Set: The Basics of Letterpress

While letterpress is a very old and traditional method of printing, it can still be used to create very interesting and unique effects, especially with type. The setup of the galley and type is very time consuming, but once a colour is put into a machine, printing takes very little time.


Letterpress overview booklet printed by the technicians


Letterpress examples printed by the technicians

Health and Safety

  • In case of fire, exit through double doors and through the print finishing room
  • Do not wear loose clothing
  • Do not wear nice clothing
  • Tuck in your lanyards and necklaces
  • Tie your hair back
  • Always wear closed footwear, no open heels or toes
  • Aprons and Gloves
    1. Wear an apron to print
    2. Wear heavy nitrol gloves to clean because of contact with solvents
    3. You can wear disposable gloves for setting

What is Letterpress?

  • A form of relief printing
    1. Print from a raised area
    2. What is cut away does not print
  • Works on a grid system
  • Letterpress measurements
    1. Points and picas
      • 12 points = 1 pica
  • Everything is mirrored
    1. Everything is the wrong way around
  • Direct print
  • Always print multiples
    • 20 or more

Preparation and Setting

  • Consult the list of typefaces
  • Do a mock-up
  • Setting
    1. Start with the leading
      • Makes the lines solid
    2. Work from left to right and upside down
    3. Hold it in place with your thumb
    4. You can make it justified, right, and left
    5. Do a paste up
      • Make adjustments
      • Look at kerning
      • Work stop by step
    6. Proof in the galley press
      • Letterpress magnets keep the letters in place (only for proofing)

Letterpress Machines

  • Motorized Press
    1. Avoid the nip points (points where rollers meet)
    2. Bring the press all the way back until you hear the click
    3. There is an emergency stop by every mechanical press
    4. Steps
      • Turn it on
      • Engage rollers
      • Pack the paper
        • Packing is designed to get the correct height for printing
        • Build up from a low amount in a trial and error process
      • Register the lay sheet to the far corner
        • Clamp into the rollers
      • Print one colour at a time
        • Washing takes a day to dry
        • You can print any pantone colour
          • Fluorescent
          • Metallic
        • Guide the press to the end
          • The clamp should release the paper


  • Galley Press
    1. You do not have to clean it yourself
    2. Can only run newsprint
    3. Only prints in black
    4. Inks the image from right to left
    5. Place the image in the middle
      • You will get a good image area in the middle
      • The paper should be in the middle
    6. Steps
      • Ink up
      • Place paper
      • Roll back
      • ALWAYS wait for the clank that means that the press has disengaged
    7. Manipulations
      • To get the gradient effect, do not ink up again
      • You can manipulate ink with a rag
  • Clean Up
    1. Use thick gloves to put white spirit on a folded rag
    2. Clean into the corner of the setting
    3. Metal and wood clean very easily

Letterpress Fluids

  • Ink
    1. Non-toxic
    2. Highly pigmented
    3. Oil-based
  • White Spirit
    1. Used to clean type and print surfaces
    2. Always in a cone-shaped tin-man metal can
    3. Solvent

Letterpress Type

  • Metal type
    1. Made of a lead alloy
    2. You should always wash your hands after handling because of the lead
      • It is soft and can leave residue
    3. Type sizes range from 6 to 72 point
  • Type drawers
    1. The metal type drawers can be 8 to 30 kilograms
      • They are heavier than they look
    2. Different fonts in different sizes
    3. Opening drawers
      • Pull out the type drawer below it so it acts like shelf
      • Pull out the drawer, rest on the bottom drawer
      • Take out the drawer and put it on a slope
    4. Case lay
      • A chart organized by amount the letters are used in the English language
    5. Uppercase and Lowercase
      • Literally the upper and lower cases of type
  • Wooden type
    1. The larger sizes are made of wood because of the weight
  • Raised type height
    1. The areas not being printed are cut out
    2. 23.57 mm
    3. If it’s too low, it won’t print
    4. If it’s too high, it will damage the paper
  • You can print type out of anything
    1. Collaboration with the 3D workshop
    2. Plastic
    3. Acrylic
    4. Wood
    5. Etc.
  • The niche
    1. A slit on one side of the four letter block
    2. It tells you where the bottom of the type is
    3. Allows you to check for errors before you print
      • The best time to do that is after printing though


Type and type drawers


Rubber stamps set with furniture for printing


Word Definition
Typography The art of arranging letters and words
Leading Strips of lead between type
Point A unit of measurement in printing which goes up in 6s (12, 18, 24…72)
Furniture Largest spacing material made from aluminium
Galley Metal tray designed to store type and proof the type, the pressure comes from the side into the corner of the setting
Composing Stick The same thing as a text box, make it slightly longer than the longest line
Points/Picas Typographic measurement system; 12 pts equals 1 pica

Furniture (left) and leading (right)


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