As part of my series on the cost behind the services, I would like to discuss letterpress stationery and why it commands a premium. There are many factors that contribute to the high cost of setting up shop in the letterpress industry.
Equipment: The presses I featured previously at Cabin Press Studio run from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. “Sequoia”, the 1884 Chandler & Price Platen Press, is worth between $10,000-$20,000 in her current condition. Each roller costs $200, ink is $30 per can (and you need a various colors to mix a full Pantone spectrum), typesets typically cost hundreds, high quality cotton paper is expensive and special order plates are not cheap either.
Expertise: Letterpress is an art and working with the presses requires time and patience to master. Type and papers have to be placed extremely accurately to get an ideal image. Repeatability is difficult and waste is common when learning. Also, the machines themselves can seriously injure their operators if caution is not used.
Time Investment: The learning curve aside, an experienced letterpress user will still spend many, many hours setting type, tweaking the positioning, and creating proofs. And none of that includes the tremendous amount of time committed to designing the project to begin with on a computer in the case of things like invitations or custom graphics.
Additional Options: If you want your lettering embossed (vs. engraved in style when pressed), a die and a counterdie must be made and PRECISELY lined up to create the effect without losing crispness or hurting the dies. Custom designs require the creation of a custom plate. Photopolymer plates are cheaper but do not hold for as many printings as metal ones and will not press as deeply into the paper. Lastly, if you want more than one color on the same page, a great deal of time must be taken to meticulously clean the press and all of its components before the next layer of color can be printed!
Why It’s Worth It:
These costs must be weighed against the incredible product that you get out of it. If you print your invitations on a standard inkjet printer (like I did), the text will be very flat and extremely prone to smudging. Many of our RSVPs were badly messed up because they had gotten wet (raindrops) and bled. Even the moisture of my hands affected the quality of the ink. Letterpress inks are very durable and you will likely destroy the cottony paper before bleeding the ink. Also, letterpress has the delicious imprinted feel that makes it very luxe. Part of that is the density of the paper which far exceeds anything your printer will accept (boy did I learn that the hard way).
Denise of Cabin Press Studios suggests pressing only certain parts of your stationery and then having her back-feed print (requires special equipment) other portions. Printing is much cheaper than pressing and can be durable when professionally done. Also, using existing designs eliminates the cost of having a custom plate created. Finally, larger orders are cheaper to produce (per unit) because the real workload of letterpress is in the time it takes to set up the machines.
Just like anything else with your wedding, you will decide which elements are most important to you. If stationery is important, letterpress is the best way to go to get a luxurious and custom result.
This post is part of a series:
For What It’s Worth: Letterpress
For What It’s Worth: Photography
For What It’s Worth: Flowers
For What It’s Worth: The Dress
For What It’s Worth: Cakes