Letterpress printing the history and why we use it today


Invented in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg. Letterpress printing was used for over 500 years as the main source of communication. This form of relief printing was used predominantly to print books, newspapers and all types of printed goods, leading up to the 20th century until the developments of litho and digital printing. In recent years there has been a rebirth of letterpress printing as it has become a popular subject that designers and artists want to explore. 


In modern times letterpress printing can be used in many ways involving the new with the old. Taking digitally created designs and combining them with vintage type faces, creating beautiful artwork which differs from old traditional letterpress printing. What makes this all exciting, is how we can use laser cut materials to make our own type faces and shapes and then print them using beautiful high pigment inks. Modern letterpress printing can now be everything you want it to be with new technologies we have at hand. 


Brighton University holds an astounding collection of printing presses, typefaces and inks. Types of printing methods available –

Lead type setting – Traditional method of printing, involving setting type by hand.  Great for smaller prints such as booklets, postcards, business cards and wedding invites. Type ranges from 6pt to 72pt. pt font size is relative to the size we use on desktop publishing.

Wood type – Traditional method of printing. Great for large scale posters and experimental art. Wood type has a worn down effect which people find very desirable.

Polymer plates – Modern method. This method takes a digital design from the computer, this can either be text and imagery made into a plate which can be used on the printing press. Great for creating business cards, wedding invites as multiple designs can be printed at once. Plates can also be made for an amazing deep embossing method.

Lino cut – Modern method great technique as you can do it at home, doesn’t need much equipment. Lino printing uses a vinyl/rubber base which is carved to create designs. This technique looks amazing with multiple layers.

Laser cut – Modern technique, similar to polymer plates it involves taking a digital design to create a plate. The design can be carved into wood, rubber and acrylic. Great for creating fine detail and professional looking designs.

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