A Guide to Popular Printing Techniques

Note: I will be using a few print design terminologies here, and if you’re unfamiliar with some of these terms, you can get up to speed by reading my guide on preparing your work for print.

Embossing/Debossing

Embossing and dembossing are similar processes that create a different result. Both processes involve making a metal plate and a counter. The plate is mounted on a press and the paper is stamped between the plate and counter. This force of pressure pushes the stock into the plate, creating the impression.

Embossing produces a raised impression on your paper stock, while debossing creates a depressed impression.

Things to remember when designing for a piece that includes embossing/debossing:

  • Be aware that embossing is a mechanical process that manipulates the paper stock, so by default, it will also manipulate your design.
  • Set your type with more space between letters than usual. If you put them too close to one another, they can merge and become one element once the embossing has been done. Embossing makes design elements look smaller and reduces the sharpness of smaller items.

There are two ways you can emboss your work at home: dry embossing and heat embossing.

Dry embossing, also called relief embossing, is done by tracing a stencil with some paper over it with a special tool called a stylus to get the raised effect on it.

Heat embossing, also referred to as stamp and heat embossing, is done by stamping an image on a piece of paper, sprinkling powder over the stamped image, and then applying heat.

embossed card

From Amanda Woodward found on Flickr.

debossed card

From tasteofinkstudios.com

embossed card

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Silk Lamination/Lamination

Silk lamination provides a soft, silk-like finish, is water-resistant and tear-resistant, and complements vibrant colors. Pieces are traditionally printed in full-color, like any regular business card, however one additional step is taken to get their unique texture — the cardstock is coated with a durable, weather-resistant, silk laminate
finish.

Lamination can be a liquid that dries to a tough gloss or dull surface, or it can be a film. Both adhere to the surface to protect it and give it a sheen or a muted effect. The effect could be glossy, dull, or even satin (a look that’s in between glossy and dull).

silk laminate business card

silk laminate business card

Varnish

A varnish is a liquid coating applied to a printed surface to add a clear glossy, matte, satin, or neutral finish. Here are the types of varnishes:

Varnish Type Description
Gloss Varnishing A gloss varnish gives the printed surface a glossy, sheen look.
Matte Varnishing A matte varnish gives the printed surface a non-glossy, smooth look.
Silk or Satin Varnishing A satin varnish gives the printed surface a neither a high gloss or matte, but the middle ground.
UV Varnishing Ultraviolet (UV) varnishing is a process for achieving an even more striking type of coating on your printed material.
All-over UV varnish Simply put, this is a UV seal applied all over the printed surface.
Spot UV Varnish A spot varnish is applied to chosen spots (areas) of a printed piece. This has the affect of highlighting and drawing attention to that part of the design.

Spot Gloss

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Spot Gloss.

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Foil

To get the gold /silver stamp, a foil layer is affixed to a certain material by a heating process. It isn’t too complicated of a process and getting the files ready are quite similar to uv-spot printing. See my guide on preparing files for print as a reference and talk with your printer about how to supply the files. Foil printing normally requires vector images and/or outlined fonts of what you want to have stamped.

Gold Foil

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Silver Foil

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Silver Foil on plastic

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Thermography

Thermography produces raised printing similar in appearance to engraving, but using a different process for attaining the effect.

In thermography, a special powder is added to the ink that is to be printed on the paper. The printed piece is heated, causing the powder and ink mixture to dry, which in turn results in a raised effect on the paper.

Thermography business card

From Demetrio Mancini

Die Cut

Die cut involves cutting irregular shapes in paper or paperboard using a die. A die can be used in printing for cutting, scoring, stamping, embossing and debossing. Dies are normally custom pieces, but your printer will usually have some standard dies (such as for rounded corners) available if you don’t need a custom template; check with your printer to see what they have — it may help reduce the cost of printing a special piece.

die cut business card.

From tasteofinkstudios.com

die cut business card.

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Letterpress

Letterpress is the oldest printing process. In this method, a surface with raised letters is inked and pressed to the surface of the printing substrate to reproduce an image in reverse.

Typically, metal type has been used, but other possibilities include carved wood or stone blocks. Most popularly used on wedding invitations, this process can also be used to create unique business cards as well as other custom printed products.

Letterpress business card

From iglooletterpress.com

Letterpress business card

From tasteofinkstudios.com

Silk Screening

Screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that allows ink to transfer onto the material. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink past the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas.

Gradient on the shape, finished.

From PataPri

Gradient on the shape, finished.

From PataPri

Gradient on the shape, finished.

From PataPri

Printing Technique Summary Table

Here are the 8 printing techniques mentioned in this guide.

Printing Technique Description
Embossing/Debossing Embossing creates a raised impression on stock, debossing creates a depressed impression on stock.
Silk Lamination/Lamination Silk lamination provides a soft, silk-like finish, is water-resistant, is tear-resistant, and complements vibrant colors. The effect could be glossy, dull, or satin.
Varnish A varnish is a liquid coating applied to a printed surface to add a clear glossy, matte, satin, or neutral finish.
Foil A foil layer is affixed to a certain material by a heating process.
Thermography Thermography produces raised printing similar in appearance to engraving.
Die Cut Die cut involves cutting irregular shapes in paper or paperboard using a die.
Letterpress A surface with raised letters is inked and pressed to the surface of the printing substrate to reproduce an image in reverse.
Silk Screening A printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that allows ink to transfer onto the material.
  • Hm.. Interesting printing techniques. I haven`t know about these tips, when I will make my own business card, I will know which technique to use πŸ™‚

  • Nice post… I like the information. Very well written and easy to read. The card examples are sick. I checked out more cards by that studio. Sick stuff – nice find author.

  • Mmm, beautiful printing techniques. #nomnom. Haha! Great little guide.

  • Nick

    Its nice to be reminded of the possibilities there are.
    Thanks for the article.

  • This is a great article, thanks for sharing Ciara. I love Letterpress. Check out The Mandate Press @ http://themandatepress.com/. They do some really cool stuff.

  • very cool stuff thanks for sharing the link

  • I also enjoyed this article very much. It’s always cool to explore the possibilities with print and finishes. Some of these techniques are really cool but I have never been able to find a good printer who can actually produce any of these. Does anybody know of any printers that can do stuff like this without breaking the bank?

  • Great article. Very useful, learnt a lot! Thanks for sharing.

  • Glad you liked it eric I can’t say who to go to in NY but I have often used jakprints.com for digital runs but I highly recommend http://www.yorkeprinte.com/ in IL for the special stuff they do alot of work with AIGA in Chicago. This is a recent piece of theirs http://news.mohawkpaper.com/?p=4186 but you can see more of their stuff linked from their twitter. Hope you get to use some of the techniques.

  • le

    This is exactly what i learned from working at the printers! great article! πŸ™‚

  • Awesome post and roundup. Thanks!

  • This line-up leaves out offset printing and digital printing, the two most common ways of printing. The descriptions are fairly general and don’t hint at how very expensive these techniques can be. Designers often get all excited about the WOW! COOL! factor, but is it in the client’s budget?

  • Nashville is a printing hub and you can get outstanding work there at a reasonable price. I represent one; comment here if you’re interested.

  • Hi Kim,

    As I mentioned in my intro “you don’t always get the chance to work with these really amazing printing techniques or even figure them into your budget”, by far the most popular, well-known and widely used printing is offset and digital, I probably do 95% digital printing but there is aleast one or two clients who DO have it in the printing budget to do something different. I think that printing is a discussion that generally starts in the concepting stage to see what you can rule in and rule out of your design. I am not saying that these techniques don’t come with a price tag but by the examples above there is a market for it and people are willing to pay for it. I just received a direct mail from Sprint digitally printed but that has a pretty cool die-cut. This article was merely a guide to other printing techniques that are often overlooked normally due to tight budgets, but it is still nice to know what is available and out there after all who doesn’t like options.

  • I would love to see Photoshop tutorials on all these so I can incorporate them into web design! πŸ™‚

  • Brilliant guide for the novices out there, a great article for reference.

  • that is defiantly something I will look into πŸ˜‰

  • shilpa sharma

    Best link I have come across on printing techniques. Thanks for sharing the knowledge!!

  • A great guide, thanks for the advice, I wonder the addition on price for each different technique.

  • Great post about some nice print techniques! This is definitely going to give me some inspiration πŸ™‚

  • one to bookmark!..thanks! πŸ™‚

  • Hi Kieran,

    That would all depend on quantity I believe, but I welcome any printer interested in posting a price or a url to a basic price list.

  • Fantastic post – thanks so much! Well written and easy to follow with great pics. Much appreciated.

  • Great Post Ciara! I’ll definitely be using this with my Graphic Arts class this coming school year!

  • glad you liked it

  • Great article – so glad I found your site.

  • Well written. At least, I know what technique will be used for my bizcard later. πŸ˜€
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Great Staff, really like the the way this post is so lekker writen. Great printing techniques.

    Thanks.

    Very very cool.

  • The onset of Digital Print has all but done away with most of these methods, but Digital Ptinr simply cannot replicate all of them. I long to be asked to emboss, or foil, or silk screen anything.

    Alas, it’s always “Just print it”

  • I’d love to find a book that catalogs all of these processes, with examples–a la AIGA’s SpecLogix from 2003. Does anyone have suggestions? Thanks!

  • We have some menus on card stock that I want to give a finish too. Can you use a normal spar varnish to coat the paper? Or is there a special “paper” varnish to use?

  • Prasanth

    Hi I m very much interested to learn about printing where do i get free e-books to learn about different kinds of printing it’s paper quality, art boards, inks, etc …. Does anybody have the link to download or any idea’s on it pls kindly post it on ……
    Hope to hear more about printing soon ….

  • Prasanth

    Hi I m very much interested to learn about printing where do i get free e-books to learn about different kinds of printing it’s paper quality, art boards, inks, etc …. Does anybody have the link to download or any idea’s on it pls kindly post it on ……
    Hope to hear more about printing soon ….
    Kindly pls share the details at earliest !!

  • Great article. This is a good reference piece for designers looking to make their print piece stand out. Great examples of each technique. Thanks!

  • Nice samples of different techniques. Thank you πŸ™‚

  • sakhawat Ali khan

    good techniques Iam interested to learn books diffent kind printing. Kindly printing shsre the detals at earlest. Sample of defrent techniques. Thankyou

  • Chris Daniels

    Great post with great examples.Since this was posted there is another method using the new Scodix technology. The best way to describe it is raised spot UV but it is a digital process so it can be multi layered and textured and each image can unique (like a name on a postcard. AccuLink recently purchased the first Scodix 1200 press in the U.S. and offer digital spot UV we call 3D UV. Check out this blog post on it and the video there. http://accuchris.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/3d-uv-makes-your-marketing-really-stand-out/
    I hope others will continue to add to this post as more print techniques are developed.
    Thank You

  • Thanks for the detailed work.. helpful πŸ™‚

  • All the extra bells and whistles added to your business card will leave a great impression with your customers.

  • Thank you for sharing this very cool tips of yours! Keep it up!

  • We are printing our business cards and it is great to come across your website. Very useful information. Now I can go to my printer fully aware of what to ask for. Thanks

  • Raymond

    Thank you for sharing. This was a useful guide~

  • These are great ideas that you have shared. Silk screening never fails to be one of the top printing methods because it is primarily used for the manufacture of promotional clothes. Although this can be done on your own, reliable printing companies can give you the best results for bulk printing needed in less time.

  • This was an amazingly useful resource. Thanks for posting it.

  • manoj

    very well knowledge of you. thanks for it

  • Mohamed

    Thank you! This was very helpful, well presented and organized.

    Cheers!

  • NIK PATEL

    Thank you, this is an awesome post!

  • Mark Morehouse

    I was hoping to also find information on pad printing and heat transfer printing. My company wants to order bags with our logo printed on it, and the company offers those 2 types of printing as well as silk screen which you covered. I’m trying to understand which might be best and also any ways I might have to customize my design to avoid problems depending on which method I choose. I had never heard of pad printing before. Do you have any information about these 2 printing methods?

  • I agree, great looking cards. I really like the letter press style of designs. Does anyone know how this effect can be done with modern technologies?
    Thanks.

  • Mona Jafarian

    Amazing post! Thanks for gathering all these info in one place.

  • There are five types of Printing namely:
    1. Offset Lithography
    2.Letterpress
    3. Digital Printing
    4. Engraving
    5. Electrostatic Printing

  • lois

    This is really educational. Thank you!

  • Linda Prentiss

    For just a few prints, you can use photographic copies of type on transparencies, then make a solarplate, (solarplate.com) and print on a traditional etching press to simulate letterpress. If you took etching in school, you will understand how to print it. Still much easier, quicker and cheaper for most people just to send it out to be printed by a letterpress studio. They use either the oldfashioned metal type or a similar sort of solar prep for images and writing, then print with a letterpress (Vandercook) press. I learned how to do it at “The Arm” in Brooklyn.

  • Interesting…I came across this while looking for images to get ideas for business card design. This post has certainly helped and made me realise there are tones of possibilities beyond the usual rectangular card.

  • Elsa

    Hi! I wanted to know if there are machines for the emboss and foil technique that I can use at home?

  • Elsa,

    There are embossing machines available at hobby stores and craft stores. However if you’re looking for heavier duty, robust machines, they will be a lot more expensive.

    Take a look at the Cricut Cuttlebug embossing machine if that suits your embossing needs at home. For larger, more specialized jobs, finding a local printer will be best.

  • Poshanjeet

    Hi
    very Informative Article on printing process
    As Not many people Know about these
    I Am as well running a Printing Firm Specially Hot Foil And Embossing
    Love the Way you Describe the Methods of printing

  • FAYYAZ ALI

    its a very useful guide specially for a layman who intend to work in a printing press. thanks i personally learn a lot from this guide.

  • stephen

    Seeing this presentation am love with letterpress and foiling I want to know more thanks

  • stephen

    Debossing and embossing process I need more awareness on it

  • Penny

    A great list, thank you.

    I wonder, could someone possibly put them in a list of most expensive to least expensive? I know they vary massively depending where you go and what you’re having printed, but as a general rule to use as a guide, can anyone help with this at all?

  • peter

    fantastic..! i realy luv diz. and i also pray 4 me 2 b able to make it up to u someday…..

  • Will Page

    Thank you for this concise guide. All I am thinking is… “Now, that wasn’t so hard was it?” Well explained!

  • Julie Kreger

    You can’t replicate this with modern technologies. There are letter press printers out there that can print this way.

  • Mich

    Wow THANK YOU, I’ve spent the whole weekend trying to find this exact information. Something to take the mundane & give it that little bit extra to make it standout. Thank you for sharing this πŸ™‚

  • victor

    Thank u… A clear statement

  • Naad

    This is really helpful and simplified. It cleared all the confusion I had. Thank you so much, You made my life a lot easier and saved a lot of time.

    THANK YOU πŸ™‚

  • mahesh

    Thanks for this hole informatian its really nice

  • lydia

    Thanks for this very helpful guide!

    I am trying to find out if it is possible to foil print at home with a basic letterpress machine? I’m trying to create a gold font embossed effect on a small area of card…

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  • Alao Akinpelu Tomiwa

    refreshing write ups am a printet but have also gain here

  • Russell

    really, and will like to know more about this printing stuff

  • Christopher Hanlon

    Hi Karen. I am printing a label for a perfume bottle that has gold foil. Can I print UV VARNISH on top of the foil so the foil is protected from the the liquid contents of the cosmetic/perfume?

    Kindest Regards
    Christopher Hanlon

  • sukhvinder singh

    simple clean and to the point.

    Loved it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Debasish Sahu

    Please send me details different types of printing and machinery.

  • Ibrahim

    I quite really enjoy the post. it is well educative.

  • Ibrahim

    thanks for the information

  • Natalia Brook

    Really i appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge. The topic here i found was really effective to the topic which i was researching for a long time.
    http://lexmark-printer-support.uk/

  • Waoo thanks for distributing a awesome information regards the online label printing services or more in Thailand…
    http://www.worldsticker.co.th/en/our-service/