reference to a modern take on an old-world technique. Machines that produce letterpress pieces are typically antique proofing presses. Proofing presses were originally created for printers to set blocks of type (small individual pieces of metal or wood with each letter, space, or character) backward into a vice in order to read lines of text by stamping them onto a page. Once the blocks of type were set, the machine was inked with a single color on the rollers. The sticky ink coated the raised parts of the blocks somewhat like a rubber stamp. Then the machine clamped together as one sheet of paper was inserted and "kissed" by the inky blocks. This left the design to be read correctly and 'proofed' before the entire book, magazine, or other job was printed in full quantity on a larger automated machine.

Today letterpress printing is a modification of that process. We use thick, pillowy papers to get a deep impression of the desired artwork. Vintage printing blocks have been replaced with metal or hard polymer "plates" that are etched with the design created by an artist. These plates are still aligned in a machine and inked one color at a time before they are pressed into the paper. This is why you will see higher pricing as you add colors to an order requesting this process. Each color requires artwork, the etching of that artwork into a plate, the setting of the pate into the vintage machine, alignment by hand to a specific place on your card, and a standard or maintaining a specific color range for each printed color.

What Letterpress Printing Does Well
  • Offers a tell-tale impression on soft papers
  • An economical luxury when using standard colors and designs
  • Can maintain 'close registration' on most designs when paired with more letterpress colors
  • Can make use of hand-mixed colors
What Letterpress Printing Does Not Do Well
  • Print fine lines and gradients
  • Offer metallic ink colors
  • Maintain complete consistency in color and saturation
  • Match well with other print methods, especially digital printing
  • Maintain close registration when combined with other processes
  • Cover large areas of dark or saturated color without 'stampiness'
  • Print light colors on a dark substrate


Engraved printing is a modern term used to describe the very traditional method of fine printing where artwork is etched (a.k.a. engraved) into metal plates and then stamped onto paper. Machines that produce what is known today as 'engraved' pieces are antique die-stamping presses. Artists' work is typically etched into either copper or brass dies which are then set by hand into a press with precise positioning according to where the ink needs to be placed on the paper. Once the plate (thin metal) or die (thicker metal block) is set into the machine, a cake-batter-like ink is poured into a fountain on the opposite side of the machine. The artist must work with the ink's consistency to manage the appropriate viscosity for the desired design and impression. With a certain technique, the ink is set to fill the etched away cavities in the die or plate which is then pressed into the paper to leave a raised impression on the top of the paper and the highly sought after 'bruise' on the back of the paper, only left by this traditional fine printing technique.

Embossed designs are made with the same press and in many cases an additional back plate to give the raised printing more definition and additional depth.

What Engraved Printing Does Well
  • Is a timeless 'status symbol' of fine printing
  • Can maintain 'close registration' on most designs
  • Can make use of hand-mixed colors
  • Can print fine lines better than other specialty methods
  • Maintains color consistency
  • Offers a beautiful range of additional metallic, fluorescent, and pastel colors
  • Prints light over dark material
What Engraved Printing Does Not Do Well
  • Print large spaces and thick solid display type
  • Match well with other print methods, especially digital printing
  • Print on slick or coated papers