Here at BiBA, we’ve been knee-deep in our love for letterpress from our studio in Richmond, Virginia for 20 years now. Every day, our artists and craftspeople work to design, create, and letterpress-print distinctive social stationery that delights, excites, and energizes—all on our four vintage presses. We do it because it’s what we love to do!
Sophisticated-as-ever and screaming to be touched, it’s no surprise letterpress is much cherished by social stationery lovers everywhere. What you might not know is just how much work, care, and attention goes into bringing a single letterpress card to life. It’s a craft we at BiBA live for and you’ll understand why as I take you behind the scenes of our little letterpress studio for an insider’s look at how letterpress stationery is made. Read on and fall in letterpress love.
Tools of the Trade
Every art form starts with a solid set of tools and letterpress is no different. What makes letterpress different from other printing processes is that the tools of this trade aren’t made anymore. Everything is vintage, and we consider ourselves oh so lucky to have them. Amazing to most, you won’t find one computer chip hiding in these presses. They are all operated by a human being using human sight and human hands. Here are some of our antiques.The Guillotine
Sounds scary, right? Used to make perfect paper cuts, it is a little daunting the first time you see one. Ours was manufactured in 1935 and I love that all it takes is a little oil from time to time and sharp blades to keep it in top shape. It’s how we make the most precise paper cuts to make the perfect card.The Presses
We think there’s nothing more beautiful than a platen press. They haven’t been manufactured in decades, so we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have three Chandler & Price presses and one original Heidelberg, all of which were manufactured between 1912 and 1960. That’s right. Our oldest press was made in the same year the Titanic sank. We’d give pretty much any limb on our body for them—they’re the heart of our studio and the envy-worthy engine that makes our stationery an art form.
How It's Done
We like to do old things in new ways because we understand and appreciate the value of both. We’re always thinking about how to push the boundaries of a hundred-year-old press to make stationery people will want to use, connect with, share, collect, and be inspired by. Here’s how we make it all happen:Design
Every card begins with collaborative design. We’re creative souls, so we thrive on it! Whether a client comes to us inspired by one of our designs or with their own ideas and vision, we absolutely live to create a card that is unique to their style, brought beautifully to life through the art of letterpress.Paper Selection and Cutting
Central to design is the paper on which it will materialize. We're always pouring over stock books as we search to fill our library with only the finest quality papers of gorgeous hues and rich textures. Our go-to for wedding invitations, for example, is a luxe Italian paper that just wants your hands all over it. Once we determine the perfect paper for a design, we cut it to the size of the card to be pressed using the impressive guillotine cutter I talked about earlier.Platemaking
While one person is cutting paper, another is creating a plate with raised images and words that will be pressed into the paper—making one plate for each color in the design. This happens by first transferring the design to a piece of negative film. We then place the film and a sheet of photopolymer material into our platemaker, where UV light shines through the clear sections of the film to expose the images and words onto the plate. Washing and drying the sheet allow it to cure. It’s really cool and kinda amazing to see a flat sheet of material come out of the machine with raised art ready to press.Inking the Press
With letterpress, each color in the design has to be pressed separately. So, a design that has multiple colors requires the paper to be pressed multiple times. It all starts with Josue, our master pressman. He begins by applying ink to a large metal disk on the press and then runs the press to ink the cylinders that will ultimately press the ink onto the paper. When a design uses more than one color, we clean the disk after the first color is pressed, ink it again, and reposition the plate with absolute precision so that the colors align correctly on each card as it’s pressed anew. Yes, it’s laborious. For Josue, it’s a labor of love.
Oh, and you know that dreamy letterpress stationery you’ve seen that doesn’t have any color? That’s called a “blind” emboss, where we press an image or words onto paper without using any ink. I think there’s nothing more beautiful.Pressing the Art onto Paper
With the press prepped, it’s time to put ink to paper. In our letterpress studio, Josue is expert at feeding each card into the press by hand with the utmost precision. He's been printing for his entire life, fell in love with the art of letterpress 20 years ago, and hasn’t stopped pressing since. We stand in awe of him, and once you see his work, you will too.
It’s the little details that really set letterpress stationery suite apart. A few of our favorites? Here are three I can’t live without...Edge Painting
We remain in an ongoing love-affair with edge painting—it’s an especially effective way to add a luxe touch to letterpress wedding invitations. We bust out vice grips and wooden blocks and carefully (very carefully) spray the edges of a stack of cards for an even, eye-catching coat.
Letterpress speaks for itself, but one medium that I think pairs so well is watercolor. For letterpress wedding and mitzvah invitations, I especially love applying watercolor elements that are inspired by other aspects of the event design (like the venue, color palette, or cake).
A great way to add a pop of colorful detail to your letterpress card are envelope liners. They're the perfect finishing touch. We line ours—you guessed it—by hand and in-house.
So you’ve fallen fast in love with the art of letterpress? We’re right there with you. Shop our custom collections, greeting cards and notes sets or follow us on Instagram to keep the letterpress love going strong.