This is the second installment of a series called press-side chats—a look into the process and materials behind lettering, design, and letterpress printing. I hope it will serve as a helpful resource for clients, other designers, and those just generally interested in the minutia of paper processes.
When I was in college, I lived in a house with four other dear friends. We had many things in common (like our insatiable appetite for popcorn and M & Ms, midnight dance parties, and the game of silent football), and well as a few differences. I, for instance, chose to swim against the tide of Greek life at our large SEC state school. Beth, on the other hand, was a sister, through and through. When she and her fellow Sigma Kappas saw each other on campus, they’d flash a quick raised-hand signal. Even from afar, it was an unspoken “wink wink, we share something” nod.
Like a social society, from the outside, letterpress and design can appear to have a similar insider quality. In today’s installment of press-side chats, I’ll seek to teach you the handshake, so to speak, and define some of the terms that might be helpful as you begin to interact in this medium. Before long, you’ll fit right in.
Impression - the indention that artwork/text makes on the paper, giving the printing process its tactile quality.
Emboss - often confused for the letterpress process, this is actually the opposite action, meaning that text/design is raised from the surface rather than impressed (or de-bossed).
Blind impression - this gives provides all of the textural appeal of the print process, just without ink. It can be really nice to add pattern or extra dimension to a design. See an example here.
Paper stock - the kind of paper used for a particular job. For instance, my preferred (house) stock is called Crane Lettra, which is a cottony, textured variety, great for showcasing the impression that the letterpress process creates.
lb.- the weight (or thickness or sturdiness) of the paper. The way this is calculated can be rather confusing, but for our purposes, it doesn’t have to be. Thinner (or text weight) papers work great for things like letterhead, but letterpress is at its best on thicker papers (called cover weight stocks). The weight for each is measured in lbs. based on a quantity of 500 sheets at a set size. For reference, copy paper is typically 50lb text weight.
GSM - grams per square meter, or the actual weight of the paper.
Sizing - When working on invitation suites, it’s often simplest to refer to different pieces by their industry-penned sizes. Below are some of the ones I use most often. These are the envelope dimensions. When I’m fitting a card inside of each, I often shave a .25” off each dimension to ensure it slides smoothly in and out.
A1/4-bar - 3 ⅝ x 5 1/8”, I often use this size for reply cards
A2 - 4 3/8" x 5 3/4", These are great for details or accommodations cards
A6 - 4 3/4" x 6 1/2", Same as above, but this is also a good size for a flat notecard
A7 - 5 1/4" x 7 1/4", This is the most commonly used size for wedding invites
A7.5 - 5 1/2" x 7 1/2", This might also be referred to as the “outer envelope” for double-envelope wedding suites
A9 - 5 3/4" x 8 3/4", The largest wedding invite size, think half the size of an 8 ½ x 11” sheet
Baronial Flap - This envelope flap comes to a point
Square Flap - As its name implies, this envelope flap has a straight edge
Digital printing - This is usually what happens with at-home printing. I often recommend that brides print the interior pages of their wedding programs this way. The print process is simple, applying ink in a single pass over the paper.
Offset printing- This is a higher-end form of flat printing, characterized by its four-color process (CMYK). It involves mechanically layering colors from rubber rollers onto paper one at a time.
Escort Cards - small cards that indicate a guests name and the table at which they’re assigned to sit. These are different than place cards, which actually sit at the place setting.
Camera-ready file - a designed file that’s ready to go to press, following all of the printer’s specifications. For my process, read this post here.
Pantone (PMS) - the universal color matching system used. See the guide here.
Comment below if there are any other words you’d like to see explained! I imagine this list will expand as needed.