The Printing Process: Foil Stamping

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 have Peter Hopkins from Crane & Co. talking about one of my very favorite specialty printing methods – printing with foils!  Take it away Peter!

What is Foil Stamping?

Foil stamping is a specialty printing process that uses heat, pressure, metal dies and foil film.  The foil comes in rolls in a wide assortment of colors, finishes, and optical effects.


The Printing Process

Foil stamping is somewhat similar to letterpress and engraving, in that the color is applied to paper with pressure.  As a result, the foil process leaves a slightly raised impression on the paper.


Crane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-Process Crane-Stationery-Factory-Foil-Stamp-Printing-Process


{photos from my tour of Crane & Co. last September}

Once the design is finalized, metal dies are created in the appropriate shape for each color foil to be applied, and for embossing if a three-dimensional effect is desired – most commonly known as blind embossing.




The dies are heated and then stamped with enough pressure to seal a thin layer of foil to the paper.

Tips and Advice

As with any printing process, there are pros and cons.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you’re considering foil for your wedding invitations or personal stationery.


Foil is an opaque medium. Unlike thermography, lithography and letterpress, foil stamping does not use any ink.  As a result, the foil color does not change based on the color of paper on which you are printing.  This makes metallic or lighter color foil great for darker or colored papers.  Foil can be used for a variety of finishes, including metallic, matte, glossy, pearlescent and patterns such as marbling.  There are also semi-transparent tint foils, if you do want to allow the paper color to show through.

Crane-Stationery-Foil-Stamping-Ribbon-Die-Red-Foil Crane-Stationery-Foil-Stamping-Red-Stamped-Foil

Metallic foils have a shiny, lustrous finish. With thermography, lithography and letterpress, metallics can fall flat and don’t have much in the way of shimmer.


Because foil is applied by heat, it should not be applied near text or designs already applied by thermography.  The heat will melt the thermographic resins.

Thanks Peter!  To see more of the foiling process, check out the awesome video below that Peter took at the Crane & Co. production facility!

Photo Credits: Peter Hopkins for Crane & Co., except where noted


I love these pieces from the 50,000feet and Rohner Letterpress collaboration, designed as a direct mailer to show a variety of printing techniques and inspire future projects.  Says 50,000feet, “Its appeal was direct to the senses, playfully exploring how words sometimes take the shape of the sounds they make.  The result combined sight, sound and touch in a simple, but impactful, series.”

“50,000feet” is a guest post by Ellie Snow of Mint and Hello Tenfold.

Hello! Plus, Jane and Jeremy

Hi there OSBP!  Nole asked me to write some guest posts and I jumped at the chance.  If you don’t know me, I’m Ellie and I write a blog called Mint, design wedding invitations and other paper goods for my shop Hello Tenfold, take on occasional freelance graphic design projects… and travel, eat good food, and look at art as much as possible.  My friend Whitney Deal photographed an invitation I designed for Bella Figura, above.

And here’s a little inspiration for today!  Jane and Jeremy collected and photographed these bakery bags.  Bakery bags!  Who knew.

“Hello! Plus, Jane & Jeremy” is a guest post written by Ellie Snow of Mint and Hello Tenfold.

The Printing Process: Letterpress Printing with Antique Type

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.  This afternoon, we have Jen from Starshaped Press to talk about antique letterpress printing!

Hi everyone!  Jen here from Starshaped Press, and I’m here to talk about letterpress printing specifically using antique metal and wood type.


What is Antique Type Letterpress?

Letterpress printing was the standard method of printing for approximately 500 years prior to offset printing taking the reins in the twentieth century.  Letterpress printing is the ‘relief’ printing of text and images using a press with movable type or plates, in which a reversed, raised surface is inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper.  Invented by Johannes Gutenberg, it replaced handwritten calligraphy and was the popular form of printed text from the mid-15th century until the 19th century.

Until very recently, much of this letterpress printing was accomplished using both metal and wood type, literally individual letters arranged to form words.  The type could be reused over and over as long as it was cared for and well-maintained.  While metal type was ideal for commercial printing involving small type (like newspapers), wood type was the best option for larger projects, i.e. posters, broadsides and playbills, due to its lightweight nature.  Type often reflected the trends of the day, from Victorian to Art Nouveau to clean, contemporary stylings of post war design.

The Printing Process

The process of letterpress printing is virtually unchanged; type and cuts (ornamental or image plates) are arranged and locked in place into a ‘chase’ (a metal frame that is inserted into the press), and can be used on any press that will take materials that are ‘type high’ (this standard measurement is .918″).


All type is relatively similar in that it is the same height and has markings that help the user determine what typeface it is and what foundry produced it.  Since letterpress is a relief printing process, the type is in reverse – hence the phrase “Mind your p’s and q’s.”


Thanks to the development of standards, type comes in common sizes ranging from 6 to 72 point in metal (give or take).  Wood type is measured by ‘line’, or pica, and comes in a large variety of sizes.


There are many interesting set up pieces (known as leads, slugs and quads) that help letterpress printers achieve really fantastic tricks, such as combining different point sizes of type together, setting type on curves and angles, and printing in multiple colors without altering the set up.


Many small and intricate border and ornamental pieces are veritable designer candy; some are so detailed and miniscule that they cannot be replicated in a magnesium or polymer plate.  This is also true of many 19th century typefaces that are shaded, outlined or have lots of ornaments characters.

Letterpress printing with antique type has many distinct characteristics that may or may not be appealing to everyone.  It is not designed to produce a heavy impression in paper, as the type is soft and would be ruined.  In fact, the concept of a deep letterpress  impression is a very recent development.



It also does not produce perfectly crisp and even results, given that the type comes from a variety of backgrounds (some may be 100 years old, and some may be brand new from one of the few extant type foundries).  However, there are many wonderful qualities to hand set type, including an element of surprise that happens after the forme is locked up and the first print emerges from the press.




Some letters are charmingly awkward in a way that digital type is not, and many wood letters have an incredible texture to them.  There are elements to working with metal and wood type that can be frustrating for the printer, as well as exhilarating, as one learns how previous craftsmen worked around the quirks of type.

Tips and Advice

When deciding on letterpress printing, if a deep impression is the one thing that you really want, working with an antiquated printer is not the direction to explore.  But if you’re seeking a vintage-inspired design that incorporates original Victorian, Art Deco, or other forms of antique type, then an old timey press is perfect for you!  Antique type is also perfect for couples seeking to model their wedding invitations after vintage show or concert posters, since the medium is particularly suited to text-focused designs.  It is also the most eco-friendly option for letterpress printing, as the type can be used and reused for centuries if it is maintained, eliminating the need to create new materials for every job.

Besides Starshaped Press, where we do all of our printing with handset metal and wood type, here are a few shops we admire for their commitment to antiquated type setting:

Hatch Show Print

Yee Haw Industries


Thanks Jen!  You can check out more from Starshaped Press right here!

Photo Credits: Starshaped Press

Notes on our images:
Grant’s Baby Announcement was printed in two colors on a platen press. The smaller type is all metal, while the name was set in wood. The close up shows the fun texture the wood type created (there’s also a close up of the type itself).  The pale green texture in the background was achieved by printing the back side of a large piece of wood type, combined with ornamental linotype slugs (patterned lines that were cast on a linotype machine).

Abbey and Derek’s Wedding Invitation features a perforated reply card and folds to fit in a #10 envelope.  It is printed in two colors on kraft cover weight stock and combines both wood type and metal type. Because of the amount and variety of size of the type included, it was printed on a Vandercook proof press.  To justify the type, it has to be letterspaced extensively, as shown in the close ups.

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

Tabletop Made

During my last visit with ReForm School in Los Angeles I had the pleasure of discovering Tabletop Made.  I’m a complete sucker for lovely and unique new cards lines, so I was delighted to find more designs in their Etsy shop.  Tabletop Made is based in scenic Santa Barbara, CA and is operated by Karis Van Noord and Sarah Wilkinson.

Miss You

Blank cards

I like you

Kraft on white

Thank You

Much gratitude to Nole for giving me the opportunity to share some of my paper loves with you, dear readers.  I hope she and her mister are enjoying every moment of their vacation.

Photo Credit: Tabletop Made

“Tabletop Made” is a guest post by Carina Murray of Crow & Canary