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the lost art of letterpress printing


Letterpress is the original method of printing that dates back centuries and is an entirely hands on process that requires a lot of time to print just right. Simply put, letterpress is the transfer of a raised inked image through pressure. It basically works by a raised surface (shape or text), that is then inked, then pressed into paper.

Letterpress printing, also called Relief Printing, or Typographic Printing, in commercial printing, is a process by which many copies of an image are produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. Letterpress is the oldest of the traditional printing techniques and remained the only important one from the time of Gutenberg, about 1450, until the development of lithography late in the 18th century and, especially, offset lithography early in the 20th.” (1)


Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction of mechanical moveable type printing to Europe started the print revolution and is widely regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium. (2)

Letterpress originally began with type that had to be set into the press to achieve the design and layout that you wanted. Printers’ had trays and cabinets full of a variety of types that ranged from symbols, signs and letters in a variety of fonts. Designs were of course limited due to what was available in the printer’s inventory. Gutenberg would create the type out of metal, put them in a wooden frame and arrange the design required for a single page, which as you could imagine was very time consuming.

Letterpress is certainly making its way back as a boutique trend in speciality printing. Many printers today still use moveable type, but with modern upgrades. Letterpress won’t always reproduce the same as digital or offset printing, which is certainly a faster and more economical way of printing. The beauty of letterpress though, is it has a beautiful and charming effect of engraved and embedded features into paper.

The process requires a high degree of craftsmanship and is a stunning option to produce fine invitations, business cards, and stationery.

We have some old letterpress equipment on display in The Print Group Australia's office, so next time you stop in come and take a closer look!

  1. https://www.britannica.com/technology/letterpress-printing
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg