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The Essential Guide to Print Finishes

tutorials , The Essential Guide to Print Finishes

Want to know your die cutting from your foiling? Confused about the difference between embossing and debossing? 

This straightforward guide will introduce you to some of the most popular print finishes, and how you can adapt your digital artwork for them.

What are ‘print finishes’? 

When you send off artwork to a professional printer, the process might not only involve printing your design. After the print job is finished, you might also want to add special effects to your printed product, such as bringing in metallic finishes or cutting your document to give it unusual edges. The printer will be able to create most of these print finishes (also known as post-print effects) in-house, or in some cases, can send your printed items off to a print finishes specialist.

Either way, it’s a great idea to wise up on the post-print effects you can ask for and what they might be suitable for. You’ll end up with a beautiful final print product…and a very happy printer!

Read on to learn more about the five most commonly used post-print effects…

1. Die Cutting 

Die cutting works in the same sort of way as a pastry cutter—the printer will create a custom die (or use a standardized one for popular cutting shapes, such as for rounded corners) and attach this to a die-cutting machine. The printed item is placed in the machine, and the die is pressed onto the item, creating a cut-out shape.

Dies are also used for other print finishes / post-print effects, such as embossing and scoring.

Use this print finish for: Business cards which require rounded corners; invitations and greetings cards with cut-outs, perhaps to allow the inside of the card to be partly visible when closed. Die cutting should be used for jobs which involve a particular cut-out shape to be repeated across a large batch of items, as the cost of producing a custom die can be high. For more flexibility, you should check out laser cutting instead (see below).

post-print effects graphic design print design die cutting die cut

Design: Ryan Romanes

2. Laser Cutting 

Laser cutting is another method of cutting out shapes and edges, but instead uses laser technology to cut your printed item. The laser-cutting machine is hooked up to a computer, which directs the output of a high-power laser beam, cutting the material in the process.

Laser cutting is better suited to creating ornate, detailed shapes. Because the process is digital, and does not use manual tools as with die cutting, the margin for error is minimal—perfect for items which require a delicate touch. Laser cutting is a print finish often used in exclusive packaging and luxury stationery.

Use this print finish for: Wedding and event invitations which you want to look extra-special; stationery items that need a luxurious touch; arts and crafts items.

post-print effects graphic design print design die cutting laser cut

UNLIMITED DOWNLOADS: 50 Million+ Fonts & Design Assets

Design: Avie Designs

3. Foiling 

This print finish, also referred to as foil stamping or hot foiling, is the process of applying a metallic or colored foil to your printed item. This is done using a heated die placed into a foil stamping machine.

While metallics are more commonly used in the foiling process, producing gold, silver or copper tones, you can also use foiling to apply a particularly pigmented color that might otherwise be difficult to produce effectively through CMYK printing alone—neons or pastels are examples that might benefit from foiling.

Use this print finish for: Any print item to which you’d like to add a metallic or highly-pigmented touch. Foiling often works best in small doses, so pick out a single or pair of elements that you’d like to highlight in foil.

Top Tip: Foiling normally requires vector images and/or outlined fonts of the details that you want to have stamped. Place these on a separate layer or in a separate artwork (e.g. PDF) file to make it clear which elements you would like the foil to be applied to.

post-print effects graphic design print design foiling hot foil metallic

Design: Paper Bow London

4. Varnishing 

Varnishing is the process of applying a liquid coating to specified elements on your printed item. The process can add a tactile, 3D finish to your designs, and comes in a variety of options—matte, glossy, satin or UV. Ultraviolet (UV) varnishing results in a particularly high-gloss, shiny coating. It is created on a special machine that uses ultraviolet light to ‘cure’ the coating and achieve the final effect.

Use this print finish for: Print items that aren’t particularly colorful. Varnishing adds wonderful texture and interest to monochrome or single-color designs. Varnishing also adds an extra tactile dimension to packaging designs, being particularly suited to items which will be held once picked off the shelves.

post-print effects graphic design print design varnishiing uv varnish gloss

Design: Girl&Boy for Inkmedix

5. Embossing and Debossing 

Embossing and debossing are related processes, both created using a metal plate and a counter. The plate is mounted onto a press and the paper item is stamped between the plate and counter. The pressure pushes the paper into the plate, creating the embossed or depressed effect.

Embossing creates a raised impression on the paper, giving the design a three-dimensional appearance.

post-print effects graphic design print design embossing

Design: Pressure Printing Inc (PPI) for Gold Bug

Debossing creates the reverse effect, pushing the paper downwards to create a depression in the stock.

post-print effects graphic design print design debossing

Design: Studio Thomson for Liberty Fabric

Use these print finishes for: Book covers for hardbacks or special-editions—embossing and debossing add an old-fashioned dimension to books which is less “look-at-me” than foil or varnish. Vintage-style stationery will also be enhanced by a touch of embossing or debossing.

Now you know your way around some of the most common print finishes and post-print effects, brush up on your print preparation skills with our two-part beginners guide.

Or head over to our Tutorials page to pick up more tips for creating print-ready design work.