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Letterpress File Preparation Guidelines & Requirements

Templates are available for download on the Art Templates page to assist you in setting up your files for printing. Click the dropdown arrow next to the Artwork menu item above to go to the Art Templates page.


Creating artwork that looks good with the current software tools available to designers is a much simpler matter than back in the early days of letterpress when all art was created by hand. The primary pitfall of using tools like Illustrator, Photoshop or Freehand is that what looks good on the computer monitor or what prints well on an ink-jet or laser printer often will not work when attempting to plate and print the job on a letterpress or lithographic press.

The two main differences are that image setters (a device that outputs files to film) and computer to plate devices will output every color contained in the file as it’s own plate and they work ONLY with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) and spot color files.

If a file intended for two color printing is set up using multiple layers with other colors used to build a good looking screen shot, each color will be output by the image setter as a separate plate. This will not only add unwanted costs, it may result in a set of plates that will not print the result seen on screen or printed using a color ink-jet or laser printer. By following the guidelines and requirements below, your file should produce the desired results on press.


File Requirements

No elements of a file may be constructed in RGB or CMYK builds. All file elements for letterpress must be created using black or spot colors. CMYK builds are OK when designing files that will be printed using the four color process method (digital printing or four color litho), but that process is not practical using letterpress. It is OK to use solid cyan, magenta, black and yellow to represent other colors, but these colors cannot be mixed to create secondary colors.

Images that run off the edge of the printed piece are called bleeds. Any image that bleeds must be extended a minimum of 1/8th of an inch beyond the trim line. No more, no less. Printing is a manufacturing process that has an inherent and unavoidable amount of inaccuracy in the production process. If an image is set up in a file to run directly to the edge of the piece, this will result in some of the pieces that have a white line between the edge of the color and the edge of the piece. This is due to movement of the print relative to the edge of the paper and movement of the cut line relative to the edge of the print. By extending the image beyond the cut line, all pieces will have the print run to the edge of the piece.

Font files for all text elements must be supplied with the art file, OR all text elements must be converted to outlines prior to sending the file. When fonts are selected for text elements in a design, the appearance of the text is 100% dependent upon the exact font file used unless the text is converted to outlines. Although I may have a copy of Baskerville Bold or some other font on my computer, there may be differences between my font and yours depending on the source of the font. Even subtle differences in the set width of copy can cause unwanted changes to the appearance of the art. By far, the easiest way around this is to convert all text elements to outlines before sending the file for plating. When this is done, the opportunity for this kind of problem is eliminated.

Files must be prepared in a graphics program created for the purpose of graphic design. Although it is possible to create graphics with MS Paint, MS Publisher or MS Word, these programs often create more problems than they solve. Acceptable files are from programs like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Macromedia Freehand. Files produced in other programs may require additional charges to convert to art that can be used for printing.



Adobe Illustrator files are preferred. Although I can muddle through using Photoshop, I am much more familiar with Illustrator. The vector graphics produced when using Illustrator also produce the optimal results on press.

When choosing colors, DO NOT RELY ON WHAT YOU SEE ON YOUR MONITOR! Unless the monitor you are using has been carefully calibrated and is routinely checked for accuracy, the colors shown on screen are probably vastly different from what the printed result will be. This is especially true for PMS colors. ALWAYS choose PMS colors from a PMS book if you are concerned about the exact color in which your art will be printed. If you do not have a PMS book, I will be happy to meet with you, PMS book in hand, to choose the colors for your project.

Create your art at the size you want produced on press. Sometimes it is easier to create art larger than final size. Other times, there may be existing art that you want to use that are larger and that you may want to reduce to a smaller size. SOMETIMES, this is OK. However, if a logo is initially designed at 5” x 8” and the desired size is 1” x 1.6”, the reduction in size may render the art unprintable.

Do not use JPG logos or artwork downloaded from the web. Most of the images available from the web are low resolution. Often these are 72dpi or less. Low resolution art will print at a quality level that is unacceptable to most people. I cannot increase the resolution of low-rez art. It must be supplied in high resolution. A minimum of 600 dpi is required for good graphic reproduction. This is another reason why vector art is preferred. This issue does not apply to vector art.


Letterpress Papers and Design Considerations

Be careful with reverses! Letterpress papers like Crane's Lettra, Cartiera Magnani Arturo, Reich Savoy and Strathmore Pure Cotton are all relatively rough textured and very porous papers. These stocks are well suited for the letterpress process, because they are thick and will retain a deep impression well. However, reverse images require special consideration. The extreme porosity of the stock means that heavier images require a LOT more ink and impression pressure than line copy like text. It also can require a special ink mix to achieve the correct color. Fine line copy and heavy reverse images in the same color on the same side will require two plates and two passes to achieve optimal results. Please let me review art containing reverses before finalizing the design. I can advise about how to achieve the best result for the least cost.

Metallic inks present no problem printing via letterpress as long as the right stock is selected. Unfortunately, letterpress stocks that work well with deep impression do not work well for metallic inks. Metallic inks require a hard, very smooth surface in order to produce the metallic shine after printing. This is typically a gloss coated or super smooth uncoated paper. A soft, rough surface does not work. A foil stamp will be required if a metallic image is desired on a soft, "toothy" stock.

If a file is submitted that adheres to the requirements & guidelines above, not only can you be confident that what will print will be the desired image, the time required to have plates made will also be shortened.

In the even that there are problems with your files, I will contact you as soon as possible to explain the nature of the problem. If the problem is a simple one requiring five minutes or less to correct, I will do so at no charge. However, if the file requires extensive modifications or re-work, you will have the option to correct the problems yourself (or with your designer) or I can correct the problems at a rate of $75 per hour. I will give you an estimate and will require your authorization for these charges prior to proceeding with the correction. The corrections will be added to the total print quote.