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Master the art of letterpress


Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign

From initial sketches to platemaking: illustrator, designer and printmaker David Huyck walks you through how to create a letterpress print
Letterpress printing is part of a centuries-old tradition. As with all relief-printing techniques, ink is applied to a raised surface that is then pressed onto paper, leaving bothcolour and a physical indentation in the page. The result is a rich and textured image that cannot be reproduced with modern digital printing techniques, or even with a standard CMYK four-colour process. As well as being a useful skill to master, experimenting with letterpress printing is an effective way to diversify and add depth to your portfolio. In this project I walk you through theletterpress process, showing you how to prepare your artwork for print on a modern press, and create a two-colour print.

Master the art of letterpress

David Huyck An illustrator, designer and printmaker with over a decade of experience, Huyck is always ready to work hard at playing. He also runs the Cloudy Collection letterpress online print project. www.cloudy collection.com

On your disc You’llfind the resources you need to work along with this project on your cover disc, in the Resources section

Skills Create a two-colour image Make colour separations by hand or digitally Prep your art files to be turned into a film positive Produce a letterpress print


February 2010_ Computer Arts Projects

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106Project four Learn craft skills
I work with a combination of dip pens, markers and technical pens on Bristol board paper. I like the sturdiness of the material, and the flexibility of using whichever pen makes the most appropriate mark for the image. Sometimes it helps to slip a sheet of blank paper between the original drawing and tracing paper, so you can check for mistakes, or simplysee what your second layer looks like without the first layer showing through.

Colour tricks
Designing for a limited colour palette can be challenging because you don’t have the entire rainbow at your disposal. It helps to choose one light and one dark colour, so that you can extend the range of possible tones in your final print. Experiment with a highlighter and black pen to make the mostof your two colours. A good way to create richer, deeper colours is by overlapping part of your top image with part of your bottom image. When working in Illustrator, make sure your top layer of ink is set to overprint by opening the Attributes window and checking Overprint Fill and/or Overprint Stroke, while your shapes and lines are selected. You can preview this effect by selectingView>Overprint Preview.


When creating a print, the first step should always be to sketch out your idea on paper. You could draw directly into Photoshop or Illustrator, but I find there’s no substitute for a pencil and paper. Once you’ve designed your image, it’s time to separate your colours: one for each layer of the print.


There are two ways to do this – either digitally (go to step 7) orby hand. To do so by hand, draw your first layer exactly as you want it to print, using black ink on white paper for the best results. If you make a mistake you can fix it with correction fluid, or by scraping off the ink with a sharp blade – or digitally, later.


When you’ve drawn the main layer of the image, make two small dots or crosses in the corners to use as registration marks. Lay asheet of tracing paper or translucent vellum over the layer, and tape it in place so it won’t slide around. Trace your registration marks onto the tracing paper first, so that you’ll know how to line up the two layers later, and then draw the second layer of your image onto the tracing paper. Again, it’s best to use black ink on the tracing paper.

Scan each finished drawing into Photoshop in...
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