Letterpress Basics: 580 years in the making

Letterpress is making a comeback in the digital age thanks to a general renewed interest in the handmade, and to the digital re-invention of the medium with computer-generated plates. A letterpress is able to make a more precise and distinct print that offset or flexo presses can struggle with.

The basic process

Letterpress begins, as the name would suggest, by gathering your types together with number, upper and lowercase letters, special characters, ligatures, punctuation, and spaces in a particular point size and style. Oftentimes typefaces can be decades (or even hundreds of years!) old, and may be missing characters through time. Typically, these are made of wood or lead, but some are experimenting with new materials, like 3D printed lettersets.

This is where leading comes in. Setting the type on composing sticks one character at a time, and a piece of lead (hence “leading”) is set between lines. Once everything is set, it gets locked onto the chase (metal frame) to be placed into your press.

Wooden blocks are often placed in the spaces between the frame and the type to lock it in, and quoins (metal-toothed wedges) apply pressure and tension to lock everything together.

Ink rollers typically coat the type with ink as the press runs, while paper is fed into the press and a clamping motion allows the ink to print on to the paper

Types of letter-presses

Platen Press

A platen letterpress is made up of 2 flat surfaces, the bed and the platen. On a platen press, the ink is distributed onto a metal disk (platen), and rollers grab ink from the disk to ink the type. The type is set onto a chase and inserted into a press, while a treadle powers the press and spins the large flywheel. Platen presses are typically used for short run prints, like invitations or stationary. Platen presses that are larger are used for die-cutting, embossing, and foil applications.

Flatbed Press

The type is locked on the bed of the press. Ink is applied to rollers that spin in place, and the paper to be printed on is placed at the top of the press and held in place by grippers. The printer then moves the rollers and piece of paper across the press, over the type. The rollers then crank back to the top of the press and are ready for the next sheet. These presses can do one or two color impressions.

Rotary Press

Rotary presses are used for their ability to produce high volume runs. Not typically used in the standard Letterpress Shop as they are used in commercial and specialty printing with sheet-fed and web-fed designs. The plate is a cylinder and paper is run through at a higher speed. The operator can adjust the print heads and come up with color matches faster without having to change anything within the press, with less setup and less waste than a flexo press.

Sheet-fed rotary presses, the plate is mounted onto a cylinder where a roller applies ink to the plate. The paper then passes between the plate sulinder and an impression cylinder, producing the printed impression onto the paper.

Web-fed presses are used in printing applications like newspapers, labels, or wallpaper and are the highest speed and most accurate process. The printing process is the same, but the substrate is a continuous web unwound from a roll.

4 Basic Printing Processes to Know

Globally, the United States is the largest print market. These are the 4 most common processes and press types used, and for which industries, so that you have a better idea as to which press you may be looking for in your business.


This is the most widely used printing process, so it makes sense if you’ve seen plenty of them on WireBids!

Offset printing is a technique where the inked image is transferred from a plate, to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. The modern “web” process feeds a large reel of paper through a large press machine in several parts, typically for several meters, which then prints continuously as the paper is fed through.

Offset printing is ideal for something that requires a large volume of work.

Originated: 1875

Suitable for: paper, cardboard, plastic, and other flat materials.

Industries: books, newspaper, stationary, packaging

Digital Printing

This is possibly the widest scope of printing with a wide range of materials. The surface does not have to be flat, so Digital Printing processes are the fastest growing, continually offering new possibilities.

Inkjet and laser printing are the most common, where a pigment or toner is deposited onto the media. The pigment or toner creates a thin layer on the surface, but does not permeate or substrate like a traditional ink may. This is why machines may feature a UV curing or heat processes, to further adhere the ink to the media.

Large format and high-volume laser or inkjet printing allow for something on-demand, fast turnaround, and variable data printing. This means that with digital printing, the need to replace printing plates is eliminated, creating lower labor cost.

Originated: 1967 (inkjet), 1969 (laser)

Suitable for: paper, photo paper, fabric, canvas, glass, metal, marble, etc.

Industries: desktop publishing, mailing, fine art, on-demand printing, advertising, and sleeking


Flexography (often just called “Flexo”) is essentially a modern version of a letterpress, and can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate. Most widely, this is used for printing on non-porous surfaces required for food packaging.

A flexible (typically rubber) plate is used, extending the range that can be printed on.

Flexo can use a wider range of inks, from oil based to water based, and generally have a low viscosity. This allows for faster drying time, and faster production with speeds up to 2,000 feet per minute.

Originated: 1890

Suitable for: plastic, foil, acetate, paper, cardboard, cellophane, metal, etc.

Industries: packaging, labels, converting companies

Screen Printing

Screen printing is a technique where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas blocked by a stencil. A blade or squeegee pulls the ink over the mesh, and a reverse stroke causes the screen to touch the media along a line of contact. A single color is printed at a time, so several screens are required to make a multi-colored image.

Screen printing methods have been used for centuries, but was industrialized in the 1900s as photo-imaged stencils were created, popularizing the method for printing. For this, it has become more versatile than traditional printing techniques and allow for more manual control than digital printing. The surface printed on does not have to be printed under pressure, and does not have to be flat.

Originated: 1911

Suitable for: plastic, ceramic, wood, paper, glass, metal, and textile

Industries: packaging, textile, medical, electronics, posters and displays

4 Top Packaging Trends for 2019

Last month, Mintel released their Global Packaging Trends 2019 report. WireBids has gathered the highlights for you.

Mintel is the world’s leading market intelligence agency and releases an annual report with “comprehensive consumer research, in-depth packaging analysis, and industry and brand examples that support the future impact of the trends.”

1. Connected Packaging

Interactive elements are nothing new to packaging. QR codes and RFID scanners have been used to drive engagement and sales before.

But Connecting with the consumer directly continues to be a trend that can’t be overlooked. Snapcodes, Bluetooth, and Augmented Reality are saturating the market to establish new marketing opportunities.

This means that for the brand, they have the opportunity to connect in an online space, learning more about their consumers and allowing them to more closely measure campaign performance.

As a printer, understanding new strategies that brands and clients are looking for gives the chance to expand business and meet a higher demand.

2. Sustainability Awareness

With consumers already thinking that recyclable packaging is standard, brands have an opportunity to ride consumer awareness of recycling issues by being part of the solution and committing to using recycled material in new packaging

Sustainability has been on the mind of every industry. Consumers are going to be more likely to trust and use (meaning purchase) products that are packaged with recycled content.

3. Next Gen Packaging

E -Commerce is anticipated to grow to over $3.8 TRILLION by 2021. Which means, consumer demand is booming with the packaging industry. Keep up by utilizing the best and newest innovations and technology. Reinvent the box keeping up with packaging trends through sustainability, efficiency, and printing methods.

4. Paper-Driven, Plastic-Free

Did you think that Mintel’s report was already focused enough on sustainability yet? Nope. There’s more.

Brands should act now, either to ensure a place in emerging plastic-free zones by switching to acceptable pack materials, or by engaging with the debate, clearly explaining the benefits of plastic packaging to their product and addressing plastic pollution concerns with appropriate end-of-life pack solutions.

Eliminating single-use plastics is a major concern for any company. In the UK, 47% of adults stated that single-use plastics alone were the largest environmental issue today! Plastic-free shopping is on the rise, for instance there’s the entire state of California banning plastic shopping bags, Whole Foods running paper only, even McDonalds is working to reduce their plastic straw use.

What do you think? Are you in the packaging business and looking to make a change?

You can read the full Mintel Packaging Trends report here.

5 Pieces of Equipment to Make your Next Direct Mailer a Success

Despite the digital direction our world is seemingly headed, direct mail is still an incredibly viable marketing channel. According to ChoosePrint.org, Direct mail outperforms all digital channels combined by nearly 600%. Consumers notice it, read it and hang onto it for far longer than any digital ad.

But what makes a piece of direct mail successful? Marketers agree that a clear, concise call to action is key. Beyond content- what will make your direct mail piece stand out against the clutter of bills, magazines and letters. What equipment is necessary to make a splash? Tabbers, presses, laminators- you can find it ALL on WireBids. 

Digital Presses

IndigoDigital presses make it easy to create customizable short-run jobs. These presses are perfect for targeted brochures and postcards. Quick turn-around times and quality color accuracy make these the workhorses of the direct mail industry. Used digital presses such as the HP Indigo and the Presstek DI are a hot commodity on WireBids. Click here to check out what kinds of used digital printing presses up for auction.

UV Coaters

UVUV coating is a cost effective way to make your mail piece stand out. UV coatings provide multiple options, from gloss to matte and satin finish to protect your marketing message. These machines apply ultraviolet coating to the printed surface, such as card stock or thin paper. The coating cures when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. This technique is perfect for postcards, business cards, catalogs and beyond. The Digicoaters Premier K2 and the Tec Lighting Xtra Coat are popular choices. Click here to view the used UV coaters we currently have up for auction.


Laminators increase the durability of your direct mail piece, offering protection from rain, wear and tear. Lamination truly preserves the message your company spends hours producing. There are two main types of lamination: hot lamination and cold lamination. 

Hot laminators use heat rollers to melt glue onto lamination film. This film is then applied to the paper or card stock with pressure rollers. Cold laminators use a plastic film coated on one side with an adhesive. The other side is glossy. When this glossy side is remover, the paper sticks directly to the adhesive. Click here to view the used laminators WireBids currently has available for purchase.

Envelope Printers

Envelope printers greatly improve the speed and efficiency of direct mail production. Envelope presses allow you to print on multiple sizes of envelopes, something sure to differentiate your mailer among the rest. Over-sized envelopes allow you to add special graphics and larger sales messages- right on the envelope. Check out our used envelope printers here. AB Dick 350 Envelope presses are a popular choice for direct mailers.



These machines automatically apply tabs and seals to a variety of stocks, such as newsletters and booklets, securing pages for easy mailing. These tabs can be personalized by job, applying a seal with speed and accuracy. Choose from clear, paper or translucent tabs for greater impact. WireBids frequently offers used Accufast KT2s and Astro ATS-800s for all of your tabbing needs. Click here to view your current used tabbing options.
Whether you are looking for a UV coater or a digital press, you can find it on WireBids. We hold multiple auctions a month to provide you with the quality used equipment you need to run your business. Call us at (888) 229-5733 is you do not find what you are looking for. We’d be happy to help you track something down.

A Brief History of Bindery Equipment

Before books there were scrolls, before scrolls there were tablets. Circa 100 BCE, Early books were bound in India by threading leather cord or twine through holes in multiple layers of palm leaves or bark. But how did we make the leap from scratching scriptures onto palm leaves to the ornate books and bindery techniques we see today?

palmleaf2_mc78E_6648Book covers evolved from goat leather to pigskin, vellum and calf leather. Pasteboard covers did not catch on until the 1500s. Cloth book covers came about in the 1800s when British publishers began wrapping pasteboard in fabric to be stamped. This is the first instance of automation in book bindery.

Although the perfect binding technique was developed in the late 1800s, it did not rise to popularity until the 1930s when the first paperback books were developed. This cold-glue method quickly caught on and spread from Germany to England to the United States. The hot glue method was developed by the Dupont company in the 1940s, resulting in a more durable and long  lasting book.

The 1950s gave rise to plastic comb binding in offices across the United States. Companies began binding their own documents and reports using spiral binding. In the late 1960s, David McConnell Smyth invented a sewing machine specifically for book bindery. The “Smyth sewing” technique involved sewing through the fold of smaller booklets, then binding them together to form a thicker spine. This method is still widely used today.


img_9879.525c3c0be7788Perfect bind technology continued to evolve through the 1980s and beyond. Polyurethane Reactive glue was developed in the 1989 and quickly proved superiority over EVA, which tended to crumble over time.

Many would tell you that book bindery is falling away as e-books rise to popularity. Recent data would suggest otherwise. According to CNN, e-book sales dropped 17% in the UK while physical book sales climbed by 7% this same period.

Whether you are looking for a coil binder or a perfect binder, you can find it on WireBids. We hold multiple auctions a month to provide you with the quality used equipment you need to run your business.