Japanese Architecture Series No. 1 special postage stamp collection produced by the National Printing Bureau using gravure-intaglio printing

First special postage stamp collection in 12 years to be produced with gravure-intaglio printing

Japan Post released a special issue of postage stamps titled Japanese Architecture Series No. 1 on January 8, 2016, as the first in a series featuring typical Japanese architecture.

The stamps were produced using the National Printing Bureau’s proprietary gravure-intaglio printing technique, which was last used 12 years ago for a special stamp issue titled Men of Culture 2004 (released on November 4, 2004).

Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple and the former Crown Prince’s Palace (the State Guest House, Akasaka Palace)
Japanese Architecture Series No. 1

Based on the two motifs of Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple and the former Crown Prince’s Palace (the State Guest House, Akasaka Palace), the stamps were printed using five-color gravure and single-color intaglio inks.

Their sublime designs are owed to a combination of gravure’s smooth gradation and intaglio’s sharp three-dimensional lines. An uncommon engraving technique adopted for Bank of Japan notes was also applied to intaglio parts of the original plate to help prevent forgery.

First stamp booklet in 32 years to be produced with single-color intaglio printing

Japanese Architecture Stamp Album

To commemorate the release of these stamps, Japan Post also issued a product called the Japanese Architecture Stamp Album containing a booklet, two stamps (Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple and the former Crown Prince’s Palace (the State Guest House, Akasaka Palace)) and four sheets of stamps printed with different single-color intaglio inks (black, brown, bluish-gray and red) that depict the beauty of intaglio printing as a highly valued element of fine art.
This is the first issuance of single-color stamps printed with intaglio ink since the release of a special issue titled Birds in Danger of Extinction (Small Sheet) on December 10, 1984.

four sheets of stamps printed with different single-color intaglio inks

Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple

Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple

In addition to black intaglio ink, brown, bluish-gray and red tones were also chosen for these pieces. The collection features Japan’s first stamp, the 48 mon Ryumon stamp, as well as the 5 rin Koban stamp (which was also produced using state-of-the-art early Meiji-era relief printing) and Japan’s first commemorative issue, the 2 sen Meiji Imperial Wedding 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp.

The intaglio printing plate used for Japanese Architecture Series No. 1 was adopted and modified to produce these stamps. To enhance the effect of the single-color intaglio ink, additional lines for the sky and water surface (originally depicted only via color gradation with gravure printing) were engraved on the plate. This resulted in a three-dimensional appearance and texture unique to single-color intaglio stamps.

For more information, see the Japan Post website.

Gravure-intaglio printing by the National Printing Bureau

The National Printing Bureau’s gravure-intaglio printing method enables production using the gravure and intaglio approaches simultaneously.

What is Intaglio Printing?

Intaglio Printing

In intaglio printing, recessed lines on a printing plate are filled with ink that is then directly transferred onto paper. The ink on the sharp lines produced appears three-dimensional under magnification and feels rough to the touch. The technique is also used as an anti-counterfeiting measure for Bank of Japan notes.

With this style of printing, motif outlines and shading are expressed by a combination of fine lines and dots to produce sharp, rich images that have a three-dimensional appearance and texture.

This page also features intaglio print artworks.

Hand-engraving

The stamp album was produced with metal printing plates featuring lines that were hand-engraved using a special tool known as a burin. Skilled craftsmanship is a must for this work, which requires more than ten lines to be engraved within a width of 1 mm.

The Bureau’s unique approach to the process of pre-pressing and printing makes its products more resistant to counterfeiting. Hand-engraving is also effective in preventing forgery, but the method used for postage stamps is primarily intended to support the reproduction of artistry in products.

Gravure printing

Gravure printing

Enlarged print images
Top: offset printing
(assemblage of round dots)
Bottom: gravure printing
(assemblage of diamond shapes)

Gravure printing is also a good way of creating smooth gradations.

Unlike offset printing, which involves combining half-tone dots on a flat printing plate, gravure printing utilizes rhombic depressions etched onto the printing plate. Excess ink is wiped off, and the print image is then transferred to paper using printing-machine impression cylinders. This produces a slightly raised tactile texture.

As the amount of ink applied to the paper depends on the cell size and depth, gravure printing enables photographically picturesque gradation, contrast and texture depiction.

This page also features gravure printing.

Stamp manufacturing process

The National Printing Bureau uses electronic image pre-press processing equipment, after which the plate surface is precisely and efficiently etched with an automatic gravure engraver. Once printed, stamp sheets are perforated and cut to pre-determined dimensions. Finally, the completed stamps are packed for delivery using an automatic finishing system.

Stamp manufacturing process

automatic gravure engraver


Stamps produced using hand-engraving are less common than before, but remain popular among philatelists.


The Japanese Architecture Series No. 1 special postage stamp collection and the Japanese Architecture Stamp Album both showcase the National Printing Bureau’s production techniques. It is hoped that users will enjoy the beauty of these gravure intaglio works.

National Printing Bureau Japan
Public Relations Office

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