Photograph by Justin Demutiis

While modern electronic forms of communication are certainly convenient, certain types of correspondence simply call for stationery. After all, when you’re writing a thank you note, sending a special invitation, or wish to put a thoughtful sentiment on paper, there is no substitute for print—and thanks to a variety of printing methods and countless creative designs, the options for beautiful, bespoke papers are seemingly endless. To help those who are considering commissioning a custom set decide on the right approach for their stationery, we asked Carlton Carter, assistant attorney general for the state of Florida and owner/founder of Ink Fine Printing in Tampa, Florida, to discuss the details of the different time-tested printing methods and their uses. Here, he breaks down the traditional techniques.

Photograph courtesy of Ink Fine Printing

Engraving // “This is the Rolls Royce standard for printing,” Carter explains. “We use a Cronite press, and we’re one of only 100 fully operating in the United States.” This is one of the oldest methods of printing, and remains an art form to this day.

The process: The engraving process involves etching steel or copper plates with a recessed image, which can be lettering or an icon. This creates fine detail that can’t be achieved any other way.  The recessed areas are then inked, blotted with paper to wipe off excess ink, and the plate is then pressed to the paper under two tons of pressure to transfer the type or image. Each piece must be hand-fed into the machine by someone that is highly skilled in the art of engraving. If multiple colors are to be used, it must be done separately.

Uses: This method is often used for a framed family crest or coat of arms, and can also be used for formal invitations or stationery.

Photograph courtesy of Ink Fine Printing

Letterpress // An ancient art form, letterpress printing lends a nostalgic look and feel to the printed piece. After Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in 1439, letterpress was the dominant type of printing until the 1950s.

The process: Letterpress is created by pressing inked metal type or an etched metal plate that is custom-created for each job into the paper. Today, the plates can be made using the latest design programs, enabling boundless creative possibilities limited only by a designer and master printer’s imagination. As opposed to recessed letters in engraving, in letterpress printing, the letters are raised up. All letterpress printing presses are one-color, but multiple colors may be produced using multiple printing plates and press passes.

Uses: This is the method of choice for most fine stationery.

Photograph courtesy of Ink Fine Printing

Embossing // “To appreciate embossing is to engage in a tactile experience,” Carter says. “You can immediately feel the difference.” This method of printing dates back to the early 15th century, when it was used to create personalized stationery.

The process: Embossing adds dimensions to your printed piece by re-shaping the paper using a specially crafted die, heat, pressure and a counter. The dies used can be single-level, multi-level or sculpted, depending on the design. Blind embossing is another option that involves using plates and counter without using foil or ink.

Uses: Embossing is often used in combination with other printing methods to add texture and dimension to your design, but it can also be used for an understated icon or initial on stationery.

Photograph courtesy of Ink Fine Printing

Foil die stamping // Hot foil stamping was first patented in the 1890s, and over time it has evolved for many different uses, from security printing to adding a high level of detail to a printed project.

The process. The image to be stamped is made into a stamping die, typically out of magnesium or copper, and mounted on a press and heated to 170 to 240 degrees F. The foil is then pulled across the heated surface of the die and the paper is then pressed into the foil, transferring the pigment from the sheet to the printed piece. Most people think of shiny metallic like gold and silver, but foil comes in many different colors and finishes, which allows for endless options.

Uses: Foil stamping can be utilized singularly as a monogram or icon, but it also lends an element of luxury to any manner of printed projects, from business cards to invitations.

TSG Tip 320 from Carlton Carter, founder and owner of Tampa Bay, Florida-based Ink Fine Printing. Ink Fine Printing is featured in The Scout Guide Tampa Bay.