What Makes Letterpress an Art?

Letterpress An Impression

Letterpress is known for bringing old world methods a whole new life. We asked our experts what, in their opinion, makes this stunning printing technique an art form.

Letterpress by Crooked Letterpress

When you see and touch letterpress printed items, you can really tell the difference between letterpress and regular offset printing. There is tactility with letterpress that isn’t there with other printing methods, even if the design and typography is well done.

I think the art of letterpress lies in that fine combination of lovely inking and crisp impression. It’s very easy to over or under do those things (too much or too little ink, too much or too little impression) and that is where the art or craft of the thing comes into play.

Ellen Knudson, Crooked Letter Press

Letterpressed book by Fireband Press

For me, any creative process that allows you to express your point of view and connect with others is an art. In the most basic sense, it’s another printmaking process, just like etching or lithography – so why wouldn’t it be considered an art? There are elements of drawing, color theory, design, typography – the list goes on and on. If I consider an “art” more as an elevated level of craft (more akin to artisan), it falls into that category as well because it’s a specific process you have to learn to achieve the results you want. Just like with etchings, there are specific steps you must take to pull a good print.

For me, learning how to letterpress print is just like learning how to become a master woodworker or glass-blower. There are certain skills and techniques one should learn in order to create technically sound work, but on the whole, the process lends itself to enough experimentation to keep it relevant and appealing today. Even though letterpress began more as a trade and a vehicle for publication, folks have taken that utilitarian process and raised it to a level that I find as riveting as other traditional printmaking methods.

Lauren Faulkenberry, Firebrand Press

Letterpress by EM Letterpress

I think what people mean when they say letterpress is an art, is that at every stage in the production process a choice needs to be made that will inform the finished product. There are so many variables, and each one a controlling factor.

To get pleasing, predictable results, one has to be working and thinking and predicting outcomes all the time. Yeah, that’s art.

Elias Roustom, EM Letterpress

For more, download a free copy of our letterpress eBook, Letterpress in the Modern Age.

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