The Printing Process: Die Cutting

Every morning this week, I’m running a series of guests posts about different printing methods – so if you’ve ever wondered why certain printing methods are best for certain kinds of designs (or cost more than others), this is for you!  You can read the previous installments covering digital printingengravingscreen printingletterpress printing with antique type, and foil stamping all right here.  Today, the talented team at Egg Press is here to talk about the technique known as die-cutting, which they use to produce unique shapes, edges, and message windows in greeting cards and other stationery design elements.

What is Die Cutting?

Die-cutting is a process used in many different industries to cut a thin flat material (in our case, paper) into a specific shape using a steel cutting die.  It can be used to punch out a decorative shape or pattern to incorporate within a larger piece, or it can be used to create the main shape of an object by cutting the entire sheet of paper in an distinct/designed way.  More simply put: for us it’s way of making a hole in paper in a desired shape using the same presses that we use for letterpress printing.

Like letterpress, a die-cut element draws attention to the 3D nature of paper and the character of the material itself.  We mostly use die-cutting as a feature – taking an industrial process and turning it into a design element.  As a letterpress print shop, here are some common ways we use die-cutting:

  • to create die-cut windows for messages on greeting cards
  • to create a unique shaped greeting card (examples include heart die-cuts, scallops, mini-paper sculptures)
  • as a design element in one of our new wedding suites
  • to create die-cut coasters, hang tags, and rounded corners on business cards for clients
  • to make the boxes in which our cards are packaged

The Printing Process

The process of die-cutting is easy for us as letterpress printers, as the set-up is similar to letterpress printing.  Instead of a type-high printing plate we use a type high wood mounted steel cutting die.  The shape of the cutting die is often something we’ve designed and ordered from our local die-makers.  Instead of tympan paper and packing (used to control the impression when printing), we use a sheet of metal on the press bed giving the die a hard surface to cut against.

The first few steps are essentially the same as letterpress printing, although since we’re not using ink we’re always sure to remove the rollers from the press before we start.  We don’t want the dies to damage our rubber rollers!

Next, we attach metal plate/backing onto the press bed by locking the die into the chase and inserting the chase into the press.  Then we’re ready to turn on the press and make a cut.

Pop out the cut shape (paper is still taped to press bed).  Slide your mock-up proof underneath – align your mock up with the cut sample – hold in place.  Make any necessary adjustments, start cutting, and enjoy the confetti!

Tips + Advice

Though die-cutting can produce unique results, it’s not for every print job.  This is why it’s not very commonly used, and why it can be so distinctive.  A die-cut can add a decorative element or a functional component to a design.  For stationery or invitations, creating a die-cut silhouette for your suite may add interest and a vintage feel.  Using a small punch-out within the invitation as a motif can be a nice touch (in this case, a modern feel).  A functional die-cut might be something like a half-moon thumb hole on an open ended envelope, or a notch system in a folded piece.  There are many possibilities for die-cutting, but the medium has limitations.

Complicated shapes or patterns may not work (ask your printer or die-maker).  There is a minimum size for die-cut elements.  The maximum size of the die-cut will depend on the capability of the press you are using.

Paper can affect the outcome – this is something to consider when choosing your paper or choosing to use a die-cut element.  In our experience, thinner paper has less resistance and seems to cut more cleanly while thicker stock can yield mushy edges.  Cotton paper can leave a ragged edge.  Finally, when mailing something with a die-cut element it’s a good policy to mail it in an envelope for protection.  It might not be a good choice for a postcard mailer or rsvp card.

Thanks guys!  Check out awesome stationery from Egg Press right here!

Photo Credits: Egg Press

New Giveaway! Love Prints from One Plus One Design

I’m super excited about today’s giveaway!  I’ve been a huge fan of Jessie and Tyler from One Plus One ever since I saw their wonderful wedding invitations last year, and in addition to designing custom wedding invitations they’ve also launched a brand new shop with adorable cards, buttons, and art prints!  I love the idea of giving art for Valentine’s Day, and they’re giving us the chance to do just that!


One Plus One is offering two lucky readers the chance to win one of their adorable love prints – one reader will receive the “Love Travels” print, and another the “Love is Nutty” print!

To enter, visit the One Plus One shop and pick out your favorite print.  Then come back here and leave a comment with your selection!  We’ll chose both winners randomly, and you’ll have until 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 22 to enter – bonne chance!

One Plus One is a member of the Designer Rolodex – you can check out more of their beautiful work right here!

Photo Credits: One Plus One

Seasonal Stationery: Valentine’s Day Cards, Part 2

As promised yesterday, I have a few more favorite Valentine’s Day cards to share with you today!

Social Proper

Moontree Letterpress


Cleanwash Letterpress

Wit and Whistle


Wildhorse Letterpress

Dingbat Press

Richie Design

Anemone Letterpess

Kathryn Whyte

Sweet Harvey

Lettuce Press

Check back in a bit for a fun Valentine’s Day giveaway!

{images via their respective sources}

The Printing Process: Letterpress Printing

Every morning this week, I’m running a series of guests posts about different printing methods – so if you’ve ever wondered why certain printing methods are best for certain kinds of designs (or cost more than others), this is for you!  You can read the previous installments covering digital printingengravingscreen printingletterpress printing with antique type, and foil stamping all right here.  Today Kim and Kyle from Baltimore Print Studios are here to walk us through modern letterpress printing!

Hello OSBP!  We’re Kim and Kyle from Baltimore Print Studios, a public-access letterpress and screen printing studio where we also print commercially and for ourselves.  We’re thrilled to share the process of letterpress printing with you and how things work in our shop.

What is Letterpress? 

Letterpress printing has become the go-to printing technique for wedding invitations, greeting cards, and business cards for anyone hoping to make an impression (pun intended) on the recipient.  Today’s cottage industry of letterpress printers has been built on the shoulders of 100 years of printing industry, starting around the late 1800s.  It’s easy to forget that what we treasure today as an artisan product, made by a well-trained craftsperson, was once known simply as printing.

What began with hand-set wood and metal type (read more about this from Jen of Starshaped Press here) has become an industry centered around the photo polymer plate.  Designing for letterpress today begins on a computer, and as such, new fonts, embellished ornaments, graphics, patterns, and complicated multi-color designs can be produced with relative ease.  The printing part is still by hand, one at a time.

The Printing Process

The images below walk you through the process of printing 2-color, double-sided business cards on a Vandercook SP-20 printing press.  They were designed for a wedding photography company called Readyluck, by Baltimore designer Christopher Clark.  These cards were printed on Crane Lettra 220 lb Pearl White cotton paper.

This is the Vandercook SP-20.  In this press’s first life it probably pulled proofs of pages for a daily newspaper.  Today, these presses are sought after for their quality and large printing size.

Polymer plates are produced using a photographic process.  The digital design is output to a film as a negative (left), and then exposed to a polymer plate using UV light (right).  The polymer plate is made of a light-sensitive, water-soluble plastic with a clear backing.  The portions of the plate that are exposed through the clear parts of the film hardens, and what is not washes away.  What remains is a raised surface in the shape of the design.  A separate plate is produced for every color being printed, and the paper is run through the press at least once for each color in the design.  We send our designs to Boxcar Press, where they transfer your digital design onto a polymer plate.  These plates match a gridded Boxcar Base, a machined aluminum plate that raises the plate to type high.

The plate is affixed to a machined metal base which is in turn locked into the press.

Ink is mixed by hand.  When possible, ink can be weighed out to match a specific color recipe, but in our shop we mix everything by eye, often matching to a specific Pantone color.  We use oil-based, lithography inks.

The press is inked.  Even the inking process has to be done carefully.  Too much ink will produce a sloppy print.  Too little, and the color will not be solid.

Printing begins.  This plate prints an area half the size of the sheet.  The sheet of paper is hand-fed through the press twice, once from each end of the paper.  This produces 8 cards per sheet in a process called a work-and-turn.  The 220 lb Crane Lettra paper, double than the standard 110 lb weight (and more than twice the cost), allows for a deeper impression on both sides, which was desired by the client.

The ink is allowed to dry and the next day the press is inked up in red.  Differences in pressure and the amount of ink can dramatically affect the printed color.  Adjustments are made to produce the desired color, and the print run is checked periodically to be sure the color is consistent.  For this particular run, the red ink ran out relatively quickly and frequent re-inkings were required.

All presses have a system of registration.  Consistent placement of every print on every sheet is a must for quality printing.  This design, like most we produce, has cross-hair trim marks made into the plate that serve not only as cutting guides, but printing guides as well.  After this print run dried, a third printing run was made on the reverse of the pages.

Cutting!  Printing is finished and the job is ready to cut.  We usually die cut our business card jobs, even when the job doesn’t call for an unusual shape.  Our business card die cuts four cards in a single pass.  The press is outfitted with a metal die-jacket for protection, and the die itself is made up of metal cutting blades surrounded by protective foam pads. (Ed. Note: We’ll be covering die cutting in greater detail tomorrow!)

Each pass on the press cuts four cards.  While this is an extremely inefficient press for die cutting, its accuracy far out-weighs speed for us.

The design for these cards utilized a random, non-repeating pattern and intentionally transparent colors.  The four cards together create one overall design, but each business card is unique.

Tips and Advice

Letterpress printing takes some time.  In our shop, each page is fed by hand, and each color of a print job can be several hours on press from start to clean-up.  Add to that designs that need to be sent out to be made into plates.  A two-week turn-around is common.

Letterpress excels at printing fine type and line work.  Letterpress printing is not ideal for solid fields of color.  Most large solid shapes result in the color printing ‘salty’, a term used to describe the texture and color of the paper showing through the ink.  Your printer can tell you what is possible on their equipment.

While letterpress was never intended to be printed with a dramatic impression, or deboss, into the paper, it is often the most desired feature today.  Printing like this will quickly damage wood and metal type, but polymer plates are more durable (and more easily replaced).  Certain papers show off this impression better than others.

Thanks Kim and Kyle!  You can learn more about Baltimore Print Studios right here.

Photo Credits: Baltimore Print Studios

Seasonal Stationery: Valentine’s Day Cards

I’m not one for fancy dinners and chocolate on Valentine’s Day, but sending someone a letter?  Yes please!  Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s selection of Valentine’s Day cards…

Quill and Fox

Parrott Design Studio


Rifle Paper Co.

Sass and Peril

Maida Vale

Shanna Murray


Banquet Workshop (left); Enormous Champion (right)

Tabletop Made

Colleen Ellse

I’ll have a few more favorite Valentine’s Day Cards to share with you tomorrow!

{images via their respective sources}