behind the scenes in a letterpress studio

i LOVE letterpress. i love the texture, the sophisticated look, the different shapes and words that come out of letterpress studios. BUT...i have never seen an actual letterpress or really learned about how it is done -- and i thought all of you might be interested to learn right along with me.

last friday i toured the mandate press letterpress studio in salt lake city, utah. i met with ben and jeannie, who showed me around and answered all of my many questions. it was a blast, checking out their vintage presses and learning about how they do their work.

mandate press has three vintage letterpresses -- they were big and intimidating and each one is more than 100 years old:

to print on a machine like that, you lay out the relief of your design on the machine and attach the paper you want to press to the board on the left. then you spin the wheel, the motor starts, the pieces press together and voila! it's pressed.

for my personal demo, we walked over to these cylinder presses:

these guys are more like 50 - 60 years old and work basically the same way -- you lay your design down, insert your paper, and then roll it over to get the impression.

to get a relief, designers come up with what they want to print and then create a digital file that prints out a negative like this:

this is then turned into a reverse model on a photo polymer plate, like this:

the plate is an exact reverse of what you'll print, with each letter and shape poking up to create the impression on the paper.

obviously, once you press it, the paper is imprinted but there's no color. in order to add color, the presser adds a combination of different colors of paint that will then mix together once spun and go onto the paper.

i chose turquoise for my project --3 1/2 parts green, 1/2 part blue, 28 parts white. you can see the color coming together on the rollers:

you can see the color start attaching to the plate after we ran a few sheets of paper through:

this project was a one-color design, but in order to make multi-colored projects [like some of the wedding invitations i feature here on the stationery place], you have to roll it through multiple times applying one color at a time. you also have to be careful not to press it too much, because the paper will crack and bend. there's a fine line when it comes to letterpress!

the finished product! turquoise business cards for my blogging life:

the cards had to dry overnight, so i need to head back up to slc to pick them up this week. i love how they turned out! i've never had anything personally letterpressed for me before, so i was really excited to make them.

i picked up a few sample business cards while i was there of other work mandate has done -- they are SO cool. i wish i could hand them to you through the computer so you can see them too. these cards are printed on all different weights of paper, some so thick they feel like cardboard. others have metallic ink letterpressed onto dark paper. this was my favorite one -- i love those crazy squiggles. you can't tell, but the edges of the card are inked in fuchia:

BIG, huge thanks to jeannie and ben for letting me come by and tag along for a bit. their shop is fantastic and they do amazing work -- be sure to check them out if you're in the market for some letterpress work, even if you're out of state!

and, for more information on the history of letterpress and more about how it works, check out this wikipedia page or this handy guide.

mandate press

2212 south west temple #14

salt lake city, utah 84115


  1. how fun! wish I could have been there too!
    love your color choice! loveeee :-)

    oh and tell your husband he is in trouble for not randomly picking my number!! just kiddin

  2. Love it! Glad you got a peek behind the scenes at last!

    I love what you designed. Perfect color :).
    Very fun outing. Glad you blogged about it!

  4. This seems like a great company, and their price for 250 letterpressed (!!!) business cards is less than $100. That is outrageously good.

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes!

  5. What an amazing process! And cool cards!