Laser engraving for printing

This is really where my interest is with a laser engraver (even though I’ve never had the chance to use one): how a laser cutter/engraver can be used for letterpress printing.

This is a really great example of an image laser engraved onto a linoleum block.


Wow, that’s excellent! I’ve really wanted to try some Barry Moser images with the laser, but I hadn’t considered doing a photograph. Neato.

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That’s beautiful. It would be interesting to experiment with doing multiple passes. You could print a frame out of plywood to ensure that each linoleum block registered properly.


I think lots could be done with laser engraved linoleum. And I think it’d be cost-effective enough to experiment with it, even at larger sizes (say, an 11" x 17" poster). As nice as images look, I’m really interested to see how type looks. I’ve seen it done well on laser engraved wood (which needs to be cured and planed first of course).

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I am THRILLED that you brought up printmaking applications. I have a fine arts printmaking background, and the printmaking applications with a laser are pretty much endless. I’ve done laser-aided linoleum block printing on canvas:

And on the wall at work right now are these experiments in laser-aided screenprinting:

I haven’t done specifically letterpress-related applications yet, but it’s high on my list. I think Dan also has a good thought about multi-plate applications-- usually with letterpress that has an illustrative effect, but you could achieve the look of a full-color photo with laser-engraved lino blocks. I’ve also engraved type as small as 4pt on lasers, though printing that small might be iffy.

I’m interested in accessibility-- like, how do we make etchings without needing chemicals or letterpress wood without having to know how to cure and plane it? Having a good source for materials helps, but finding that source can be a huge amount of work.

Are you imagining making band posters? Fine art? Gag gifts?


those look great!

I’m interested in laser engraving as a solution for letterpress printing because the photopolymer plates can be pretty expensive (45 to 65 cents per square inch) and if its 2 or even 3 color, the price for just the plates goes up. I have it in mind to do letterpress work for clients once I’m out of school, so whatever comes through the door, that’s what I’ll design and print.

This is something I designed and printed recently. Granted, this was done with a photopolymer plate, but I think of how I might have achieved the same outcome with a laser cutter.

I wonder also about trying something harder than linoleum to get the deep impression for which letterpress is generally known.


Yes! That’s awesome. Are you in school for letterpress/printmaking/bookmaking? Where at, if I may ask? (I’m WashU Printmaking BFA '12)

It would be interesting to do some tests with engraved acrylic-- that would definitely give that crisp, deep impression. However, acrylic is very brittle, so I’d worry about any thin details under repeated pressure. Of course, there might be ways to mitigate that in file set-up, and I’ve heard of heat-treating acrylic to make it less brittle-- obviously this is a rabbithole I could happily spend weeks going down.

The best thing would be to use a plastic that’s intrinsically less brittle. Of the commonly lasercut plastics, Delrin is probably the closest to what you would want, and in a perfect world you could probably find a source that would sell it at type-high.


Mine is a graphic design BFA. The University of Central Oklahoma design department (which is where I am) opened a letterpress and prototyping lab a couple years ago and began offering letterpress classes. The calendar was the last project I did for that class. The other two projects I did in there are on my behance page. The course helped me understand that I want to be letterpress printing because unless I get to make something, all the magic and excitement of graphic design is gone.

Type-high Delrin would be pretty sweet. Part of the fun would be trying out different laser-cut materials to see what worked on the press wouldn’t it? :slight_smile: And then there’s die cutting. I’ve been puzzling over how to take something letterpressed and use a laser to trim out custom shapes, so how to get the laser cutter to register.


Whoa, those BoxBots you made are really cool!

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Thanks for the kind words, Dean. The BoxBots were a lot of fun to illustrate and print. Except I had to cut all those pieces out by hand. What I would’ve done for a quicker, easier way to die cut them.

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I agree, the BoxBots are great!


This is one of the applications that I’m more enthusiastic and anxious about for Letterpress use.
But at same time I would like to be clarified about the block relief engraving process and materials to use.

Today I use photopolymer plates (1,52mm depth) and in some cases magnesium block reliefs.

I would like to know how we can engrave with laser but leaving a shoulder like in pictures uploaded, or do I need to run several times the process in order to get a proper angle (shoulder) and deeper enough to get a nice impression in paper. The shoulder will also improve the robustness of the relief.

I read that delrin (acetal) will work better than plexiglas (acrylic), what is your opinion?



I believe what you’re going to want to experiment with is a greyscale (variable power) engraving on acetal, although I haven’t tested this yet.

I would also love to know the possibilities of the GF being able to mimic a photopolymer plate! Being able to make photopolymer plates with the GF would be a dream come true!! If anyone knows, please let us know!!

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There is absolutely no reason that this can’t work.
I have made some small blocks for my wife’s little 5x7 press using delrin on a small CNC mill. The challenge there was that I could not get any really fine detail since my spindle speed was not high enough for very small tools.

I think with the laser it may be that we have trouble with the depth of engraving, and holding small details on fine lines. Also, it remains to be seen what the final resolution of engraving is.

That said, it looks like there are a lot of folks experimenting…


Hi Lauren,

I’m curious as to how you used a laser to aid screenrinting. I have a tiny screen printing shop in my basement, and hadn’t thought of how I could combine the two…using it to cut rubylithe or something like this?