Blind Debossing + Ink = GOOD

We've had a number of requests lately for blind debossing and tone-on-tone printing. Now of course this would mean without ink, which honestly is something I prefer to avoid, unless I am using an unusually heavy stock.

One thing I've found to work for Spark's clients is using varying degrees of transparent white ink. I feel it gives the impression just enough definition to make all the difference. When the client wants even more definition without running a color, we'll add in a hint of silver or gold. The gold works especially well on the off-white stocks. Either I need to get more rest, or maybe I just have a decent eye for color, but the transparent white does dry a bit darker than it looks when it first comes of press.

Also, I do make sure I clean the rollers especially well before running transparent white (or any light color for that matter).

Spark Custom: Kensington Invitation

The above invitation set, known as Kensington, joined the Spark Custom Album in the spring of 2007. We decided to feature this invitation, as it is a classic, popular design, not only for wedding stationery, but for personal stationery as well. In the spring of 2008, it was featured in all of the regional Brides magazines across the country, along with our Graceful Orchid invite.

The Kensington 4-piece invitation set includes the invitation panel, printed invitation envelope, reply card and printed reply envelope. This two color letterpress piece, shown in copper and black, is priced at $1210 retail for 100 sets. The invitation is a 5x7 card and is paired with an A7 square flap envelope. The reply card is 5.5x4.25” in size and is paired with an A2 square flap envelope. The reply card allows guests to write their own reply.

Our clients are able to customize this invitation set to suit their personal style. This includes more than simply changing the typeface or the color(s) on the invite. For example, the graphic pattern on the invitation may be substituted with a different graphic pattern from the Patterns page in our custom album. We are able to create a custom pattern upon request.

Clients may also change the format to a tall or large square panel card at no additional charge. Dress up this invitation with a paper backer, full paper wrap & band or place into a custom pocket fold. Ask us about our custom-printed envelope liners, as they are a stunning addition to any stationery set.

To receive a custom quote on this invitation, visit one of the Spark Custom Album retailers. A listing of our retailers is available on our website at If there is no retailer near you, please contact us directly at

Hot off our presses...

It was another busy week at Spark. We had several fun and labor-intensive client projects that we were working on over the past week. Although we can’t show you these creations quite yet – we need the bride, groom and their guests to see them first – we hope to share them with you soon. What I can tell you is that it was a metallic-infused Spark this week due to these orders: copper, ivory and gold inks and paper; sewing with gold thread, binding with copper ribbon, and more.

We are in the process of reprinting many cards from our product lines as we begin to run out of the bestsellers, and ended the week by reprinting business cards for one of our favorite design firms – J.D. Gordon Advertising.

In addition to printing, the true highlights of our week were definitely techy in nature with the launches of our online store, revamped Blog and new Flickr page.

Spark's Big Friday

Today is a great day at Spark and here's why:

Spark’s Online Store is Open
Our online store is open for business and can be accessed through our web site. All of our new product lines are featured and we can’t wait for you to see them. Click on the Shop link on the right side of the page to go to our shopping site.

Here are a few images of our newest products:

Read our Blog
We're making a renewed commitment to keeping our blog up-to-date since we have so much we want to share and so many people we want to share with. Our blog will be a great source of images and articles about our client work, technical information about letterpress printing, and all of the latest happenings at Spark.

Here is our post schedule:
Monday - Client Projects
Tuesday - Wedding Projects
Wednesday - What's New
Thursday - Letterpress Institute
Friday - Stationery
Weekend - Hot Off Our Presses

Visit us on Flickr

Visit our Flickr pages to view images of our shop, our presses and our work. We are still trying to get caught up with photos of past client work – for design firms and private clients – so continue to check back for new photos.

Have a great weekend from all of us at Spark!

Spark Institute Now in Session

Professor James Curtis Watne
Lead Press Operator, Spark Industries

Disclaimer: These are methods that I've found to work for Spark. I make no claims to complete knowledge and I'm sure there are lots of other ways out there that I don't know about. But since continuous learning is part of any worthwhile craft, I'm happy to relay what I've figured out.

Letterpress and Solid Areas of Ink

Solid areas typically present a challenge when printing on a platen press. This is because of two main factors: inking and impression.

In their original uses, platen presses were not expected to lay down huge amounts of ink and so typically have two or three form rollers. In addition, the rollers must pick up ink from a disk or drum, then pass down over the form and back up. (A cylinder press such as a Heidelberg K or S continually supplies ink to four form rollers from sizable distributor rollers.) As the ink supply is not continuous, at a certain point the roller has used one full revolution of ink and ghosting can occur.

Impression is probably the biggest issue in laying down a large solid. A platen press must make the entire impression at once, versus a cylinder press which "rolls" the paper across the form, with only a narrow band of contact at any one time. A given platen press will have a limit in the amount of force it can exert before something gives. As these machines are no longer made, we don't want to push them near that point! The Heidelberg windmill platen does have a shear collar which is designed to give way before something more expensive does, but a press such as a Chandler & Price will respond with a fracture in its cast iron. So one has to be realistic with what a machine can handle. If a client is set on having a full flood of ink across the back of their letterhead, it would probably be best to have that side offset printed. Printer and client will probably both be a lot happier!

Here's an order of approaches that I typically follow on the windmill for large solids:
1. heavy-ish inking with two rollers
2. add rider roller
3. two hits
4. skip feeding (this will be a future topic)

If I can tell at the start a job will need a certain approach I'll start with that. If coverage is insufficient then things get "escalated." A job may require the material to be split into two runs to achieve proper inking for a large solid along with a text area of the same color. Inking heavy enough for the solid to come out nicely can be way too much for the text area. Two hits with moderate inking can give the client's desired impression while being much crisper than one hit with heavy inking. Skip feeding allows two (or more) passes of the rollers, which works very well for eliminating ghosting and maximizing coverage. It requires quick, constant two-handed operation of the feed and impression with each sheet, and so is only really practical for short runs of special items. (This is one thing that is more easily accomplished on a hand-fed press such as a C&P where you only move the throwoff lever on and off, as feeding is at your manual control. You simply pause and let the press cycle once more, while having a leisurely interval to ready the next sheet.)

All of these approaches naturally require use of the ink fountain for consistency across a run. That's another topic for the future...

This example has a 5x7 full bleed solid on the back of 220 lb Lettra. The rider roller was employed, and two hits of ink were required.

This letterhead's large orange block was achieved with the rider roller and use of a thin rubber sheet in the packing. The French Durotone has a varied density throughout, and so does not lend itself to a smooth result easily. The rubber becomes in essence a variable packing to give more push behind the thinner areas. The back's full flood of orange was offset printed in advance, and the letterpress inking (from the same can) adjusted slightly to match. Our offset printer told us that even with their large press the backs required double hits of ink and as hard an impression as possible. Luckily the client expected and liked the slightly mottled look. The envelopes were printed flat on our Cylinder and converted.

Thank you.

We wanted to take a moment to thank our clients for their patience in the month of June as some of us at Spark dealt with a death in the family. This is the program we created for the memorial service of Dennis Carlson (father to Diedre and Valerie). It was the hardest thing we've had to design and print, but it brought us a small amount of joy in a month otherwise filled with sorrow. We're glad we could create a fitting tribute to our Dad. As a side note, the program features a drawing Denny did of himself a long time ago. Again, thank you for your condolences and understanding.

Cherry Blossom Wedding Suite

The above wedding invitation set was printed late 2007 for a couple in New York City. The cherry blossom artwork was created especially for their invitation set and thank you cards. The couple selected our favorite Crane Lettra 110# cover paper in fluorescent white. Crane Lettra is a 100% reclaimed cotton paper, so no trees have fallen to make this beautiful paper. The set is a two color letterpress piece in fuchsia and dark brown with small rounded corners. Pay special attention to the arrangement and detail of the blossoms, as well as the tight registration achieved.

We started the process with a phone call with the bride to discuss her design style, colors, typeface likes and dislikes and briefly discussed the invitation wording. After the first encounter, our designer provided the couple with a PDF proof of the invitation panel which included the cherry blossom artwork. This artwork went through a couple renditions before it reached its final format. The rest of the invitation suite was created and approved all in a matter of a few weeks. Rest assured, our bride enjoyed the experience as did we!

The cherry blossom artwork is not featured in our custom album, however we are happy to reproduce this artwork upon request. Please contact for more details or simply visit one of our retail stores and mention this entry.

AIGA Wink Event Postcard and Poster

Last year we sponsored a talk by Wink for AIGA's South Dakota chapter, as well as donating the printing of the postcard and poster. As we were going through projects we wanted to share with everyone, this definitely had to be the first one as it continues to be one of our favorite projects that we've printed. The event was a huge success and a lot fun to attend. If you haven't heard them speak, we highly recommend it as they were both hilarious and insightful.

Wink Event Postcard for AIGA South Dakota
Design: Wink
Paper: Most of the postcards were printed on Eames Furniture 120# DTC in White, which was generously donated by Neenah. Just for fun we printed extra postcards for ourselves on Rising Museum Board 2-ply White (which is actually a beautiful soft white).
Ink: PMS 1775 (pink) and PMS 724 (brown). The pink was run first and the brown was semi-transparent so you could see it overlay on the pink cow background. Keeping the brown true to the PMS swatch and still transparent was a bit tricky, but worth the extra effort.
Run: 500 on our Heidelberg Windmill
Timing: This was a pretty easy job for us to run. Straightforward and to the point. The ink mix was the trickiest part, but all in all I think we spent about four hours total running it.
Notes: The Eames Furniture 120# DTC didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. This was our first time working with this stock and thought it would take a crisper impression, but we were a bit disappointed. They turned out nice, just not as nice when compared with the postcards we printed on the Museum Board.

Wink Event Poster for AIGA South Dakota
Design: Wink
Paper: Most of the posters were printed on an 80# cover donated by Duffy. Since we already had the press inked up, we printed extra posters on our house stock, Crane Lettra 110# Cover in Fluorescent White as well as Monadnock Astrolite 200# Cover in Bright White and Eames Furniture 120# DTC in White. It was interesting to see how the different papers fared with the same design. The 80# cover didn’t take an impression as we expected. The Lettra ended up with a beautiful "weathered" look. The Astrolite turned out the most even and probably showed the impression best. The Eames Furniture had the most "weathered" look of the bunch.
Ink: PMS 717 (brown), PMS 872 (gold) and black. The gold was used for his tooth only and it is hard to see in this photo, but he is sporting a nice little diamond!
Run: 600 on our Heidelberg Cylinder
Timing: We ran this job over three days to give the heavy coverage time to dry a bit in between plates.
Notes: The trickiest part of this job was the inking and feeding. The feeding shouldn’t be a surprise since we were running four different stocks and three different colors. The inking was hardest with the brown but we figured it out pretty quickly. In some ways, the posters with the uneven inking turned out the most interesting with their unintended artistic effects. Those of our clients that received the posters in a sample pack liked the weathered look and thought we had done something special to achieve it during prepress.

To see more images of this project and others, visit us on Flickr: