Reverse Type File Prep Techniques

An increasingly common question we are asked, here in the Platemaking Department at Boxcar Press, is “will my reverse type/text/design be readable or look good when I letterpress print it?” Reaching the desired results means exploring what exactly “reverse type/design” is and what to check for to guarantee a great printed piece.

When it comes to printing, reverse type or design refers to white or light text or objects positioned against a solid colored (usually dark) background. This is sometimes also referred to as “knocked out” text.

This is an example of reverse type: white text on black background.

There are some important aspects to remember when designing for reverse type, especially with regards to using photopolymer plates:

  • Always take the time to check that your designs meet or exceed the minimum guaranteed line or dot thicknesses. Check out these recommended line and dot thicknesses for your preferred plate type. (We also have a nifty tutorial that offers step-by-step instructions on how to check your dots and line thicknesses – go check it out!). 
  • Next, it’s critical to know the eye will observe your white text as “smaller or thinner” on your printed piece as your eyes are tricked by the optical illusion created by the juxtaposition of a large dark area next to a smaller thinner white area. So, we cheerfully recommend that you add AT LEAST a 0.75pt extra stroke around designs to balance out this optical illusion. This extra stroke is added on top your minimum line/dot thickness.  It’s misleading to judge an onscreen or laser printout against what a final printed piece will look like so we usually suggest erring on the side of slightly larger reverse type.
  • If you are printing in a light ink background, your white text or objects may need to be even larger and thicker because the the contrast between the white text against a light colored background on a white paper can be easily lost. Small text may not have a place in this color situation and needs to be avoided.

Illustration of reversed type on lighter background.

  • Lastly, make note of the dark areas in between your white object. (The highlighted area in cyan shown in the image below illustrates the “dark areas” in between the white objects that should also be checked for line and dot minimums). Are they narrow and thin? Will they meet the line and dot minimums so the plate polymer can support and hold between your white space?

Illustration of the negative space around text and objects that also need to be checked for minimums.

Designs with reverse type can be pretty dramatic, and we hope you’ll consider printing a project like this.  With a little planning and forethought about how the design will translate with a larger solid inked area and  the detail you want, you can have some very satisfying results.  So keep those rollers inked, letterpress lovers, and go reverse!

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