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Definition

letterpress

Letterpress is the oldest form of printing. In this method, a surface with raised letters is inked and pressed to the surface of the printing substrate to reproduce an image in reverse. Typically, metal type has been used but other possibilities include carved wood or stone blocks.

After the Gutenberg press introduced movable type to the process in the 15th century, letterpress was the predominant printing method for 500 years. The creation of huge rotary presses made industrial printing and newspaper production practical.

By the 1950s, xerography and offset printing began to supplant letterpress and by the end of the 20th century, digital printing and related technologies had become the industry standard for many uses. Nevertheless, letterpress is still used for some specialized commercial applications. The old method is also enjoying a resurgence among modern-day enthusiasts who prize the hand-made qualities and historical nature of letterpress print.

This was last updated in June 2010

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