what? where? no way. Letterpress is crazy expensive. For $160/500 you are getting digital printing, the cheapest and they likely gang up the job with others. just as an example, heres a 4x4" 2 color spot job on FPO that cost $1000 for 500. given cards are have the size, that’d still be $500 for 500 with only 2 colors…
here’s another one at $175 for 200 cards an 2 spots.
I loove letterpress, but everytime i’ve wanted to use it for a client, they always balk at the cost which is normally double digital print (even Indigo digital). If you can do, go for it.
Another alternative I’ve been discussing with my printer lately is a digital print then hitting it with a special kind of die so it has a letterpress-like look, but better registration and color consistency (always impossible with letterpress, though some like the inconsistency).
If you do go digital, see if you can find one that does it on an Indigo machine. Best bet is to contact HP to see who has one in the area. The results are much nicer, and you also have more finishing and stock options. Normal digital is done on a docucolor at most places which is glorified photocopier.
For digital, normally getting proofs is part of the process and shouldn’t cost more. Unless it’s one of those super cheap places like $100/1000 cards in which case proof or not you’re gambling on quality.
That said, I did my first cards a few years ago at a local cheap place for $200/1000 with UV gloss 4/0 and have been pretty happy with them and get compliments. Lots of the final look though comes with design. I only actually used two colors and it looks better than if I had 4 as 4 with a gloss coating can look off the shelf very quick.
For most projects, I find it is worth finding a good, small local print shop that deals with designers (not one that does 1000s of cheap club flyers) and speak to them to see what you can creatively for cheap. Often you’d be surprised where you can spend a little but have a big effect. For example, I recently did some cards on padding board (the cardboard you get on the back of a pad) with round cornering and a small drilled hole, 4/4 digital and they were super cheap (and did only low qty), but looked super custom because of the paper, design, corners and hole. Plus, knowing what the printer can do in house, and what they send out for (ie. full UV is normally in-house but sport UV, foil, or stamping is out), can allow you to better negotiate and get the most effective design vs. price. The printer is your friend.