Letterpress, Thermography & letter bash printing..!!Thermofast Sudbury, Brian Langham, Thermography vs Letterpress


I have been in the printing trade since I was 16 years old! Originally I wanted to be in the journalistic side of printing, but in those days 1960’s you took whatever job you could find, so somehow I ended up as a trainee compositor with a small local printing company, on a 5 year apprenticeship. In those days most printing was done either letterpress or lithographic, I managed to get into the letterpress side of the printing trade and I learnt how to typeset using the old hand held stick as we used to call them and using types from a font drawer to create everything from a book to a letterhead. It was not just spelling that you had to have a good knowledge of,  you also had to be just as good at arithmetic as spelling! Everything had to add up it was like building a wall you could not have six bricks one end and only 5 and a half  the other, if you had not added up your points correctly when you went to pick up the chase, with a finished job in, everything would fall out, and sometimes you could have hundreds of individual bits, all put together to make up a sheet to be printed, believe me the boss was not happy if it all fell apart after spending two hours setting it up.

Letterpress is where a sheet of paper or card is pressed against an ink covered letter and the ink is then transfered to the paper. We used Heidelberg platten machines, and you could adjust the pressure of the platten against the paper so it just kissed the paper, you could print on tissue paper and leave no mark on the paper other than the ink from the type. This is how letterpress printing was done, you finished up with the same quality printing as you got from a lithographic press using plates and water to print everything from a full colour poster to a business card.

Nowdays letter press printing is hardly ever used for what it was originally designed for, letterpress is now used, as I call it letter bash printing! Where unless you indent the letter, into the paper or card, it is not leterpress printing, I suppose things change but is not what I call letterpress printing.

Now I am into thermographic printing, we use lithographic machines for the printing of the work, our presses are AB Dicks, two colour machines. Then we add on to the end of the press a thermographic machine, which is about 10-12 foot long and consists of three conveyor belts, the first is where the thermographic powder is sprayed onto the wet ink and also where the excess powder is vacuumed off, then it moves on to the next conveyor where it goes under a large bank of heaters. Depending on what type of paper is being used we can adjust the heat to suit so that the powder is baked correctly and rises, just like in a cake! The paper then passes to the last conveyor where we have an ultra violet light which is only used when the job will be used for overprinting in a laser printer. This hardens the thermo so it wil not melt in the laser printer, which would obviously cause damage to both the printer and the paper. Very important when you have your letterheads printed, as most companies use them in their laser printers.

Our business is more into the quality side of printing, we supply a lot of thermographic printing for businesses and also for individuals who want their personal stationery to stand out that bit more. Over the last few years we have printed many thermographic wedding invitations for people from the average man in the street to Lords and Ladies. Garden parties to barbecue get togethers, thermographic printing really makes your invite that bit more classy. After 43 years in the printing industry I don’t think I could have ended up doing a more interesting and satisfying work.