There’s not much more “vintage” than a 600-year-old technology.
One of my favorite things about letterpress printing is its versatility – depending on the design, it can feel very vintage or downright futuristic.
The reason letterpress is still around (aside from the wonderful tactility of deep-impression printing) is because it downright excels at a spot-color text and line designs.
But, for decades, letterpress was the only option for everything from black text to full-color images.
It’s the fact that our grandparent’s newspapers and full-color postcards were produced using this very technique that make it inherently vintage in nature.
Full-color images are reproduced using four colors of ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (if you want to know more – like why the black is “K” – read this).
That means a single image takes four laser-focused passes through the press, a feat for any register system.
Analogue to Digital to Analogue.
This project started with a true vintage postcard that was digitized and color-separated into its component Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black images.
We added trim marks and crosshairs (called “targets”) that help us confirm alignment of all four plates.
Modern 4-color printing allows for a single piece to be printed with all four colors and then the process is repeated. With letterpress, all of the pieces have to be printed in cyan before moving on to yellow and through magenta and black, each color requiring setup and washup.
All of that means that you can’t see what the final result looks like until the very end.
And it’s a lot of work.
That makes the process of printing CMYK letterpress prints somewhat unpredictable.
I’m sure there are things we could learn to minimize the variation and unpredictability if we were printing CMYK letterpress every day, but it’s not often that we get clients brave enough to ask for such awesomeness.
Vintage Tech – Vintage Results
I shared a photo of this print with some printer friends – straight off the press after the black run. An old-timer in the group immediately chimed in – it was just like the postcards his parents sent as kids.
It’s an antiquated technology, to be sure.
There’s a reason offset printing, and now digital 4-color process printing replaced photo-etched printing blocks. The results are muddy and inconsistent.
Just the way we like them.
At least when the goal is a vintage-inspired postcard.