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What’s the difference between Letterpress and Foil Stamping?

By April 20, 2022News

Letterpress and foil stamping represents the evolution of printing. From the first-ever printing presses through to the textural, stylish finishes that can be achieved today, these two approaches offer a wealth of options when it comes to printed materials. In terms of what the two have in common, both foil stamping and letterpress will produce a quality print with a unique aesthetic that also stands out to touch – both are a great way to make an impact. But what are the key differences between the two?

The process of letterpress

One of the simplest ways to look at letterpress is like a stamp. Plates are created that contain the required design and then these are used to consistently replicate it across a number of different materials, if necessary. The process of letterpress means taking these plates and applying ink so that this covers the design, which is slightly raised from the surface of the plates. When the plate is applied to a material like paper it will create a debossed design. Letterpress has a number of key features including:

  • Every print is just slightly unique. The inking and the process of impressing the design onto the paper can create little subtle differences that make each of the designs unique.
  • One colour is used per plate. So, if your design requires two colours, for example, then two plates will be created to bring it to life.
  • Letterpress inks are all transparent to some degree – this is important to bear in mind when you’re looking at printing onto colour or using colour to print. Unlike foil, which will be opaque.
  • If you’re keen to achieve a deeper impression, choose letterpress – this is because more pressure is applied in this process so the deboss has more depth.

Foil printing

If you opt for foil printing then you’re also using a process that has been essential to printing for centuries. Foil printing doesn’t use ink, as is the case for letterpress, but thin sheets of foil instead. Like letterpress, metal plates – or dies – are created for the process of foil printing. These will be etched with the design so that it stands up from the surface of the die, very much like the letterpress plates. In the process of foil printing, the metal dies are then heated up and applied to the surface of material – such as paper – with the thin sheet of foil in between. The application of heat and foil means that the design is transferred in metallic. The key features of foil printing are:

  • The process uses heated dies and pressure to achieve a clear and textural result.
  • Foil is opaque so, no matter what the colour of the paper you’re printing on, the foil colour will print as shown. If you want to print a lighter design on a darker background, foil stamping is ideal.
  • If you’re looking for a shiny finish then foil stamping is the better choice as this is simple to achieve, thanks to the use of foil.

Both foil stamping and letterpress can be used to make a big impression – the right option for you will depend on the final aesthetic you’re looking for.