Letterpress was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century, and became the primary printing method well in to the 20th century, when offset printing was developed.
Letterpress is a technique of relief printing using a printing press, which involved a worker composing and locking movable metal type, wood engravings, zinc plates or linoleum blocks in to the bed of a press by hand. This type was then inked and applied to paper using pressure.
In recent years letterpress printing has really made a comeback, especially for business cards and wedding invitations, as designers look to create a classy, handmade finish. Unfortunately, because traditional letterpresses are hard to find and the process is still done by hand, this comes at a price…
But fear not! This Photoshop tutorial will show you how to create an authentic letterpress effect yourself from the comfort of your chair, no heavy machinery or ink required!
Step 1. Create a new image in Photoshop. For the purpose of this tutorial I have chosen the settings below, however this letterpress effect will work on 300dpi, print-ready documents too. You are only restricted by the size and quality of the images you have to work with.
Step 2. To create an authentic letterpress effect you will need two different paper textures and a grunge texture (see TIP below). The first of these will be used for the pressed paper texture.
Open your first paper texture in Photoshop and copy it to a new layer in your letterpress document.
TIP: There are a lot of royalty free textures available on Google if you do not have access to a stock image library.
Step 3. Open your second paper texture in Photoshop and copy it to a new layer in your letterpress document. This texture will be used for the raised paper texture. Make sure this layer is above the layer created in step 2.
Step 4. The next element we will need is our artwork. This could be a graphic or a font. In my experience vector graphics work better for creating this effect, but it all depends on what you are trying to achieve.
Set this layer’s mode to Multiply and lower the opacity until you reach the effect you are after (as shown below). This layer must be above the layer created in step 2 and below the layer created in step 3.
TIP: I find it useful to label my Photoshop layers with a name that relates to what that layer contains. That way, when I have a large number of layers, it is much easier to find what layer an element is on when I need to make a change.
Step 5. Select the pixels of our artwork layer. This can be done by holding down the CMD key on a Mac or the CTRL key on a PC and then clicking on the artwork layer thumbnail within the Layers Tab (as shown below). Alternatively you can right click on the artwork layer thumbnail and choose Select Pixels from the menu.
Now create a cut-out from our raised paper layer in step 2 using these selected pixels. If done correctly the text on our artwork layer should now be visible.
Step 6. We will now apply an Inner Bevel, from the Bevel and Emboss Layer Effects menu (as shown below), to our raised paper layer. This will give the appearance of our artwork being pressed in to the paper. Play around with the settings above until you achieve the desired results.
Step 7. To enhance this pressed appearance further, we need to add an Inner Shadow effect to our artwork layer. Again play around with the settings above until you achieve the desired results.
Step 8. Open your grunge texture (see TIP below), copy it to a new layer in your letterpress document and then Desaturate this layer. Desaturate is found in Image > Adjustments > Desaturate, alternatively you can use the shortcut SHIFT+CMD+U on a Mac or SHIFT+CTRL+U on a PC.
TIP: To achieve the most realistic knockout effect, it’s best to use a grunge texture that contains a good mixture of small and large grain. Try several different textures to see what results they give.
Step 9. Select and copy all pixels on the grunge texture layer; CMD+A then CMD+C on a Mac and CTRL+A followed by CTRL+C on PC.
Open the Channels tab, which is next to the Layers tab, and create a New Channel by clicking the small document icon at the bottom of this tab (as shown below). You will see a channel appear called Alpha 1 and your document will turn black but don’t worry!
Select Alpha 1 and paste the copied pixels from your grunge texture in to this channel; CMD+V on Mac and CTRL+V on a PC.
Finally, select the pixels of the Alpha 1 channel. Hold down the CMD key on a Mac or the CTRL key on a PC and then click on the Alpha 1 thumbnail in the Channels tab.
Step 10. Next we will use a layer mask to create knocked out areas. These imperfections occur frequently in the letterpress printing process, and will add an additional level of realism.
With the pixels still selected return to the Layers tab and select our artwork layer. Add a Layer Mask by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon (as shown below).
Step 11. Almost done! Select the Layer Mask by clicking it’s thumbnail in the Layers tab (as shown above). Adjust the Brightness/Contrast settings until you achieve the look you’re after. The higher the brightness the less knocked out areas you will see, the higher the contrast the sharper these areas will appear.
I really hope you enjoyed this tutorial, if you have any comments or questions on this blog post, or have requests for future tutorials please use the form below or email firstname.lastname@example.org, as always your feedback will be gratefully received.