12 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple – III

Hello, Readers picking up from where we started (12 elements) we are going to learn about another important element of a postage stamp. Different “Printing Processes” that are used to print the stamps. So what are you all waiting for 🙂

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A plethora of stamps are out there in circulation. These beautiful pieces of historical significance from different countries are printed using different techniques and processes. These methods depend upon the design, material, and the discretion of the respective postal authorities. Each of these processes possesses remarkably different characteristics. Let’s delve deeper into the majorly adopted techniques of printing of postage stamps.

ENGRAVING (Intaglio, Line-Engraving, Etching)

Showcasing the Sub-Processes of Engraving Process

Master Die – 

The operation starts by preparing a master die. The master die is a flat block made of softened steel. It is small in size depending upon the actual design of the stamp. The stamp design is recess engraved in reverse. Photographic reduction in conjunction with the required size is done of the original art form or the design. This, in turn, acts as the tracing guide of the initial outline of the desired design. The engraver carefully and slowly works to trace the design on the steel with his tools. During this tedious process, he checks the progress by making impressions using hand ink. Once this process of engraving is completed, the die is further hardened to endure the pressures of transfer and multiple operations.

Transfer Roll – 

The next step as the name suggests is to transition the subject of printing from the Master Die to the printing plate. This constitutes mounting a blank roll of soft steel on the mandrel which in turn is placed under the bearers of the transfer press so that it can easily roll on its axis. The hardened die is placed on the bed of the press and the face of the transfer roll is applied to the die, under pressure. The bed or the roll is then rocked back and forth under increasing pressure until the soft steel of the roll is forced into every engraved line of the die. The impression hence created is referred to as “Relief Transfer”.

Plate – 

This is the final piece of the pre-printing production. The die on the bed of transfer press is replaced by a flat piece of soft steel. The transfer roll containing one of the reliefs is placed over this soft steel. The dots determining the correct position on the plate are lightly marked on the plate beforehand. After ascertaining the correct position of the relief the design is rocked using the same method as transfer roll. The only difference is that the image is getting transferred from the roll instead of being transferred to it. The plate is reversed and recessed after the design is applied to the plate.

Depending upon the number of subjects appearing on the sheet of postage stamps, as many transfers are imparted to the plate. Once the required transfers have been applied the position dots, layout dots, lines, scratches, and other markings are burnished out. At this juncture, the siderographer adds up the required guidelines, plate numbers, or any other required marginal markings. Post this process the plate is hand-inked, and a proof impression is taken which is known as plate proof. If the impression works out well and is approved the plate is then fitted onto the press, is hardened, and then sent to the plate vault for use.

On the press the surface is automatically wiped cleaned, the plate is inked leaving the ink only in the recessed lines. The paper is then sandwiched and pressed into engraved recessed lines thus getting the ink and impressions. This is the reason that the ink lines on engraved stamps are slightly raised and minor debossing occurs at the back of the stamp.

Before the modern high-speed printing machines and advanced ink formulations were introduced the paper was dampened to receive the ink impressions. This process resulted in uneven shrinkage during the process of perforation. As a result of improperly perforated or misperfs (commonly referred to in the philatelic terminology as Errors or Freaks) were printed.

TYPOGRAPHY (Letterpress, Surface Printing, Flexography, Dry Offset, High Etch)


Illustrative Example 12 Elements Of A Postage Stamp

This is an obsolete method of printing but it was a prevalent one throughout the first century of postage stamps. It is also called as the Letterpress Printing. This process is the opposite of the engraving. It includes printing design which is above the surface area. In this only, the raised areas of the design trap the ink and leave an impression on the paper. It is identical to the printing technology used in the ordinary rubber stamp.

The engraved master used for this process to print the stamps is made in an identical manner. There is an additional step in which the design is transferred to another surface before it is put to use by the transfer roll. This leads to a recessed stamp design instead of a relief design.

To be continued……

Rohit Mittal

Self Taught Techie, Father to a budding philatelist son and a Global Business Professional Having Traveled across four continents. I have helped European and Indian Businesses to turn around and realize business objectives in 180 to 270 days. Reading & Writing is my second nature. I rekindled my childhood passion for stamps after forty years and love to collect European Pre 1960s MNH OG stamps majorly from France, Germany, and Italy.
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1 year ago

Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂