The Printing Process: Engraving

While I’m away on vacation I’m running a series of guest posts on the various printing processes, from digital printing to engraving.  I’ve asked some designers and printers to share their expertise and lots of photos to fill you in on what you need to know about different stationery printing methods.  Today we’re joined by Chelsea and Jamie from Sugar Paper, telling us all about the elegant printing process known as engraving!

Hi OSBP!  We’re Chelsea and Jamie from Sugar Paper in Los Angeles, California!  At Sugar Paper our first love is (and will always be) letterpress printing.  That said, lately we’ve been intrigued by engraving.  Anyone who has ever printed on a letterpress knows that printing using white ink is a challenge.  If you work and work you can get a subtle image, but there is nothing like engraving for a crisp white image on brightly colored paper.


Luckily, a world renowned engraver is right in our backyard.  The oldest engraver in the United States, SF Cooper, is just down the road from us.  They recently allowed Jamie and I the opportunity to learn the process, and we’ll show you how it’s done in the images below.  We had fun!  It was like our own personal Sesame Street field trip.  We both loved those Sesame Street segments when we were kids…

What is Engraving?

Like letterpress, the process of engraving imposes ink onto paper under intense pressure, creating images with a unique look and feel unavailable through flat printing.  Unlike letterpress, however, type and graphics are raised on each piece of paper.  To achieve this result, metal plates are etched with a recessed image.  Metal plates are then hand-aligned on the press.  Once aligned, the plate is coated with ink and then blotted using kraft paper to clean the plate, leaving only the image with ink remaining.  The paper is then hand-fed and each piece is applied under two tons of pressure, creating an embossed image with startling clarity, color purity and depth.

The Printing Process

Like with any labor-intensive printing process, you really have to see the process in action.  The images below will help walk you through the engraving process step by step.


The plate is etched with the image and aligned in the press.


White ink is added to the press.



Blotter paper is added to the press to blot the plate between each impression.  The entire plate is inked and then blotted with kraft paper to leave only the etched image white.


The pressman feeds each piece of paper and then lines them on a heated conveyer belt to dry.


Caution – Hot!  The cards pass through the oven on a conveyer belt.  It’s like a conveyer belt toaster oven…

Each card passes through the oven to dry.


The finished cards.


Each set is counted…


and packaged…



Tadaa!  The final product is now in stores.  Nestled in with some of our other fall favorites from Oblation, Rifle Paper Company and Thomas Paul.

Tips and Advice

The beauty of engraving is best reserved for formal pieces, as the price and the printing style lends itself to more formal occasions.

When having collateral printed these are our tips:

1. Keep in mind that engraving requires longer turn-around times than most printing styles.  Engravers are generally old-school printers.  This means, they honor traditional printing and paper ordering policies that can delay an order.  If you’re in a hurry, this is not the printing method for you.  If you have 3 to 4 weeks (or more), you’re golden.

2.  Engraving is best used with fine typefaces.  The engraving technique captures fine details in a way unparalleled by other printing methods.  Shaded type or thin typefaces look terrific when engraved.

3. Engraving is a terrific option for white ink on colored paper.  Engraving prints white ink beautifully.  The ink sits on top of the paper and creates a bright white color.

4. Two-sided pieces should be avoided when choosing engraving as your printing method.  The process of engraving uses water that creates “bruising” on the backside of each piece of paper.  The “bruising” would conflict with a two-sided design making the design look muddled.  A note: The “bruising” is what creates a distinction between true engraving and thermography the less expensive version of raised printing.

Thank you so much ladies!  For more of the fabulous paper wares from Sugar Paper, click here!

Photo Credits: Sugar Paper

The Printing Process: Digital Printing

In addition to awesome guest posts over the next two weeks, I’ll be running a series of special posts on the various printing processes while I’m away.  I’ve asked some designers and printers to share their expertise and lots of photos to fill you in on what you need to know about different printing methods, along with a few tips and advice if you’re considering a particular printing method for your wedding invitations or other personal stationery projects.  Today we start the series off with a guest post about the most familiar printing method – digital printing – from Ellie at Mint and Hello Tenfold!

Hello, OSBP!  I’m Ellie from Mint and Hello Tenfold.  I’m excited to be guest blogging today to help clear up the sometimes confusing world of printing methods, starting with digital printing!


What is Digital Printing?

Although I design letterpress and screen printed invitations, I also do a lot of digitally printed invitations and “day-of” wedding stationery, like ceremony programs, menus, escort cards, and more.  I’m sure you have a good idea of what digital printing is; most of us have home or office printers, and the digital printing I use on invitations is similar, but with a fancier and bigger printer.


Unlike offset or letterpress where printing plates are involved, digitally printed invitations are printed directly from a digital file on a computer.  Digital printers transfer four colors of ink (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to paper simultaneously, producing a full-color print after only one pass through the printer – meaning that each invitation takes less time to print and is less expensive to produce than other printing methods.  Unlike letterpress, which leaves a relief impression, and engraving, which produces raised text, digital printing produces a flat image without any texture.


Digital printing is the most commonly used printing method because it’s fast and inexpensive.  Since printing plates aren’t required, it’s a cost effective way to print a low number of pieces (like 50 invitations, for example), and you aren’t limited to the number of colors you can use in one piece.  That means it’s a great way to reproduce scanned imagery (think collages, hand drawn illustrations, or paintings).


The Printing Process

There are two common digital printer types: laser and inkjet.  Laser printers use laser beams, electrical particles, heat, and a plastic particle called toner to create an image, whereas inkjet printers spray ink from cartridges directly onto the paper.


Typically, laser printers handle type and graphics better than inkjets, and inkjets are better for printing photographs. If you’re purchasing a home printer, inkjets are less expensive up front but the ink cartridges can make them more expensive in the long term.


Speaking of home printers, there is a big variety in the quality of printers, as you’ve no doubt noticed!  The printer you have at home probably isn’t as good as the on-demand printing company down the street, and that printing company may not have as high quality machines as a larger, professional printing company.


Tips and Advice

Fortunately, getting proofs of digitally printed work is inexpensive or even free, so if you’re going the DIY route it pays to try different companies to find one that works.  You’ll also want to make sure the company you work with can print on the exact paper you choose, and will pay attention to details like perfectly centered invitation borders if they’re doing the cutting and folding for you.


I often suggest digital printing to brides who don’t have the budget for something like letterpress, but still want modern, well-designed and/or completely custom invitations.  However, digital printing does have limits: papers must be able to withstand heat and to go through a curved or straight path in the printer, which means you are limited in paper weight and thickness.


Also, the lighter paper weight can give a more casual feel than other printing methods, like engraving or letterpress.  But saving money on the printing process can mean extra room in the budget for things like belly bands, envelope liners, and envelope printing (which are also great ways to up the formality of your invitation).  And if you’re reproducing handmade images, it’s often the best (or only!) route to take.

Thanks Ellie!  You can check out more of Ellie’s fabulous invitations and day-of wedding stationery over on Hello Tenfold!

Photo Credits: Nina’s invitation photo by naturally nina, all others by Ellie Snow for Hello Tenfold

*Hello Tenfold is a spon­sor of Oh So Beau­ti­ful Paper; for more on my edi­to­r­ial poli­cies please click here.