debossing and embossing with a letterpress

How would I go about debossing using a Kelsey 5x8? Is this possible? If it is possible, how do you set it up on the press?

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i have the same question… i’m french, and it’s difficult to get some informations about that.
king of paper ?
set it up the press ? (5x3 adana)

thanks ;-)

Proper embossing is done with a male and female die. The male die gets locked up in the chase and the female fastened to the platen. You’ll need to find an engraver or die maker to provide them for you unless it’s something simple you can make yourself.

Some very good info at that page, especially at the bottom.

ok thank you very much. it’s clear now ! but per example :
it’s not embossing ? the paper is just ‘pinch’ or ‘crush’ ?

Actually, most of what’s called “debossing” (which is a newly coined jargon, and not proper terminology) is actually a form of deep impression where the type presses into a relatively soft paper.

It’s rather popular right now, but in the past it was sometimes considered to be flaw. One text that I have says “…. The only thing that should be left behind on the paper is the ink. Any visible impression or indentations should be corrected prior to running the job.” and then later “it is especially bad to see remnants of impression on the back of the paper.” Nowadays, tastes have changed, and deeper impressions are accepted as a viable technique…. as we all know.

As winking said, the example you show is what’s now referred to as deep impression printing. It’s accomplished best on very soft papers made just for the purpose. It’s also fairly accepted that it should be done with plates, whether photo polymer or metal of some sort. The process of of crushing the paper fibers takes it’s toll on hand set type and will prematurely wear it out.

ok ! so, if i want a deeper impression, i’ve just to find an good paper for that !

this is my firt run and it’s look like a stamp… (ok i’m a beginner…)

A firm strike against any soft makeready will yield the debossed effect. customers/final users will look at the back also, so, be intent on equalizing your makeready so as to have nice even depth on the back of the sheets as well as nice clean image on the front.
at the foil stamping/embossing end of the letterpress scale, “debossing” has been a legitimate process with dies and counters readily available for well over 30 years.
the effect though, unless intentional, was not considered desireable. it was a sure sign of inexperienced/ sloppy press work. i doubt that without this effect though, that letterpress would be having the comeback that it is. standard “over the counter” printing seems a little bland without this debossed effect. the fact that it is relatively easy to produce at home or as a small business/hobbiest makes it available to the now, “grassroots” press operators.
“Freedom of the Press” is reserved for those with the ability to run one…. Have fun!

Winking Cat Press is correct in saying that in the past a deep impression was the mark of poor pressmanship. The ideal impression was considered to be the ‘kiss’ impression, or where the form touched the paper just enough to leave behind the image but not to leave an impression in the paper. Nowadays the deep impression on heavy stock is much sought after because it’s something that can’t be done digitally, and when people pay for the cost of custom invitations (or whatever) they want something that shows that it wasn’t done cheaply on a home computer. It’s a status thing. These days, the deep impression screams ‘letterpress’ and personally I love the three-dimensional quality of it…..if it’s on the right paper.

OMG, Is this conversation going around again? Heavy impression is nothing but an affectation. It is certainly not legitimate or desireable to any printer who values their type or equipment. Isn’t it our job as craftspersons and professionals to do our best work, and gently suggest to the un-informed customer that this technique is a sign of amaturism? I am constantly amazed at the number of posters on this list who make excuses for this defect - even though they know it to be poor technique.


Paul- I see your point, but have to partially disagree.

I myself do not print with deep impressions, but I can’t declare it to be a flaw in all cases. If it is done intentionally as part of the design, or if it’s a desired result, then it’s not a flaw. We as craftsmen and professionals should not second-guess the tastes of those designers whose work we put onto paper. If their design requires a deep impression, then it is our obligation to print it that way….. or to refuse the job if we feel it will damage our type or equipment.

Taste, style, good printing, bad printing and so forth are very subjective. Like everything in life, what I consider to be good might not be to your liking or training. I saw a perfect example the other day at a car show: a guy had painted a vintage Corvette bright lime-green and put spinning hubcaps and lots of chrome on it. To my eye, it was a true abomination. BUT it caught the eye of the judges, and won a ribbon. They saw it as a “work of art”. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The same holds true for “deep impression” printing. While it may not be to yours or my tastes, it is still a viable technique if done intentionally.


I’m not making an “excuse” for this “defect” as you call it. It’s not a “defect” if it’s done intentionally. I understand that you may not like it but that doesn’t make it wrong. Why should letterpress always strive to look like offset? Why not just go offset? Why not just go digital? It is a technique that can only be done on letterpress and when done correctly it can be beautiful. I print on a handpress with dampened paper and it certainly does not damage my type or my equipment.

As I have said before, the printer I learned from told me that the impression should only go half-way through the paper. I still get a firm impression that is perceptable to the touch, without deforming the paper or my type.

The theory of kiss impression with letterpress really only applies to coated papers, hard, with a very smooth surface; papers that were popular for magazine and textbook printing. These papers crack and break if one gives them too much impression. Vellum surfaced papers take impression differently. I had a client want me to print on a 300lb rough surfaced watercolor paper, and in order to make a decent image I had to dampen and make a deep impression, but I still didn’t punch through to the back.

I also print on a hand-press, on dampened paper and it is no more reason for extra deep impression than any other. One should only use enough impression to make the letters print clearly. Any more than that is excessive and damaging to the type, press, and in the case of hand-press printers, printer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with you. I think you’re missing my point. My first job was in a hot-metal shop back in 1968 when I was 16. They put me on a Vandercook pulling repros on Krome-Kote and Relyon for the newly-formed paste-up department upstairs. I learned about punching the paper real fast. Of course you would never over-impress a coated paper, or a book page, or anything that’s printed on both sides. And you would not punch through to the back of anything. But on very heavy uncoated papers (such as 300lb watercolor paper), printed on one side only, where it can take a heavy impression, it adds a sculpture-like quality that is very attractive. If a person can go to say, Office Max, and by a boxed set of invitations for 20 bucks and run them through their HP printer where’s the incentive to spend a bunch of money on letterpress printing? Letterpress printers need to be able to offer something that they can’t do at home or what’s the point? These should be considered one-of-a-kind “art” projects and not view them as printing in general. The worst thing in the world is to have a client look at the finished product and say ” I could have done that myself!”.

I’m not missing your point, I just consider it bad form. I don’t think that customers, after seeing cards punched through to the other side, have the right to dictate to me that I should follow the practice. I have no control over what you do, and I don’t particularly care how you print. I choose not to use excessive impression, and I encourage my students not to as well, for the reasons I have already stated. Debossing has become the evil step-sister of embossing, mostly because people don’t want to go to the trouble of learning how to properly emboss, and don’t want to spend the time setting it up. No worries about makeready for debossing - just bash the hell out of it. That it has become prevalent in the industry is just another sad commentary on the declining state of the art.


….. and so we now have the opportunity to understand both sides of the philosophical “good-bad /right-wrong / correct-incorrect” thing as it related to deep impressions.

I think both sides have been well presented, and now it is to the community at large to decide for themselves which side of the coin best fits their own artistic/ philosohical needs.

Well said Winking Cat. I knew he had to be a teacher. Only a teacher would try so hard to stifle creativity under the guise of “proper form” and then refer to it as an ‘art’ rather than a trade. And as for the “declining state of the art”, the ‘trade’ was in decline 40 years ago, today it’s evolving. With that said, I’m done. The last word goes to Paul.

Please, enjoy examples of my stifled creativity, (under the guise of proper form):

I know I said you had the last word , but I feel I owe you this….Your work is beautiful. I tip my imaginary hat to you.


When done right deep impression should not press completely through the sheet. The back of the sheet should be smooth while the face has that debossed appearance. To accomplish this you need hard packing and the right paper. Lettra, Holyoke or other cover stocks meant for this purpose. These papers are extremely compressible just for this reason. They take a very deep impression, remain smooth on the non impression side and do no harm to the press.

When done intentionally with the proper processes and papers deep impression is indeed proper printing and good form. It’s just similarly different like flexography or gravure printing.

Punching through a sheet and leaving a visible or tactile image on the non impression side of a sheet is proper or good and is best left for embossing dies even though I’m sure you can “get away” with it using soft packing.

For papers not intended to compress or for projects where the tactile feel of a deep impression is not required, then it is proper and good to use just enough impression to make a clean transfer of ink to the surface.