Love your philately? We do too. Which is why we’ve put together this quick chronology of stamp printing methods from British history.
May 1840 – 1855 (Line engraved stamps)
Printed using a technique also known as the gravure or recess printing method, line engraved stamps were the very first printed stamps to be used for postage in Great Britain. Over 480 printing plates, most of which included 240 unique stamp pictures with their own ‘check letters’ in the corners (to protect against forgeries), were used to produce billions of line engraved stamps.
These stamps were made using an engraving etched onto a piece of steel. This was then solidified and punched into a printing plate. Line engraved stamps were thought of as less easy to counterfeit as fine-details created using raised lines were impossible to mimic for all but the most highly skilled and experienced engravers.
This style of stamp printing was fairly pervasive right up until the mid-1900s when a number of alternative techniques became more common than line engraved stamps: intaglio, lithography, photogravure and web offset printing.
Generally using steel or copper plates as a base, an image is cut. This ‘cut out’ image is then filled with ink before the upper layer and surfaces are wiped clean. High pressure is then applied to print the inked image onto the stamp.
Lithography was used to make stamps using a smooth metal plate or stone. It was cheaper than line engraving but produced stamps of a lower quality.
Photogravure printed stamps
Photogravure is closely related to intaglio, and uses mechanical etching plates. This is a more modern descendant of intaglio as it allows for tonal range achieved thanks to varied depths of etching which the printing blends into a smooth image - and the printable image is made using a photographic process.
Web offset printing
Offset printing used an inked image which has been printed using a rubber blanket which has been itself printed with an inked image from a plate. It also involves lithography which keeps ink from printed areas using a ink-repulsive fountain solution.
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Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmcarthy99/6621779669/