In the first of a new series, we start by
introducing you to the world of stamp production with a timeline of the main
processes and their characteristics before going into greater detail from next
Five main processes have created British
stamps since the Penny Black. This timeline shows date of first use, print
characteristics and brief details.
1840 RECESS. The design is incised
into the printing plate, inked and transferred to the paper under pressure. Used by Perkins, Bacon and Petch to print
the Penny Black, this is collectors ‘process of choice’
due to the incredible skill of the engraver and tactile feel of the stamp.
LETTERPRESS. The plate contains just
the raised design area with the rest etched away, enabling the
greasy ink to print the stamp. De La Rue first used this process to produce the
Fourpenny Carmine and it was subsequently used through to 1934 and occasionally
GRAVURE. Fluid inks are applied to the
cylinder and held in microscopic cells before being transferred to paper. First employed by Harrison’s, it is still the
main process used. Originally involving photography in cylinder production, these
are now computer-engraved.
1980 LITHOGRAPHY. The design is transferred to a printing cylinder, ink
sticks to the image area, while water protects the non-image area. The design
is then offset onto a rubber blanket cylinder, which transfers the ink to the paper. Origins of ‘litho’ are old, but it is a
relative newcomer to British stamp production, being first used by Waddington.
2001 SCREEN. Ink is forced via a giant squeegee through a screen and on
to paper. Rarely used for stamps, it was utilised by Enschedé with thermochromic
ink on the Nobel Prizes issue.
20?? DIGITAL. Britain
has yet to print stamps digitally, but the day cannot be far off when this printing
method enters the mainstream. It is currently used to print SmilersTM
(The above article was written in 2007 for Royal
Mail's corporate website within its Stamps
and Collectables section.)
Version: 1.1, 2012. All material Copyright ©
2000-Date Glenn H Morgan FRPSL.