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.