Maybe I’m wrong, but shouldn’t we talk about ‘printing presses’, rather then ‘letterpresses’. Letterpress is form of printing, like lithography, silkscreen and intaglio.

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Unfortunately, with current nomenclature, “printing press” is applied to all four of those processes. Technically, we could talk about “relief printing press”, “litho printing press”, “gravure or intaglio printing press”, or “screen printing press”. In my mind “letterpresses” is shorthand for “relief printing presses”, and to me it is preferable to “letter printers”.

Don’t forget that in this day and age, as relief printing processes go, letterpress is dwarfed by flexography. Commercial printers tend to forget that flexography even exists. But next time you see a corrugated box, sheets of printed tissue paper, a plastic or paper bag including most of the food bags on grocery store shelves, a milk or beverage carton, a pet food or plastic carrier bag, a paper cup, plate or napkin, a label on a food package or plastic bottle, etc., etc., they were virtually all printed by flexography. Flexography uses photopolymer plates too, but they are softer than letterpress plates, more like a very large version of a rubber stamp. Flexo uses water or solvent base inks, which dry in a fraction of a second after they are printed. Even though my heart has been with letterpress since I bought my first press in 1963, my job has been in flexo, in industry and as a teacher of flexography, since 1973. And, I do love to stand by the 8 color 32” web width flexo press with in-line die cutter at work, which uses water based ink, is 120 feet long, and prints 450 feet of web per minute.