From the Printer:
5 Finishes to Elevate your Print Marketing


When I collaborate with designers on high-end printing projects, I love to recommend that they think beyond the paper stock and the ink. Finishing techniques like foil stamping, embossing or debossing, engraving and spot UV coating, when applied thoughtfully can make your printed piece extraordinary. Since you or your designer has put so much thought into design and communication, consider one of these 5 finishes to turn your printed piece into a beautiful and memorable object for the recipient.

What makes letterpress stand out is that it engages the senses. It creates a design you can touch and feel.

Letterpress :

Letterpress printing is the oldest method of commercial printing. The inventor of the relief style printing press was Johannes Gutenberg in the year 1455. It is a printing process whereby raised letters or images pick up ink from a roller and transfer it to the paper leaving a deep impression into the paper. Due to it’s visual and textural qualities many graphic designers like to utilize this print process for stationery systems and invitational designs. What makes letterpress stand out is that it engages the senses. It creates a design you can touch and feel. It has a simple elegance and beauty that is unique unto itself.

Letterpressed business cards for Brooklyn Cocktail bar, Tooker Alley

Foil Stamping :

Foil stamping (aka foil application), typically a commercial printing process, is the application of metallic, holographic or pigmented foil on to a solid surface by the application of a heated die onto foil making it permanently adhere to the surface below leaving the design of the die. Foil stamping, like an exclamation point, often punctuates an emphatic statement of quality and richness to the printed piece - a print finishing technique that leaps off the page with vivid color, texture and dimension.

Foil Stamped Gift Card
Foil Stamped Stationary

Embossing and Debossing:

Embossing simply means to press paper into relief using heat and force. It requires an etched metal (female) die and a matching counter (male) die. When a paper stock is pressed between the heated die and the counter die, the desired image is pressed into the stock. Embossing creates a raised image on the paper. When the same process creates an indented image it is called debossing. These processes create a subtle effect, communicating a quiet sophistication to the printed piece.

Embossed Invitation card
USA Network Debossed Logo


Like letterpress, the process of engraving imposes ink onto paper under intense pressure, creating images with a unique look and feel unavailable through flat printing. Unlike letterpress, however, type and graphics are raised on each piece of paper. To achieve this result, metal plates are etched with a recessed image. The metal plates are then hand-aligned on the press. Once aligned, the plate is coated with ink and then blotted using kraft paper to clean the plate, leaving only the image with ink remaining. The paper is then hand-fed and each piece is applied under two tons of pressure (!), creating an embossed image with startling clarity, color purity and depth.

The beauty of engraving is best reserved for formal pieces, as the price and printing style lends itself to more formal occasions. Engraving is best used with fine typefaces. The engraving technique captures fine details in a way unparalleled by other printing methods. Since engraving ink is incredibly opaque, printing white ink on colored stock is a terrific option. Engraving prints white ink beautifully, sitting on top of the paper and creating a bright white color.

Engraved Card with Gold Design

UV Coating:

UV coating, technically is not a “printing” technique but a coating technique for printed materials. It may sound space-aged, but the technique itself is not complex. The most high-tech aspect is that it utilizes UV light to “cure” a varnish that is applied to paper or card stock. This varnish can be applied to plain white cardstock, but is often applied to coat color-printed paper, sealing in the color, adding a high gloss shine and protecting the printed surface underneath from moisture and other types of damage.

UV coating can be applied just to certain areas – “spot UV coating” -- and has the potential to deepen the color of the print. Business cards, brochures and other heavier weight papers or card stocks are best combined with UV coating.

Spot UV coating is a great way to accentuate the printed image. Depending on the desired effect, you can use a high gloss Spot UV on a matte solid background or a dull Spot UV on a glossy solid background. Since UV finishes are clear, they can be applied as a pattern across the entire printed piece without reducing the readability of wording underneath. A heightened contrast is the result of Spot UV coating, unmatched by any other process. It’s an affordable option when thinking about ways to give your printing project a huge visual impact.

Spot UV Coating over an embossed logo, popped against a matte black background

Written by Brick & Wonder member Bob Scott, Owner of Inkwell Solutions.