Tim Honnor: impressionable type
Engraving and Die stamping
This is a resumé of Tim’s lecture
If you thought engraving and die stamping were outmoded processes consigned to the annals of history then think again. Traditionally hand fed procedures, they now utilize the newest computer wizardry, employ high-technology green products, and embrace all the latest developments in graphic design. Engraving and die stamping have become exciting, viable and affordable processes fit for the 21st century.
Engraving in printing finds its roots in the 15th century when it was a process valued for its precision and detail and was employed on the production of documents both legal and regal. In the 19th century, the procedure was modernised with the introduction of engraving processes and electroplating, and by the first half of the 20th century die stamping had become the favoured process for stationery. In the 21st century engraving has been up-dated with the advent of computer software and micro etching and new technical developments have solved many of its old problems. Nowadays, it is a sophisticated process reproducing all types of artwork with outstanding accuracy, giving the engraver complete control over his work, and making today’s engraving and die stamping industry a refined, flexible and quality service capable of producing work ‘unsurpassed by any other process in the graphic arts.’ (BESA)
With all these developments, engraving and die stamping should be on the up. But whilst they are favoured processes in many other countries, particularly the US, it is a different story at home. There are only 30 printers in Britain capable of die stamping; there is more die stamping done in Los Angles alone than in the whole of the UK! The decline of the industry in Britain was due to an unhelpful industrial structure, the vagaries of fashion, and lack of publicity. Die stamping generally relied on the trade for work and as most printers dislike subcontracting they failed to promote the service and work dwindled. The situation was exacerbated by the perception that it was an old fashioned process that produced work on archaic machinery, and with new approaches to typography in the 1960s, the face of die stamping no longer fitted. Die stamping was also thought of as an expensive option, but a simple die stamped job is no more expensive that an over-designed litho solution – and infinitely more effective. But the industry also failed to publicise itself and print specifiers ceased to be aware of the process and stopped ordering.
This is a great pity as die stamping is a wonderful process of exceptional quality that can achieve unique effects over a wide range of applications. It is capable of reproducing crisp, sharp, lines of elegance and finesse, can print fine detail simultaneously with bold areas, and replicate the complete tonal range. The unique combination of ink and embossing gives an impressive three-dimensional look and feel, and the tactility and richness of die stamping gives any work an appearance of superiority. Designing for die stamping is little different to specifying for any other printing process. However, the addition of the third dimension encourages previously unexplored concepts and design solutions. Whilst die stamping has traditionally been used on stationery and coats of arms, its usage is widening to incorporate security printing and packaging, corporate literature, book covers, catalogues and brochures, report and accounts, wine labels, wedding invitations, and greeting cards. Its applications are limitless and die stamping clients are various, ranging from big blue chip companies to private individuals, royalty and government.
Despite the obvious delights and advantages of die stamping the amount of work being produced in the UK over the last few years is either static or on the decline. Trends are difficult to judge as buying patterns are changing, with more just-in-time purchasing rather than planning ahead procurement. However, there are indications that the work is out there, but it is being lost to other countries. Over recent years there has been a revival of die stamped greetings cards – unfortunately many of them have been printed in the US, Italy or Czech Republic. Ironically, the US is a potential market for UK die stamp printers. No self-respecting blue chip company in the States would be without their die stamped stationery and some are turning to UK printers, as there is a certain cachet to having material ‘printed in England’.
There are about 30 die stamping printers in the UK, mostly centred in the south and the Home Counties. Although some have long offered the process, there are also new entrants to the service. Piccolo Press, Nairn was established in 1985 and is the only company in Scotland with the requisite skills and die stamping presses capable of producing real engraved stationery. They are also one of the last remaining British firms to employ a Master Craftsman Hand Engraver. Piccolo exports its work around the world and their clients include the Royal Household, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the armed forces as well as corporate and private clients. The L T Print Group, Wallasey, became the only north of England printer offering the service when, 8 years ago, they bought a small die stamping firm that went into receivership. L T Print acquired the business ‘because of a romantic attachment to the skill, because we enjoy the process, and because it has given us a unique selling point’. Their clients come from the hotel trade, and include Claridges, the Savoy, and Harrods; in addition they apply their die stamping skills to first day cover envelopes. C K Press, London, produce high-class personal stationery on thermographic equipment; they set up their die stamping installation two years ago after constant requests for engraved stationery encouraged them to take the plunge. The most recent convert to the process is a Winchester based printer who simply saw ‘an untapped market’.
But what materials and kit does a printer contemplating entry to the die stamping market need? The first requirement is all the necessary etching equipment, which costs in the region of £16,000 including installation. The next is an exceptionally heavy, high-pressure die stamping press costing in the region of £62,000. Both are available from Caslon Limited, a St Albans based company that provide all the UK’s die stampers with Cronite machinery imported from the US. The presses are available in two sizes, 3" x 8 3/4" and 5" x 9", and are the result of many years of engineering research devoted to modernising the die stamp plant. Fully automatic and including a high-speed autofeeder and telestacker drier, the 3" x 8 3/4" can produce engraved stationery at speeds in excess of 8000 iph whilst the larger size machine can stamp at speeds up to 7000 iph without sacrificing quality or efficiency. Both machines operate smoothly and effortlessly on stock of varying sizes and thickness.
Inks too can be bought through Caslon Limited. Twenty years ago 100% of all the inks they supplied were varnish-based, nowadays 95% are water soluble inks that are cleaner to use, can be washed off with water, and are applied quicker. Calson also offers a Pantone colour matching service and have the ability to match all the colours from the new Pantone Metallic Guide with Cronite’s range of laserproof colours.
Whilst most die stamping firms use engraving machines, some also like to use the skills of a diminishing number of hand engravers. Ron Hughes is an engraver with 20 years experience at the Bank of England. In 2000 he left to set up Aronique Design Limited, Kimpton, Hertfordshire, where he offers his unique engraving skills. Most of his work is got through his website or by word of mouth: his work is varied and growing steadily and includes established designers producing for large corporate companies in the world market place, to independent specialist printers requiring ‘one off’ designs and origination are now taking full advantage of this service.
Engraving and die stamping are marvellous processes with 21st century relevance that need to be promoted hard to UK typographers, graphic design houses, print buyers and the general public if they are to survive. The printing industry in general also needs to embrace a process that is undoubtedly the jewel in its crown.
If you wish to know more about die stamping and engraving then contact the British Engraved Stationers Association (BESA) who are a Special Interest Group of the British Printing Industries Federation (www.besaprint.com, www.besaprint.co.uk). The main objectives of BESA are ‘to promote and market the British Engraved Stationery industry more widely throughout the print and design industries, encourage best practice and create an environment that enables the exchange of views and information. By providing a solid, user-friendly database of companies, contacts and skills pertaining to the industry, it will strive to increase the awareness of the engraving and die stamping process to designers, graphic houses, print buyers and the general public. To which end BESA have recently published Images of Engraving, a book aimed at rejuvenating interest in engraved printing and educating designers and print buyers about the possibilities of the process. Images of Engraving costs £12.50 including p&p and is available at the conference or from Chris Patefield, BPIF South Eastern Business Centre.
Tim Honnor is an ex Submarine Commander and ‘print nutter’ who started his own printing business (Piccolo Press) in 1984. Since then Piccolo Press has developed into letterpress and engraving/diestamping business with twelve employees and a world-wide market for high quality stationery. Tim is Chairman of the British Engraved Stationery Association (BESA).