For the love of letterpress: Two Tone Press makes custom wedding invitations in KC

Sisters Michelle and Angie Dreher own and operate Two Tone Press in midtown Kansas City.
Sisters Michelle and Angie Dreher own and operate Two Tone Press in midtown Kansas City.

Michelle and Angie Dreher are more than sisters — they’re also business partners and roommates.

The Drehers own and operate Two Tone Press, a letterpress print shop at 3121 Gillham Road in midtown Kansas City. They live together in the same building, which was constructed in 1925 for a female entrepreneur who started a thriving business by laundering French lace for her former employers.

Wedding invitations account for around half of Two Tone Press’s business. The Drehers use 50-year-old machines to make bright, modern invites with unique designs. Think cassette tapes, library books and military air mail.

Many of the invitations feature hand-drawn elements by Michelle, who studied illustration and printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute.

KC Weddings: What do you like about making wedding invitations?

Angie Dreher: We always say the wedding invitation is a couple’s first introduction to people. They’re saying ‘This is our style; this is what we like.’

Michelle Dreher: There’s a lot of pressure that comes with making invitations for this special day. We print each sheet one at a time, one color at a time. We really enjoy working with clients one-on-one. It’s very satisfying to hit that mark and make a couple really happy with the end result.

KCW: What trends are you noticing?

MD: The ‘handmade’ look is a trend. Navy is pretty popular. Previously, gray was really popular.

KCW: Do you have any favorite invitations?

AD: My favorite was a tri-fold invitation with a silver moon and holographic paper on the outside. Then you open it up and it’s a full-color solar eclipse design, with twilight colors in the background. (The couple) gave us quite a lot of freedom on that one.

MD: That one was unusual because I hand-cut the background blocks. I really enjoy the ones where I get to do some drawing, some stronger illustrations. We made a compass wedding invitation with sunflowers and black-eyed Susans. I’m drawn to nontraditional pieces like that — but I do like a nice clean invitation that’s really sharp, like the Kansas City skyline with stars.

KCW: Tell us about the equipment you use.

MD: Our presses come from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. They were originally used for newspapers to proof type. So these were just test presses. After new technology was developed in the late ‘70s, these became obsolete. They got shoved into garages and warehouses or melted down for metal. There were around 38,000 presses made, but now there might be just over 2,000 left. In the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, there was a resurgence where artists would pick up these machines for super cheap or even free. They started to revitalize the letterpress business.

KCW: What do you love about these machines?

MD: What really drew me to the process is how simple these mechanisms are. You have a motor that’s turning, a wheel that turns the rollers. Some of these machines are over 100 years old, and they’re still working.

We named them after ‘80s pop stars: Bowie, Lennox, The Boss. They all hold a special place in our hearts.

KCW: What makes a letterpress invitation special?

MD: The tactile quality, the richness of the colors. We’re physically pressing ink into paper. These have a rich quality you can’t replicate.

KCW: How much do they cost?

AD: You can probably get a super-simple invitation for around $400. Our average invitation is $800 to $1,500, but the cost varies on pieces and the number of colors.

KCW: How do couples decide on a design?

MD: Most brides and grooms come in with some ideas. We have a set of questions that we ask: ‘What are their colors? What styles are they drawn to, traditional or nontraditional? Geometric or organic?’

KCW: What inspires you?

MD: Sometimes the visuals come from the (wedding) location. Recently we did invitations for a wedding at The American Restaurant. They have these really beautiful ceiling lights, so we pulled that pattern and put them on the invitation.

KCW: How did you two become so close?

MD: Our dad was in the military, so we moved around quite a bit. We lived in Germany and Korea before he retired in Oklahoma. Sometimes, we didn’t have anyone else to play with — we had to hang out with each other. We were close growing up but in the last few years of working closely together we really got to know each other’s quirks and personalities.

AD: Our personalities are complementary. I like to call Michelle the chisel. I’m more of a hammer. I see the bigger picture, Michelle is more into the fine details.

KCW: What’s the best part about working with your sister?

AD: No matter what we do, we’re still family — and you have to love your family.