Thank you Campbell Raw Press for helping us out today and making the letterpress process easier to understand! Letterpress is truly an artform, and after reading this post, our planning couples and fellow vendors will be sure to agree. ;)

You’re curious about letterpress wedding invitations, you love the results, but you’re a little foggy on where to start and how it works, right? There are, indeed, a lot of steps, but the process is pretty simple and once you know a little more about how it works, hopefully you’ll feel a little more sure footed as you navigate invitation options.

Signature Invitations by Campbell Raw Press

Signature Invitations by Campbell Raw Press

Learn the ins and outs of letterpress after the jump…

Why should I choose letterpress printed invitations?

Letterpress isn’t for everyone. It’s never going to be the budget option. So, why choose letterpress over any other printing method? The short story: you’re creating something to keep forever. Yes, some people throw away snail mail when they get it; this isn’t that kind of mail.

I think about it like a historian, I guess: In 50 years, when you’re going through your treasures with your grandchildren, one of your wedding invitations will be in that box. They will see them and run their fingers over the impression and feel the weight of the stock. They’ll notice the care and understand how momentous the occasion was and how much your marriage means. It will tell them what your priorities are and always have been. Those details and choices matter. My grandma told me a few years ago that she and my grandpa had ice cream in the shape of swans for dessert at their wedding on October 2, 1946. That’s the detail, after almost 70 years, that stuck. I love that memory. There are little things you are proud of that make you happy, and you hold onto them. I just happen to think invitations are one of those things.

So, how does it all work?

The first important thing to know is that letterpress is a hands-on process. It’s about as far as you can get in the printing world away from a home digital printer. Each piece will be handled and modified multiple times as it goes from raw stock to finished invitation, reply card, program cover, or thank you card.

Letterpress printing, in a nutshell

With letterpress, you print from a raised surface. Traditionally, impression in the paper was considered bad form, but modern letterpress celebrates the impression and has made it the most notable effect of the technique. Designs can be laid out manually with handset type, but most often pieces like invitations are printed from photopolymer or metal plates created from digital files, these days.

Mixing ink

Mixing ink

1. Creating and choosing a design

For our designs, I draw all of the imagery on our invitations and cards by hand. Our designs are all templates and then we adjust text, fonts, and colors to suit your style and needs. There are any number of options and you definitely want to find the right style for you and your celebration. Once you’ve narrowed down the designs you like, order or request samples so you can see and feel the impression, stock, colors, and materials in person. Letterpress is a tactile process and it’s always best in person!

2. Laying out your designs

Once you’ve chosen a design, everything is laid out digitally and we’ll go back and forth via email with PDF files of the designs to make adjustments until it’s all just right. Then, I order photopolymer plates (flexible, recyclable plastic with self-adhesive backing) from the lovely folks at Boxcar Press.

Photopolymer plate mounted on base on press bed (photo by Ramona Todoca)

Photopolymer plate mounted on base on press bed (photo by Ramona Todoca)

3. Printing!

Next, it’s time to set your plates up on the press and start printing! I mix up rubber-based ink for the first color and smear a little across the top roller. I engage the rollers and they start spinning and inking the press. By the way, our day-to-day workhorse press is a Vandercook 4-T from the 1960s. It’s a cylinder press with a flatbed for setting type and plates. Now it’s time to put ink to paper! I clamp a piece of paper in the gripper bars, then crank the cylinder across the press bed, where paper meets the ink and plate.

Paper set into grippers so it can be run through the press (photo by Ramona Todoca)

 

Carefully checking plate registration (alignment and positioning) (photo by Ramona Todoca)

Carefully checking plate registration (alignment and positioning) (photo by Ramona Todoca)

 

An impression is formed while ink is transferred to the paper. First color, done! Each piece of paper for each piece in your invitation suite is fed through the press this way by hand, once for each color. Once we’re finished with the first ink color, the press is cleaned off and it’s time to mix a new color and do it all over again! (To give you a sense of the numbers, 125 three color invitations go through the press 475 times! Thank you cards or program covers, too? Make that 950 or 1425!)

Cranking one sheet through the press (photo by Ramona Todoca)

4. Trimming, finishing, and out the door

Once everything is printed, it’s time to trim it all down to size. I print almost everything with crop marks, so that it’s as simple as possible to trim everything down at the end. This is also the point in the process when I wrap up any extra details; ribbon for bands on invitations, punching holes in any cards that need them, cutting envelope liners and lining envelopes, etc. Once everything is trimmed and finished, I wrap it all up, pack it all up, and ship it all out to you!

4-color Wedding Announcement all finished! Design by Ramona Todoca for her own wedding, and a design that will be part of the Campbell Raw Press wedding collection this fall!

 

5. Address, assemble, and mail!

This last part is up to you! You may choose to hire a calligrapher, or make a fun night out of having a few friends over to address and stuff envelopes. You also get to choose the most beautiful new or vintage postage you can find–the last, but not least little detail.

Now that I know how it works, how far in advance do I need to start planning if I want letterpress invitations?

Anywhere from 6 to 12 months in advance of your wedding is a great time to choose and order your invitations. This will give you a reasonable timeline to decide on layout and wording, as well as a cushion around the date you want to mail them, so that you’re not in a huge hurry. It will make your life easier if you don’t have to rush your invitations while in the midst of planning all the details of your wedding. If you are in a rush, just remember the old design adage: cheap, fast, or good – pick two. We can all do rush projects, but it won’t be as budget- (or sanity-) friendly if you need things quickly. Plan to start your invitations roughly 6-9 months before your wedding, or a little sooner if you’re also planning to send Save the Date cards.

Another finished piece! This invitation happens to be one of our brand new Memorial Hall invitations, a 3-impression piece with a blind debossed background pattern, dark gray text, and a gold border that will be available this fall.

 

That’s the quick and dirty Letterpress 101. There’s so much more to learn and any devoted letterpress printer (and we all are – this work’s too hard not to care!) are always happy to talk shop, technique, and details, so feel free to ask questions and inquire about samples so you can get a peek at this paper-filled world in which we spend our days!

 

Want to find out more information on Campbell Raw Letterpress Invitations? Check out their website. Is there anything you’d like to learn about wedding invitations, share it with us at [email protected] and we’ll put together a guest post!


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  • Phoebe

    going to have to say that 125 3-color invitations go through the press 375 times. The other numbers are 750 and 1125.

    That said, that’s still a lot of press time. And I love the airmail invites.