How Stamps are Made
Postage stamps are considered to be more than a mere payment for mail service they serve as a means of communication through which many countries around the world have recorded important events, reminisced history, celebrated holidays, described interesting facts, and honored worthy individuals.
The very first postage stamp issued in 1840 in Great Britain, which showed a portrait of Queen Victoria, is known as the Penny Black. Typically, most stamps produced in the early times feature one color only. For instance, in the United States, they issued single-colored stamps up until 1869. Multicolored stamps only started to become popular in the 1920s.
The early stamps issued along with the Penny Black had to be separated using scissors, since perforated stamps in England weren't introduced until 1854. In the United States, perforated stamps started appearing in 1857.
How are Stamps Made
In the early times, stamps were printed on sheets of paper which were fed into presses one by one. Today, the paper used comes on rolls. Two types of paper are mainly used to print stamps Laid paper, which has ribbed lines, and Wove paper, which comes without ribbed lines.
The United States only use wove paper for their stamps, whereas other countries use both types. The paper is delivered to the manufacturing facility, with the glue or gum already applied.
The Printing Process
There are two prevalent methods used, when it comes to postage stamp printing:
Intaglio printing process the oldest method of making stamps. This is a highly time consuming printing method, but it produces stamps with very distinct and vivid images, which is one of the reasons this process has not been discontinued completely, despite of modern, faster and cheaper printing methods being available. The intaglio method involves scratching, etching or engraving an image on a printing plate which then transfers that image onto paper. Intaglio also involves the gravure process, in which the image is put photographically onto the plate, and the image is then etched into the plate.
Offset printing process this is much less expensive compared to intaglio printing, and still offset printing can actually produce high quality results. Offset printing has hence become the common preference for most stamps these days. Using the offset printing method, an image is initially created on an aluminum plate photo-chemically. After it has been attached to the printing press, the plate is alternately submerged in water and ink. The photochemical image gets ink, while the non-image areas are moistened with water, acting as an ink-repellant. This ensures that only the image will be transferred to the paper. Afterwards, the plate is pressed against a rubber blanket' that carries a reverse view of the final image. The rubber blanket then touches the paper, thereby producing the final image on the stamp.
Depending on the type of production, perforations can be made during the printing process with the use of an adjacent equipment or, by applying external machinery after printing. The most commonly used practice is, to perforate the stamps as part of the printing process. When the perforations are done later, the stamp sheets have to be removed from the printer and placed in the machinery used for perforations. This added layer of complexity to the process increases the risk of errors.
Stamps always undergo a quality control at every stage of the printing process, and only rarely are errors missed here. This is the reason why stamps with errors are so rare, and why they are equally expensive.