Funny, albeit quotidian?

Well, maybe. We’ll do our best to keep it real, informative, sweet, and short-ish, but until our site has a journal section, we’ll use this platform to expand on certain questions and notions. Check back from time to time, as we’ll add to the FAQ as questions arise and situations necessitate. Happy reading!


When is letterpress printing a good fit for my project?

Letterpress printing is the answer when you want your audience to interact with the what you have to say. Because letterpress is a three-dimensional printing, you can actually feel the content of the printed item in your hand. Letterpress is the answer when you want recipients to have a crafted, considered object in their hands. Letterpress printing isn’t quick, but it is lasting, and has the potential to imbue your content with authenticity and approachability.

Why should I have my project letterpress printed?

The short answer to “why letterpress?” is: to make an impact, physically and perceptually, on the recipient. Which, you might argue, is… always, right? Well, sure, but therein lie distinctions and factors. Here, then, are some instances where letterpress printing might not be the best solution:

  • Multicolor process work
  • Photographic reproduction*
  • Double-sided printing*
  • Extremely quick turnaround
  • Bulk mailing
  • Exterior (outdoor) printing situations

*Some exceptions apply—please inquire

What kind of printed pieces work well with letterpress printing?

Almost any printed piece could work via letterpress—letterpress printing was the way everything was printed, commercially, for almost 500 years. But now there are much faster options that have their own selling points, including digital options that aren’t even “printed,” on paper, anymore. With much faster, and oftentimes less-expensive methods of printing available, the question really becomes whether or not a hypothetical project should be printed letterpress. The answers are: yes, sometimes, it should be, letterpress printing is the perfect fit; and oftentimes, no, the project shouldn’t be printed letterpress, period.

Is a letterpress impression the mark of unconsidered, shoddy printing?

We will digress here:

There’s no doubt that there’s been a debate, for quite a long time, about the presence of the letterpress impression in and on letterpress printed materials. At the turn of the 20th century, when all mechanical printing was done via letterpress printing, the hallmark of a “good printer” was that their printings left no discernible impression in the paper. We believe that this needs to be taken into historical context, however: at that time, most printed materials were printed on both sides, where a heavier impression on one side of the paper would show through to the opposite side and thereby impair legibility. Also, the majority of printing was done with hand-set, and later, machine-set metal type; as printing with an impression requires heavier pressure, it would also decrease the lifespan of metal type, which was definitely another mark against printing with an impression. We’ve definitely seen some contemporary letterpress work that was printed with, in our opinion, far too much pressure, which in the end, has a detrimental effect on the recipient: too-heavy pressure can call too much attention to the very fact that a piece was printed with too much pressure, making the piece difficult to read.

Today, with so many other printing options available to consumers, the ability to leave an impression in the paper is unique, a signature of the consideration and craft that goes into a letterpress printed item. The interaction of the human eye and hand with the impression, and the creation of subtle shadowing within the impression, suggests that printing with an impression imbues the printed piece with living energy. While of course not living in a sentient sense, letterpress printed pieces possess, we believe, a significant amount of potential energy, which is conveyed in almost subliminal ways. Recipients recognize and feel that the piece in their hands is special, somehow, even if they can’t articulate why. It is our belief that this process embodies the basic humanistic principles of spoken and written language(s): we interact with the printed word conceptually (through the actual content), physically (holding the paper, the book, touching the page or the card, running our fingers across the impressions in the paper), and even, we would argue, metaphysically.

So, who’s right? Impression or no impression? Well, in classic fenceriding tradition, we believe that both camps have valid reasons why that particular process should be employed on a letterpress project. For us here at Smokeproof, the letterpress impression is singularly signatory; it is that thing that establishes intentional, artisanal credibility on a project. And because there are so many other forms of printing that leave no evidence of the printing process on or in the paper, we believe that the presence of that evidence is special. It evokes history, craftsmanship, and difficult-to-articulate artistic and sensory intention. The impression is, in a word, cool. Of course, we will always strive to balance all of the factors on a given project so that the eventual impression, however deep it may be, will be appropriate to the project without hindering quality or legibility. Amen.

What is a “smoke proof?”

Back when type was made of bits of lead rather than bits of zeroes, ones, and light, the procedure from which we take our name was used by craftspersons (called punchcutters) who cut and carved letterforms into steel. These steel punches were used to create matrices, the original molds for a typeface to be cast in lead and to be used in letterpress printing.

The punchcutter would carve the initial shape of a letter onto the tip of a steel rod, called a “punch.” This punch was then hammered onto the tip of another blank punch, thereby creating the negative form of that shape; additional shapes were then carved, and this punch, depending on the letter, could be used to create yet another negative form in another punch. Interior spaces (counters) in letterforms were made by “counterpunches,” heat-tempered punches that had the positive shape carved on their tip, which were then hammered into the master letterform punch.

When the final letterform was ready, the punch would be held over the flame of a candle to heat the surface and to collect soot on the surface. This smoky punch was then pressed onto a piece of paper, and the punchcutter could then check the integrity of the letterform, “printed,” as it were, on the paper. This print was referred to as a smoke proof, a fifteenth-century version of carbon paper; we fused the two words into a compound word to honor this bit of punchcutting history. Plus is sounds cool.

Is letterpress printing the same as embossing?

No. Letterpress printing creates a physical depression into the paper, while embossing creates a raised surface on top of the paper. Letterpress goes down, embossing goes up. Letterpress printing can also be referred-to as de-bossing. Just to muddy the issue, however, both letterpress printing and embossing use the same kinds of printing presses to achieve their signature look.

Can you do doublesided printing?

Yes, with caveats. In order to print on both sides of a sheet of paper, the paper needs to be thick enough to handle an impression and to not have that impression show through the opposite side of the paper–otherwise, legibility is compromised… and it can look sloppy. While there are a few commercially-available papers that meet this requirement, the best way to assure a good letterpress impression without a hint of that impression showing through is to duplex, or laminate, papers after printing.

Can you print halftone images?

Yes, halftones do work with letterpress printing–in fact, it’s the only way to reproduce photographic imagery via letterpress. However, the look and feel of a letterpress halftone is that of an aged, old-school newspaper photograph. Typically, there will be no discernible impression on the halftone except, sometimes, along the perimeter of the image.

What is overprinting?

Overprinting allows new colors to be created by the intersection and overlay of two or more separate colors. By carefully planning the design of a printed piece, overprinting can yield more colors than suggested by the required number of print runs. For example, in a finished piece printed in red and yellow (which would require two setups and two individual plates), overprinting selected areas of the image would result in a third color, orange—without having a separate plate and print run for the orange areas.


Do you have a minimum order?

Not necessarily. However, given the setup costs involved with letterpress printing, the higher the quantity you print, the lower the unit cost of the final printed piece. If you’re looking for hard numbers, so you can start somewhere, here are our suggested minimum quantities:

  • Business cards: 250
  • Invitations: 100
  • Posters: 250
  • Chapbooks: 100
  • Other: please inquire

Can you rush my order?

Yes, within reason. There are so many variables that affect a rush job that it’s impossible to speculate on an exact cost. A rush job, by definition, needs to be printed and shipped out quickly, and materials therefore usually need to be rush-shipped to us before we can begin printing. These costs, plus the cost of “cutting the line” in our printing queue, add up quickly, so the best way to think of a rush is in terms of a percentage of the job total: rush fees of 25-50% of the normal project cost are common; rush fees of 50-75% of the project fee are more rare, but can and have occurred; rush fees of 100-100+% of the project fee are even more rare, but can and have occurred. Please inquire in your correspondence and we can iron out the details.

Do you provide samples of your work?

Yes, we can certainly provide you with samples. As we have a limited number of samples from any given job, we charge a small fee, in addition to a fee for postage, to send them to you. To sweeten the pot, however, we offer a full discount for the sample cost (not, however, for the shipping cost), up to a maximum of $40, if you end up ordering from Smokeproof. Please inquire about the item in question and we’ll let you know about its availability and the cost.

What happens to any overage after printing?

If there is any overage after a job is complete, we typically include it when we deliver the job. How much overage there is depends on a variety of factors and is different from job to job

What forms of payment do you accept?

We prefer personal or business checks, made out to “Smokeproof Press.” We can arrange for payment via Paypal, but would then need to add any associated processing fee to your invoice before payment. Please inquire and we’ll happily assist you.

Do you offer press checks?

Yes, we offer one press check per project. Additional press checks (for projects with multiple colors) will incur a $35-per-press-check fee. There will be a fee involved if a press check leads to any changes to the project, including ink / tint changes, press setup / cleanup, etc.

Do you accept credit cards?

No, not directly. We can, however, accept payment via Paypal; for these transactions we need to add any associated Paypal processing fee to your project total before processing the payment.

What’s your turnaround time?

This will always depend on 1. the actual job and its specifics, 2. our current workload, 3. time of year (holidays, for example, are busier times), and 4. receipt of finalized artwork and a deposit. With that in mind, in general, you can expect the following turnaround times:

  • Business cards: 2-3 weeks
  • Invitations: 3-5 weeks
  • Packaging: 3-5 weeks


Why is letterpress expensive?

Letterpress printing is a handcrafted process that takes years of dedicated work to master; by the time you’re actually ordering your project, it’s in the hands of an experienced artisan dedicated to providing you with the best possible printed materials. The equipment is, now, extremely rare and expensive to procure and move from location to location. Additionally, all letterpress projects have fixed costs, including materials, and, for each color printed, a press setup, a print run, and a press cleanup.

What materials costs are involved in a letterpress project?

The specifics of course will vary from project to project, but generally they involve the following:

  • Plates: Every letterpress job requires a plate or series of plates. This is a fixed cost, which means that you’ll only be charged once for your plates. For one-time jobs like invitations, we’ll only need your plates once; for multiple-order jobs (business cards, for example), we can reuse plates many times over (providing that your artwork remains the same by the time you reorder).
  • Paper: Paper costs vary widely depending on the type and quality of the paper. Coverstock, packaging papers, handmade papers and natural fiber (non-tree-based) papers are all more expensive than off-the-shelf commercial papers.
  • Ink: We mix the majority of the custom Pantone ink colors we print with. Metallic and fluorescent inks are more expensive than normal mixing inks.
  • Finishing materials: These can include cutting dies, perforation rules, eyelets, binding thread, and many more… again, depending on the specifics of your project.

How much do letterpress business cards cost?

Every job is unique and will have costs specific to your needs. Plates, which can be reused in the future for reorders, are charged to a job on the first order. As a ballpark, for 500 single-color, single-sided business cards, pricing starts at around $275 + plates, paper & shipping to your location.

How much do letterpress invitations cost?

Every job is unique and will have costs specific to your needs. As a ballpark, “standard” invitation pricing with no custom design or extras (4-piece suite: invite, rsvp, outer envelope, reply envelope) starts at approximately $800 + plates, paper & shipping to your location. Printing just the invitation with no extra pieces would of course cost less; please inquire with your specific needs and we’ll work up an estimate for you.

What factors affect letterpress pricing?

  • Quantity
  • Number of colors
  • Number of pieces (example: Invite/Outer Env/Reply Card/Reply Env)
  • Size
  • Versions (example: Business cards for 4 employees)
  • Bleeds required?
  • Floods / large solids? Reversed type or artwork?
  • Specialty inks (metallic & fluorescent)
  • Single-sided vs. double-sided printing
  • Paper type & quality
  • Finishing (Diecutting / Scoring / Perforation / Saddlestitching / Coil binding)
  • Desired delivery date


What’s the best paper to use for a letterpress project?

Letterpress printing will work on just about every paper, including handmade, with some reservations. The best papers to use to accentuate the impression in paper are papers that have both bulk (thickness) and a natural texture. Papers that do not work well are typically commercial papers that have pre-designed textures embossed or debossed into the paper, such as a “linen” texture—these textures are applied at the mill using high pressure and calendering rollers, which both compress the bulk (thickness) of the paper and give the paper a slick hand.

What is a plate?

A letterpress plate is a 3-dimensional object used, in conjunction with ink, to transmit an image (type, line drawing, artwork, etc.) onto something else… usually paper. Most importantly, letterpress plates have a “relief,” or raised, surface.

What kinds of plates are available for use in letterpress printing?

Traditionally, copy was printed via hand-set, and then later, machine-set type… both of which aren’t “plates,” but we include them here for simplicity’s sake. Today, we have more options available: plates can be manufactured in metals (magnesium and copper, primarily) and polymer. We can also print from wood and linoleum carvings, though these may require modification—please inquire.

What kind of plates does Smokeproof use?

We’ve run the gamut, from handset type (which isn’t a “plate,” but it makes sense to include here) to wood- and metal-mounted magnesium and copper to metal- and film-backed polymer plates. Polymer plates offer the most versatility with contemporary digital design and typography, and the majority of our work is printed off some form of polymer plate. Every job is unique, though, so we’ll help guide you to the best plate material for your project.

Will you hand-set type for my job?

No, unless you have both an incredible project and a hefty budget. Our selection of hand-set type is limited and very old, so a hand-set job would be both time consuming and expensive. Plus, the typographic manipulation possible with hand-set type is much more limited than with digital composition. Digital composition gives customers a much wider field of type to choose from.


Are letterpress inks different that other inks?

Not necessarily. Letterpress inks can be used in other printing processes, like offset printing. What is important to remember is that all printing inks are translucent to a certain degree, and that the paper color will always affect the perceived color of the printed ink. For example, printing white ink on a black paper will produce a bluish or greyish white, rather than an opaque, solid white.

What kinds of ink do you offer?

We print with both rubber- and oil-based inks. Using these bases, we mix our own Pantone formulations. We special-order metallic and fluorescent inks on an as-needed basis.

Can you print my job in CMYK?

No, not if you’re referring to the offset printing process, where different values of cyan, magenta, yellow and black are combined on press to produce a full-color result. We print in what’s referred-to as “spot color,” one color on press at a time. Make sure you specify an exact Pantone color for your ink selections. We can, however, print in process spot color... that is to say, 4 (or more) color printing where each color is a specified spot-color, rather than a CMYK build. It’s time consuming and requires a significant plating budget, but can look pretty stunning.

What are spot colors?

A “spot color” is used to distinguish one-color-at-a-time printing from process printing; a spot color is one solid color of ink printed in one independent press run. We mix our ink to the Pantone + UNCOATED formula guide specifications. *Please Note* that colors render very differently on screen (digitally) than the actual printed color, so if you’re going to spec a Pantone color, be sure to check out how it looks on paper in an actual Pantone + Uncoated formula guide.

Can I specify a custom ink color?

Yes, of course. All inks need to be specified from the Pantone Plus formula guide. We can mix the majority of the inks listed in the guide; some, especially metallic and fluorescent inks, will incur an additional fee, which we can determine and inform you about in our project correspondence. We cannot, at this time, offer ink formulations specified from the Pantone GOE system or other ink systems (such as Toyo).

Can you print in metallic and fluorescent inks?

Yes. It’s important to note that metallic inks are more opaque than non-metallic inks; they are ink, not foil. Thus, while they’ll show some sparkle on the page, metallic inks do not shine like metal foils will. Please specify an exact Pantone metallic or fluorescent color. These inks are more expensive than “regular” ink, ranging in price from $40 to $70; exact pricing depends on the actual color desired.

Can you print without ink?

Yes. This is commonly referred to as a blind deboss: “blind” meaning ‘without ink,’ and “deboss” meaning with the traditional letterpress bite into the paper.

Is blind debossing less expensive than printing with ink?

No. Typically it costs the same as an inked press run. This is because a blind deboss still requires its own plate, its own press setup and its own press run. The only time blind debossing is less expensive than a traditional inked letterpress run is when compared to metallic or fluorescent ink printing.

How do you indicate the number of ink colors on a project?

The standard “system” to indicate both the number of inks used on a particular job and the side of the paper they’re printed on is a set of numbers separated by a slash. For example, “2/1” indicates that the printed piece will have 2 spot colors of ink on the “front” of the paper, and 1 spot color of ink on the “back” of the paper. And, just to add confusion, these numbers can also indicate blind debossing… so perhaps the better way to think about this system is that it indicates the number of press runs each side of a sheet of paper will be run through on press.


Can I use any design I see in the work section, substituting my own information?

It depends. If Smokeproof Press designed the piece, then yes, we can reuse the design and customize it using your information. If, however, the piece was designed by our client(s), or by a third party designer, then no, we cannot reuse that particular design. Please inquire, and we’d be happy to assist you.

What design specifications do you have for files I or my designer provide?

Design specs, in no particular order:

  • Provide file in .ai or .eps format
  • Convert fonts to outlines
  • All artwork in 100% black
  • Color separations on individual layers
  • Ink specs in Pantone + Uncoated
  • Minimum stroke width: .35pt
  • Bleeds: 1/4”
  • Floods / solids: inquire first
  • Flatten all artwork when file is ready so there are no strokes, only fills


Do you offer diecutting?

Yes. There are size, shape, material and substrate limitations. Intricate diecuts can require complex, and therefore expensive, dies; please inquire about your specific diecutting needs.

Do you offer bindery services?

Yes. We offer saddlestitching, metal coil binding (Smokeproof only offers metal coil binding; we do not offer plastic comb binding), singer sewing, and pamphlet stitch binding. Smokeproof Press is not, however, a book bindery: we do not offer book repair or one-off custom hand binding.

Do you offer custom bookbinding?

No, with these few exceptions: Only if we’re also printing the books. And then, only if they fall into the saddlestitching / singer sewing / pamphlet stitching categories. Otherwise, no.

Do you offer scoring or creasing services?

Yes, but only on work that we’re also printing. We do not take scoring /creasing jobs on work printed elsewhere.

Do you offer corner rounding?

Yes, but only on work that we’re also printing. We do not take corner rounding jobs on work printed elsewhere.

What rounded-corner radii do you offer?

We offer 1/16” (.0625), 1/8” (.125), 3/16” (.1875), ¼” (.25), 3/8” (.375), and ½” (.5) corners.

What is duplexing?

Duplexing actually isn’t a finishing process, it’s more of a “beginning” process, where two sheets of paper are glued together. We usually print papers before we duplex them, to ensure the best impression for your pape. It’s quite common to duplex different paper colors together to maximize a particular color palette. Differing weights of paper and papers with different textures can be duplexed, too. Duplexing adds to the overall cost of a project so be sure to inquire about duplexing at the beginning of your project.


Do you ship orders, or are you will-call only?

We will definitely ship your order if that is your preference. We ship via USPS Priority mail, but we’ve also used UPS and FedEx. Please indicate your preference in any correspondence when we discuss your project.

Do you ship orders with insurance coverage?

Yes, we ship with enough insurance to cover the cost of the project, in the unlikely event that the shipment is lost or damaged by the carrier. Insurance claims must be resolved between the recipient and the carrier; Smokeproof Press is not liable for shipping snafus once the carrier takes receipt of your shipment.

Can you ship with my FedEx or UPS account number?

Certainly, simply provide your shipping account information in our correspondence when we discuss your project.



Sorry, we were unable to find the defintion for this term. This is our fault, we probably put a thing-a-ma-jig in the whats-it spot.



Sorry, we were unable to find the defintion for this term. This is our fault, we probably put a thing-a-ma-jig in the whats-it spot.