What Letterpress Is & Isn’t


Letterpress is the making of copies of identical text by means of metal type arranged, inked and impressed into paper.

Letterpress printing is, at its most fundamental level, a way of making multiple copies of identical text using individual metal letterforms, arranged, inked, and impressed into paper. This technology appeared first in mid-fifteenth century Germany and spread rapidly. By 1500, letterpress
printing had achieved a high state of perfection. It ushered in the modern book and, indeed, the modern world.

Though increasingly mecha-nized, letterpress remained the dominant technology of typography and printing until the mid-twentieth century. It was the original printing technology, and the formative one. The stan-dards and conventions of typography that we still follow today are what letterpress made them. Although a succession of technologies has superseded letterpress, first photographic and now digital typography, and similarly relief printing by offset lithography and digital printing, we still see the typographic world with letterpress eyes.


We still see the typographic world with letterpress eyes.

Letterpress has ceased to be of much commercial significance, and you could say it has gone the way of the sailing ship and the hand-loom. But like them letterpress has survived, reborn as a craft. It survives, and even flourishes modestly, because customers value qualities of letter-press that no other printing process can match and because letterpress printers love doing it.

Here, then, is letterpress printing as we at Firefly Press practice it. It is an old technology, but not one that necessarily makes for an antique-looking result. Despite its technical constraints, letterpress is free to be whatever one cares to make it. Letterpress is a craft with a great history and tradition; deserving of knowledgeable respect, but free to be interpreted and adapted to new circumstances. It is a still-living, still useful art.