Here’s how to create a crude letterpress look in Photoshop, typical of early packaging and posters on cardboard.
Letterpress was the most common method of printing until offset was invented, which was in the early 1900s. Still, after that, it remained in widespread use, especially for bold printing of type and line art where no fine detail was required such as smooth color gradations or reproduction of photographs. The debossed effect of letterpress when printing on soft paper or cardboard, coupled with the bold primary colors used in much advertising during certain decades as well as the typical off-registration of the presses, gives printing of that era a certain look and feel.
That effect can be re-created by varying degrees in Photoshop, and it’s fun and easy. Here’s one example which was created for the AmperArt series by Chaz DeSimone. (AmperArt is a series of art prints featuring the ampersand. Subscribe–it’s free–at AmperArt.com.)
Set type in 2 or 3 colors, preferably against a solid color background. Gradations were not practical, or very crude, in much letterpress printing.
Duplicate each color image, shift it slightly, and reduce to a light tint of the original color. This replicates the ghost image of ink when paper slipped while being printed (similar to ghosting when plates shift in offset printing). Shift each color in a different direction and blur the layer slightly.
On the main color of each image, apply a slight deboss effect (Layer: Layer Style: Bevel and Emboss). Play around until the image looks like it is slightly debossed (select Direction: Down if necessary).
For fun, you may want to add a halftone screen effect to one or more colors, especially if there is a gradation or photo. Keep in mind halftone screens were coarse in early letterpress printing, with 55 to 133 dots to the inch. (The dots here are exaggerated for artistic effect.) (Filter: Pixelate: Color Halftone)
Also, experiment with blur and noise to get that rough letterpress effect.
Here’s the final image. This is Edition 21, “New & Improved,” in the AmperArt series by Chaz DeSimone, celebrating the ampersand as art. You can see other AmperArt editions, and subscribe to receive one per month absolutely free, at AmperArt.com.
Subscribe to receive one or more new editions per month at AmperArt.com. It’s fabulous & free.