Laserpress? Letterfoil? Do printing terms sound like bad 80’s scifi movies to you? You’re in luck! We’re going to demystify the top 4 invitation printing methods. (And no, sadly, laserpress and letterfoil are not real things.)
Digital printing is a process where a digital image is transferred using pigment or toner directly onto different kinds of media using laser or inkjet printers. You can print digitally on a wide variety of papers: matte to glossy, textured to smooth, light text weight up to ~110# cover weight.
This technique can accommodate small or large projects. The quality of the print is very high and works great for photos. For anything with more than 1 or 2 colors, it’s the most flexible option. The ink on the paper is not dimensional and usually has a matte finish. It’s a 4-color technique: Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are laid down in various quantities to make the different tones and shades.
Overall, it’s economical, flexible, and ubiquitous. It may not have the following of the other techniques we’ll cover, but it is an excellent tool to have.
Letterpress is a process by which a metal or polymer plate is created from a digital image, coated with ink (or not), then used in a variety of awesome, old machines! These machines physically press the image onto the paper. The plate doesn’t have to be inked, creating a “blind” effect – either embossed (pressed out toward you) or debossed (pressed into the paper).
This process works best on heavier weight papers, usually 118# to 220#, that are higher quality with a higher cotton content than common text weight paper. The thicker the paper, the more dramatic the pressed design will look. You can use thinner papers, but it may cause “bruising” where the pressing shows through the back of the piece.
Interestingly, what we love about letterpress is actually, technically, a mistake. We learned this on a shop tour given by an older gentleman who had been running letterpress machines for longer than we’d been alive. Though we love the mystique of the pressed-in feel, it’s technically “wrong” to have the machines hit the paper that hard. His mentor would reject work if the imprint was too deep into the paper. Of course, styles change. We’re so accustomed to handling perfectly smooth digital- or offset-printed pieces that the texture of letterpress evokes a different emotional response. It feels classic and timeless, and we love it.
Letterpress is best for 1 or 2 color projects. A different plate must be created for each color, and colors are often manually mixed. It’s best for flat design elements like text or line illustrations, and it’s beautiful with very fine details. It’s not ideal for photography or gradients, though it can be done using halftone screens and a healthy dose of expertise.
Hot foil stamping is similar to letterpress as it uses plates to press a design into paper. In hot foil stamping, heat is applied to the plate to adhere a layer of foil to the paper. Cold foil stamping uses a chemical and ultraviolet process to achieve a similar effect. However, cold foil is best on glossy surfaces, whereas hot foil works well on a wider variety of media, especially the kinds of papers that wedding invitations are typically printed on. Hot foil stamping creates a slightly debossed effect, but it still works well on lighter weight or heavier weight papers.
Foil stamping is great for adding a very high end look to even the simplest design. Foils come in many colors, though gold is by far the most popular. This process also works best on flat design elements like text and line illustration.
The finished piece is usually 1-color, though multiple colors can be achieved with different plates and foils or specialty foil with a gradient.
Laser cutting uses a beam of light to cut paper, wood, acrylic, or even metal. It can cut intricate detailing, and it can engrave designs by cutting away a layer of the medium. It’s best for projects with unique shapes and interesting textures, and is almost always more cost effective than die cutting.
There’s no color applied with laser cutting, though you can layer material to create interesting color combinations between the cut piece and a backer. And though it’s best for line art or text, there’s a tremendous number of ways to create laser-cut designs that are totally unique.
You’re not limited to just one printing method! Designs get really fun when you combine different printing techniques, bringing a wider range of interest to the piece. For example, Fable shown above has 3 different techniques just on the cover! The texture is digitally printed on the paper, then a layer of hot foil is applied for the names and illustrations. Finally, the cover is laser cut to the right shape for bookmaking.
We’ve combined letterpress and 4-color digital prints, laser cutting and digital printing, and more. Each of these is like a tool in a toolbox, sometimes you need more than one to get the job done.
Each of these methods has its own price range and its own set of considerations as you make your decision.
Digital: $ The type of paper and size of the final pieces will drive the cost. By far, the most economical option of the 4.
Letterpress: $$$$ Has a setup fee, and the final price will depend on the size and number of plate(s) required, number of colors, and any special labor required (such as a halftone screen). Generally the most expensive of these 4 options.
Foil Stamping: $$-$$$ Also has a setup fee, and, like letterpress, the size of plate required, amount of material used, and number of colors will determine the final price. Generally less expensive than letterpress.
Laser Cutting: $$ – $$$$ Price is determined by the size and complexity of the design. As a general rule, the longer it takes to cut, the more expensive it will be. You’re paying for time on the cutter and the material being cut. So a simple luggage tag shape will be drastically less expensive than an ornate design.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Digital, letterpress, foil stamping, and laser cutting are by far the 4 most popular invitation printing styles. Today’s client has an incredible range of options at their disposal to create the perfect invitation. Each technique has its own strengths and limitations, but you can combine them in creative ways to make something truly special!