Letterpress v. Printmaking

I have to say something here:

I make Film and Polymerplates, my shop offers Hot metal, Letterpress and Printmaking.
I’ve run out of courtesy and politeness than I’m asked to make a plate for Printmaking ( Film positive and Toyoba polymer (They wipe perfectly and hold stochastic screening or a etched copperplate). Than I receive the Artwork it’s clear it’s for Letterpress, at least in my mind, as it is text only. Than I asked the client what type of Press they use, I can’t repeat what I’m called or have been named here because it’s to insulting and profane.


Letterpress is a printing Process usually from a raised surface, be it a Form made up of type, cuts or relief etched plates.
The Presses used are Platen presses, Cylinder proofing presses, automated presses like windmills (Tiegel) , Heidelberg Cylinder, Kluges, Miehle, Little Giant and even Iron cast Handpresses.
An example of the Terminology can be found here:


Images of printing presses can be found on this Website we are reading right now: Briarpress.

Printmaking is a process there a manipulated plate is printed on a Etching Press, in a larger context, on a website I’m part of for Printmakers, we include also Stone Litho, Offset Litho if printed on a manual Press and Serigraphy (Silkscreen).


There are crossovers of course:

A printmaker can create a woodcut and print it on an etching Press, there a fine artists who print relief etched Plates on etching presses, mainly because they don’t have access to or
found a Letterpress to give the the size they needed.

But that doesn’t mean a Printer with a Platenpress who prints from type, cuts or Polymerplate is suddenly a Printmaker.

If we muddle the waters of our Terminology and befuddle the masses intend to use and purchase our wares, their purses will stay shut as they can’t figure out what is what.

I work with a Gravure printer and I print eg Business cards in Letterpress on a windmill and cartes de viste in Gravure.

But I have people show me a Letterpress printed ephemeral piece and ask me if I can also print gravure, than I confirm that and show a sample, they are confused, because what they showed me is gravure, but it’s just regular Letterpress.
(And before you ask, no, not even Thermography).

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According to the following, it can be seen that printmaking does not imply a specific printing process.


If a customer asks for printmaking, and you ask them what printing process they are going to use to do their printmaking, and they are too ignorant, conceited, etc. to give you a specific answer, this is a difficult situation.

If there is no way to find out what printing process they are planning to use, either doing it themselves or through another printmaker, I don’t see how you can make a plate for them.


That Link says the first use of Printmaking was used in 1928, which wipes out generations of Printmakers of Note.

I used to tell my students at a college there I taught for 2 decades that not everything on the Web is TRUTH.

If you want sympathy you should learn the difference between the words “than” and “then” and use them properly.

To clarify something here, I’m not looking for sympathy and yes, english is not even my second or 3rd Language. I’m sorry if I offended anybody.

I’m rather interested to know if others have the same Expirience, the Term Letterpress and Printmaking willy nilly exchanged and used. We are on the cusp of throwing a 500 year old Tradition right out the window. If there are others on this Forum who have been gautscht and gotten their Meisterbrief, they know what I’m talking about.

you didn’t offend but I got a headache reading your original post, I get what you are saying, terminology is all over the place, I simple quit trying to correct the new kids.

typenut, I think the dictionary meant that the first use of the word “printmaking” was in 1928, not that there was no printmaking before 1928. For instance, they mean that Albrecht Durer (sorry I can’t make the umlaut) and many others before 1928, never used that terminology. If anyone can find that word used before 1928, then the dictionary is obviously wrong (but who cares).

Regardless of that, as long as you are a “typenut,” as I would call myself also, then you are OK in my book!

Rembrandt was Printmaker eg, but to the Terminology:
I run a discussion Group for Printers on iron Handpresses, I myself print on an Albion by Amos delll’Orto, Monza 1862.

I have to fend of several hundred people each month who want to join this moderated discussion Group because they claim to print on handpresses and than it’s a Platenpress or a Vandercook and such.

Wiping and etching and printing it or inking a handpress and than printing the sheet is so removed from feeding a Platenpress or printing on a cylinder prooofpress that I thought you can’t mistook and co intermingle them.
But several weeks ago I ran into a Printer who told me she does Printmaking on a large press. As my Etching Press is from 1880’s about and one of only 5 floor standing etching Presses left worlwide of Karl Krause and has a bedsize of 30 x 60 inches I’,]m always curious what else is out there (there?) . She prints on a 6 x9 Pilot. That is inches not Feet, and that is the crux of the Problem.

My Professor said is an argument I have hear often and it holds no water in my books. Anybody teaching at a communal college or such is a professor, I have taught typography eg at a local college and one of the Prof’s handed out a paper that the first digitized type was in 1984.

I was friends ( Friends in the sense that we talked type and on more than one occasion closed down a Bar), with a Guy who had a stiff Leg from a War injury.
GGL or Günther Gerald Lange, we called him the Tommygun Gottes as he could talk faster than you could understand it, digitized Akzidents Grotesk for Berthold in 1974. But because that Prof. at UCLA made that statement, it became an non issue.
We have lost so much knowledge in the last 50 years that it is worrisome.

Tomorrow, as we do on most Sundays, another volunteer and I will print on an iron handpress made by A. B. Taylor of New York in the 1860’s. This is at Westfield Heritage Village near Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. We try to show what it was like to produce newspapers and job printing from the 1850-1875 period.

I am 70 years old and have been in the printing business most all of my life. I retired at the end of 2010. I am not a printmaker, but am happy to be a printer, and am proud of the printing profession..

Hi Charles

Not that I mind the association (except for the fi ligature thing) but the correct spelling is Günter Gerhard Lange [not “Günther Gerald Lange”].

Interesting thread, I had not realized the misuse of letterpress terminology invading printmaking. Makes sense though with the lack of concern about history that is for some odd reason prevalent in the new letterpress world.

I do note though that the youth-oriented OMG Posters doesn’t make the error. For them, letterpress printing is a big deal and indicated as such.

All best


typenut, I think I understand the points you are making. I’ve always considered printmaking to be the creative process of producing an image manually be it lino cut, litho, dry point as well as relief and so on. Incidently you forget to include hot printmaking using a T shirt machine.

In one response you mentioned size of press which is not important. I’ve worked with an artist who produced some lovely prints using scrap vinyl floor covering on an Albion and another who uses an Adana to produce small lino cut reduction prints.

I have some wood type cap I’s and if I print them as text with other type I am a letterpress printer.
If take just the I’s and use mixed colours on them to see what patterns I can produce on different textured papers am I a letterpress printer or a printmaker? I consider it to be printmaking.

If somebody gives you art work to turn into a plate to produce multiple identical copies that is printed by whatever process then it’s not printmaking. If the person then uses that plate and produces individual versions by changing inks and textures and on different papers then that falls in the area of print making.

Looking at the printed stuff being sold on etsy most of it is just letterpress printing but odd bits where artistic talent has been used I would class as printmaking.

Platenprinter, the Process drives the definition.

If you print on your handpress, it doesn’t matter how you manipulate the Form on the bed of the Press, it’s still Letterpress. In the late 70’s I was at the Kunstakademy in Stuttgart, they had a Letterpress department, the last printing done in there was by F.H. Schneidler. Walter Stähle, Ernst Engel Press, put a Form into the bed of a Korrex, a piece of Lumber, soft material and vinyl stretched over it and nailed down around the wood. Than stretch wrap placed over it and the whole thing locked into the bed. We put a offset blanket around the cylinder and hand inked the cyan wrap which created a monotypie effect on the printed sheet. But still Letterpress.

I have a client, comes in every 6-8 months, brings large sheets of inkjet printed images of Fantasy figures, very colorful and very artistic. He uses my etching press to deboss the images with a cut acrylic sheet to give them a plate impression. Could have he done an etching? Only ifhe has the skill to place over 60 shades of color on a plate and wipe it correctly.

This sells in Art galleries just fine, big bucks too.

But also think about the other side of the coin: I print also on an etching press and train MFA’s in wiping plates. And I hear more and more the question from students how they can print what I call ephemeral items, Invites etc.
Because they get constantly asked to give estimates for people than they find out their Printmakers.

But they spend 4 years to get a MFA to intend to do something totally different.

If I ink for a monoprint using a piece of type high wood as my base and press my paper onto the block with a roller then it is printmaking, but if I put the same piece of wood onto the bed of a platen and use a soft packing you say it’s letterpress

I presume in your world if I wipe an intaglio plate and print using an etching press I can call it printmaking but if I print it on a poster press with dampened paper and some blanket it is called letterpress.

I would make the plate and correct the customers terminology.

In every industry and casual conversation there are misuses of words and processes. Help the ones that need correction and they will seize the opportunity by correcting their vocabulary.

The ones don’t listen will embarrass themselves.

Inky Lips Press