Birthday Card of Many Fonts and Many Colors

Having a supply of birthday cards on hand can be convenient and it eliminates the need to go to the store when a friend’s or loved one’s special day approaches unexpectedly. Today’s project shows how to design and print multiple fonts on three colors of paper to produce a set of cards for different recipients.

I am starting with three colorful Basis papers, which are among twenty-four colors available as scored 80# A1-size cards from Olive, Light Purple and Pink. In short-run letterpress printing, the most time consuming portions (and to me, the most fun) of the process are setting the types that will become the printed design of a project or job and getting them into the correct position on the press. By printing a single design on three papers, I created three separate cards that I can tailor to any recipient.

The design I came up with relied on wood and metal types in my collection as the main visual impact of the card. Because I chose eight different fonts, I added an antique border to hold them all together visually. Most of these typefaces were never designed to complement each other, and they represent several different eras of graphic design, but by setting the word “Happy” in each of them and placing so any of them together, their individuality creates a unified visual impact.

Can you identify the fonts I used for this card from the photo below? Hre’s a hint: they are: 48-point Kauffman Bold, 18-point Stymie Light Condensed, 24-point Hadriano Stonecut, 18-point Craw Clarendon, 18-point Cooper Black, 18-point Dom Casual and 6-line Alternate Gothic Condensed.

A form of many fonts: hand-set types composed on a 20-pica measure.

I wanted to use as much of the A1 card as possible for my card, so I started by setting the word “Birthday” in the largest font I have that would take up the most real estate on the paper. That ended up being a one hundred and twenty-year-old set of 6-line Alternate Gothic Condensed wood types. Once I set and letterspaced the types, they came to a width of 20 picas (about 3.33″). Allowing for a one-pica standoff distance on either side of the types, I then set my border types to a measure of 27 picas (about 4.5″).

Selecting those seven fonts was a bit random, but I attempted to find types that had some flair to them (often called “display” faces by typographers) and did not worry about how they would look next to each other. Once I had them set, I printed a quick proof of them and then cut the paper so that very little white space remained on the borders. I then positioned the proof within the border types I had already set and locked up in a second form. This confirmed that the border was properly designed and set to create a one pica standoff of white space between each outside edge of the types and the border types.

(NOTE: I had originally intended to print the types and the border in two different colors of ink, which required two separate forms. Ultimately I chose to print both types and border in black, but I used two forms just in case I changed my mind for the next edition of this card.)

Using a proof of the types to ensure the border is composed to the proper width and height.

Preparation in letterpress printing makes all the difference, and can allow substantial time savings. Although I was focused on the front panel design of this birthday card, since the paper is flat with a score down the middle, I can add my press’ contact information so that it prints on the back panel in the same pass as the front panel. To do this, I added enough furniture (spacing material) to position the types that include my press name and contact information at the bottom of the card’s back panel. This is called imposition.

Locked-up form showing the imposition that will print the back panel types (shown at the far left) and the front panel types (shown at the far right) in perfect position through one pass on my press.

The metal types I used were all in very good condition and required no makeready (a process of placing tissue or other paper underneath portions of the form that require additional impression (or “squeeze” as my dad used call it) and/or cutting away portions of the form that require less impression. The antique wood types, due to their age and their use over so many years, did not print as consistently, but after making some minor adjustments, I decided to allow them to print their distressed or “salty” image on the paper. Although it was never intended to be so, many people embrace these imperfections as being what “letterpress” printing looks like.

Close-up showing imperfections in 120-year-old wood types that produce the distressed or “salty” effect in the printed piece.

Since the three stocks I am using for this job are all from the same manufacturer and of the same weight, after I have gained position and set the guides with gauge pins, no additional makeready was required for the different colored stock.

Printing on the Olive stock. As always, Dense Black ink from SouthernInk makes the print really pop. offers folded and scored A1 Basis cards in so many great colors and with matching envelopes. Having several of them on hand, along with a tried and true design, will ensure you are always ready to print one or several hundred great looking birthday cards when the occasion requires. Thanks for reading this post, and make sure you follow the other creative folks who share their passion on

Similar Posts

Leave a little comment love below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.