The Business Card — Your “First Business Proposal”
“In the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about whether a business proposal excites me within about thirty seconds of looking at it.” Richard Branson
Let’s Start At The Beginning
Letterpress is a technique developed by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century solving the problem of the written word being time-consuming to replicate (preventing the rapid exporting of ideas).
With the advent of other printing technologies, Letterpress was much less in use during the 20th century, reserved for special occasions or uses that wanted the look and feel of “handmade.” Some assign a renewed interest in letterpress to Martha Stewart Weddings magazine and her do-it-yourself lifestyle, reintroducing letterpress to the mainstream with her examples of handcrafted personal stationery and invitations.
Subsequently, graphic designers rediscovered letterpress as a way to add new depth and dimension to their designs, merging today’s technique for printing plates with these older letterpress machines resulting in some astonishingly beautiful results with ink, paper and texture.
Today, it’s a sign of sophistication, remarkable craft and the finer things in life that are made by hand, defining a certain refined sensibility.
A Marriage of Pulp and Ink
We’re talking about the art and science of Letterpress, a technique where the plates push the ink into the surface of the paper leaving a deep, stunning visual and tactile impression, truly celebrating the marriage of paper and ink.
It’s as much about exceeding expectations as making a stunning first impression.
After our recent move of our offices, I made a choice to have our new business cards explore — and celebrate — the craft of letterpress. The outcome is a stunning set of cards that use design, patterns, textures and rhythm as integral parts of their designs.
The printer I chose comes from a highly respected NYC pedigree of a family-run business, and I got a chance to catch up and gain some insights from Lee Zuniss whose passion leaves as much an impression as do his Letterpress printing presses.
Lee Zuniss: Confessions of an Obsessive Printer
For those who don’t yet know you, give a little background of your pedigree.
My family and I have been printing in NYC for just over 36 years. Piggyback Letterpress is my startup over the last year and a half using my experience in the letterpress and specialty printing business which I’ve been immersed in for all of my adult life. My specialty is collaborating with creative individuals to make sure the project’s vision is carried through with a wow factor of some sort.
What does letterpress do that ordinary lithography or digital printing cannot do?
Letterpress creates a “debossing” effect as the letterpress simultaneously applies pressure and ink to the paper. Some wonderful nuances are accompanied with the letterpress technique: a tactile feel, as one caresses the paper with the fingertips and a visual effect creating shadows and contrast on the surface of the paper. In essence, I believe letterpress gives a printed piece character, life, personality and a sense of authenticity in our high tech world of faster, quicker, smaller.
What criteria apply to designing for a letterpress project?
When designing for a letterpress project, I think the three most important things to keep in mind are:
- Compensate for the “spreading” of ink. Letterpress inks tend to absorb into the paper especially paper with a high cotton content. Because of this, the enclosed negative space of a letter, or the “counter” may have a tendency to “fill-in” with ink. Give those spaces a little bit of extra breathing room to keep things clean and sharp.
- Solids can be tricky. When incorporating a solid area or a very bold type into your design, keep in mind, again, that the ink will absorb into the paper. This can create a “washed out” look which is an absolute gem if it is intentional, such as if you are going for a “vintage” look. If not, it may come across as a mistake or poor quality.
- If you plan on mailing the piece, size your final trim size according to a standard/off-the-shelf envelope or carrier. Otherwise, you can corner yourself into producing a custom envelope which is extremely expensive.
What makes one letterpress project sing when another falls flat?
There are a few main things that will make a project sing:
- Using a high-quality, 100% cotton paper. I prefer a minimum of 484gsm* (grams per square meter, a measurement of paper weight and therefore thickness) when letterpressing business cards.
- The design must be great.
- Collaborating with your letterpress printer along the way is essential. It should be a team effort.
What made this project so special for you?
David’s excessive knowledge of designing for letterpress got me very excited to create with him. Designing for letterpress is a special skill. I did not know what to expect, but when I opened his artwork file the juices began to flow. I’m normally the one to come up with ideas to enhance a letterpress project or bring it to the next level.
But, David caught me off guard a bit, especially with the double-sided version. Experimenting with something that I haven’t quite tested on my letterpresses providing an enjoyable challenge. That’s what happened in this case. I was blown away by both versions. You never know what is going to come out of the collaboration when talented, open-minded and fun people are involved.
Did you learn anything new while working on this project?
Yes I did. David’s double-sided version gave me the opportunity to remember that the line weight of type or art, has a direct correlation to the “debossing” and the resulting “bruising” effect on the backside of the card. Bruising is the result of the pressure of the press showing through to the opposite side of the paper. I call it the stamp of authenticity. David’s design embraced the ‘bruising” effect in one of the most creative ways I have ever seen.
What’s been the response from those you’ve shared these cards with?
David’s cards created quite a buzz around our shop and among those who have had the pleasure of seeing and touching them. They absolutely fall under the category of “print porn.”
Any final words for those looking to have that extra impact of a letterpress business card?
Do your research. Don’t take things too seriously. Use your letterpress printers as a reference especially if they are creatively reminded. Choose the right paper. I can’t express how important this is. The paper can truly make or break a letterpress project.
Special thanks to Lee and his team for taking the time to share some insights into making that first impression deep and lasting.