Wednesday, January 27, 2010

improvising with L LetterPress printing plates

L has come out with accessories for the QuicKutz Epic 6 Machine that let a crafter do home letterpress printing. Letterpress printing is basically relief printing of text or images; that is, the printed word or text is debossed--think engraved invitations. Sounded neat to me.

I did a little research. Their starter kit came with a platform, plates to which you adhere your various printing plates and attach your paper, black oil-based ink, another plate for holding ink, and a roller for rolling out that ink and applying it to the plates. It also came with some specialty paper which sounded a lot thicker than the usual card stock, even heavy weight card stocks. It was the paper that sounded like it was the key.

Well, I wasn't sure that letterpress printing was something that I really wanted to invest a lot of time or money in, so I decided to just see what the paper was like and maybe try one set of plates. I didn't buy the starter kit. I decided that I could improvise for now.

My apologies. I took these pics with my cell phone. I was in a hurry. My supplies included duct tape, Versafine ink, two clear Big Shot cutting plates, a sheet of letterpress paper, a damask printing plate and repositionable poster tape as well as a few pieces of painter's tape.

I attached the two cutting plates using the duct tape. Placed end to end as you can see above, I left a gap of about 1/4" between them. This made a hinge that allowed room for sandwiching the printing plate and paper between them. I used the straight edges of the painter's tape to mark the position of my paper.

In this photo you can see the paper placed on the plate in the foreground. The damask printing plate image has been adhered to the other plate with the poster tape.

Now, I tend to shy away from using my brayer. I just don't like dealing with having to get the ink evenly applied to it and then having to clean it up again later. I applied the ink directly onto the plate using the inkpad. It's probably not as even as it would have been had I rolled it out, but I think dealing with less mess is worth it. I used the Versafine ink because it's oil-based and because I like the detail that it picks up and the easy clean up.

I rolled the sandwich through my Big Shot using my multipurpose platform open to Tab 1. I thought it needed to be just a little tighter, so I added a shim--the Cuttlebug embossing folder backing material that I typically add. This is another time when it's best to start thin. These printing plates are made from a clear plastic that definitely feels like it could easily crack.

Here's how it looked when I opened up the sandwich. The debossing was nice and deep, but hard to appreciate just by looking, even in real life.

I thought I'd try running an uninked plate through the machine. That's the Thank You that's in the photo above.

I think the debossing is easier to appreciate now, despite the low quality of the photo.

So, this is a fun twist on traditional stamping and embossing. It's neat in that unlike the debossing that you can do with embossing folders, the back of the paper remains nice and flat. My method is admittedly full of ways in which things could go wrong. A real hinge on the plates to keep them nice and stable would be a big help. Not sure what the plates are like in the starter kit, but I've heard that there's a bit of play in them, so they don't sound quite perfect either. My poster tape method doesn't cover the entire back of the printing plate so it's possible that I'm not getting as even a deboss as if I used a sheet of adhesive over the whole thing. I'm sure that I wasn't able to apply the ink quite as evenly as I could have with a brayer. Like I said, I was willing to sacrifice that quality for this quick test. I also used a more crude method of keeping my paper in place. The starter kit comes with some paper positioners that sound sort of like rectangular pop dots. Since I was only running the image through in one color, I wasn't really worried about precise positioning. I think I could have safely used more painter's tape to hold the paper more steady without harming it though.

Bottom line? This was a fun technique to try. I think I'll definitely be using the plates for doing some debossing, inked and uninked. I haven't tried any other paper yet. Watercolor paper would be tempting. The thickness of the paper made for use with the LetterPress plates is key though. Makes a big difference and a beautiful result!


  1. yes I saw the video of this from CHA posted on you-tube. it didn't impress me at all. I'd rather just stick to my cuttlebug and stamps as is

  2. I have not seen the video. Looking at what you have done I say kudos for having the initiative to improvise. I think it looks great. Another way to create texture. There is a neat bird stamp (birds flying in a sweep to the right) by Inkadinkado (I think) that I can imagine would look fantastic on a card debossed without the ink. Your "Thank You" Rocks. Boy! With all the wonderful clear stamps available what you could do. Give yourself a major pat on the back

  3. Thank you for printing this. I, too, tried some experimentation rather than buying the kit. I was able to have a little success with average cardstock if I used a small stack of postit notes under the die. In attempts to use it with just the plates, I couldn't get the depth of the embossing. Then, I used the brayer and printers ink and had a pretty good impression, but think I put it on too thickly. I used distress ink and found the ink was still too wet and the image was not crisp. Then I tried printers ink and got a fairly decent image.

    BTW, I did crack my die.

    Thanks for the experiment.

  4. Just wanted to clear one thing up since it sounds like there might be some confusion. Letterpress printing is made using special plates, not clear stamps, though I can see in retrospect how the plates could look very much like polymer stamps. The plates are made from a hard plastic so that they can make a distinct impression in paper or card stock. So though it'd be nice to be able to use clear stamps to deboss, they're not nearly firm enough to do what these letterpress plates do.

    That said, it occurred to me that those plastic suncatchers that kids decorate would be one way to describe what these plate designs feel like. And of course once that popped into my head I had to try it. I'll post what I did in a new entry.

    Sandy, I bet my results would have been better with a brayer, too. I think that the thicker card stock really makes the big difference though. Fun not to be alone in the experimenting!

    Thanks for coming by!

  5. I'm new to you blog - and love it! So many innovative ideas :)
    I have a few things: what if, after cutting up your CB folders, you use only one half and deboss with it? Theoretically, only one side of your paper would deboss (as in L L-Press) and the other should stay smooth. Also, what if watercolour paper was used? It is softer and may deboss easier. Anotehr thing is found was how to remove the frame lines around a small folder. Betsy Veldman (of PTI) has a piece on her blog. She uses fun foam and glues it to the bak of the folder pieces. It works great! I've added it to all of my small folders.
    I haven't tried cutting up my CB folders yet, but I will. As soon as you mentioned acetate, I thought "of course! why not?!" Another TaaDaa moment :)
    Thanks for sharing!


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