All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Letterpress QSL cards!


Ok, so you want a real, authentic Pre WW2 QSL.  You've seen those amazing, bold, mind-grabbing designs from the era of Fred Schell, Frank Jones and Ross Hull.  You may have seen the QSL of Reinartz's 1QP and thought "wow.  I'd like that."   How do you go about have your very own "legacy" QSL cards?

Two ways we go about that.  One way is to have us come up with a design for you.  The other way is to have your own design idea, and share it with us.

Sharing your own design can be done in different ways.  One way is to send us a photo of your design, or send us an image of a vintage card you might like to either copy or adapt.

A merging of the two methods might be : having a vintage design in mind, and having us design the adaptation.  This is, actually, the most common scenario for us.  Older designs often revolved around call signs of different, often shorter character counts ( 1EA as opposed to WD4NKA might be an extreme example!) and so a design must needs modified.

The way in which data was recorded differed as well.  They did not use UTC at one point, and there was no "RST".  Instead, there was a general "QSA" and "R" system.  As such, adaptations are frequently employed. Sometimes, ops (operators) actually prefer the older systems.  I, myself, like a sort of combination of the two methods.

Once contacted (via email, at either paperwrenpress@gmail.com or wd4nka@aim.com), and we talk, and you decide you want to make the investment, I begin the laying out (design, or "pre-press") process.  I will send you .jpg, .gif or - if not too much detail work is involved - a .pdf file of our progress.  As we are using an ancient printing process, Letterpress, printed proofs are not made.  We send digital proofs. ( it costs as much to set up and make one copy as it does 200!)  

Designs are first laid out in pencil on bristol board, then inked.  Sometimes design elements are created on our almost equally ancient vector program of choice, Macromedia FreeHand.   Hand renderings are scanned and vectorized for plating which is executed by our traditional plater in Owosso Michigan.  These are the very same type of wood mounted letterpress dies (printing "plates") as was used in printing since the 1860s.  The same process that produced those awesome cards...or most of them....during the 20s through 40s, and even into the 50s.  These letterpress dies are either magnesium or copper, the EPA has shut down traditional zinc cuts since the the 1990s.

Once we have the proper dies, and we secure the needed stock to cut and print, we begin the printing process.  Our old C&P and Kluge presses are hand fed, just as most of them were back when, each card gets individual attention.  Each colour must pass as an individual "run" through the press, which means a three colour card can take literally half a day to run.  That's the way these old systems run.  That's how it was done for your grand-dad (if he was a Ham using QSL cards, that is!)

I always send photos of the process to the client as we move along.  If you are local to Volusia County Florida, you can even come by and be part of the process!

From start to finish, it usually takes about three to four weeks, from client approval to packing for shipment.  The design process can take anywhere from a day to a month....depending on the adjustments and tweeks from design stage to design stage.  It is a very custom process.

Prices are derived from the cost of dies, paper, custom inks, and other needed materials.  I rarely charge design time for fellow hams, and labour charges are greatly reduced.  We call this a "Ham Net", which is about half the fee I charge for an equivalent wedding announcement or any other printed piece of this size and involvement.

We hope in time, as interest and support grows for this sort of thing, to offer pre-printed designs that would permit only one or two dies to be ordered for call sign and address, which would in turn greatly reduce the cost of Letterpress Vintage QSL cards.

So, this is the process.  What follows is a discussion about Costs:

First, we are using two types of paper.  The first is the more authentic light buff hard surface 90 lb card stock.  This paper is fountain pen and typewriter friendly, which would have been used in the 1920s through 1950s, for the reason that fountain pens were the pen type used before the day of the Ball Point. Many hams chose to type, rather than write out their cards, thus the card stock used had to be able to physically fit into the typewriter!  If you fall in this category, this would be the paper we recommend.

The second type is the type you see in the photo in this blog entry: Crane Lettra, 110lb "Pearl".  This paper is what we use for our fine press announcements and business cards.  It is a very velvety, dense stock that leaves that nice indentation, or "deboss" which you see in the photos.  It really leaves a stunning image!  This paper will cause free-flow ink ( fountain pen or calligraphy dip pens) to bleed, however it can handle ball point pens quite nicely, and can even be photo imaged. It may, however, be a tad thick for the trusty Remington or Royal ( typewriters ).  But if you want a stunning card that can ONLY be produced via the ancient Letterpress, this is the stock to get.  It comes in Arctic White (very bright), Pearl (which is an off white, the most commonly used) and Ecru (which is a light amber-honey)  This paper has the distinction of being the same stock Crane sells to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing - sans silk fibres - for currency.  It is 100% cotton.

While final costs are arrived at per individual order, and can vary according to certain design elements or certain added features a client may wish, here are some general prices arrived at from jobs we have run for our QSL card clients thus far :

Prices for 250 two colour, single sided cards, Letterpress Printed:  

- with hard stock, $150.00  plus $13.00 shipping.
- with Crane Lettra, $200.00 plus $13.00 shipping.
- additional colour, add $50.00 in most cases.

Prices for 250 three colour double sided cards, Letterpress Printed:
(W3PR's card is an excellent example.  Click here.) 

- with hard stock,  $375.00,  plus $13.00 shipping
- with Crane Lettra, $450.00,  plus $13.00 shipping
- in the case of the example card, data field is printed on the reverse. 

To inquire or initiate an order, drop me a line at: paperwrenpress@gmail.com or wd4nka@aim.com

I do take PayPal, which adds 4% to the order. Again, contact me for details.

Turnaround time averages three to four weeks.  This is owing to the time it takes to have the printing dies made and the paper shipped in, plus the time-intense process of letterpress printing itself.


Here is a short video which shows a bit of the process of Letterpress Printing.  It was taken during the printing of W9AC's QSL card.




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