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Print Design: Most common Print Finishes


Print finishes include a wide range of processes for designers to investigate and use, but generally spoken print finishes can intensify the aesthetics and tactility of a printed product by adding a decorative aspect to a piece, or a textural quality.

In this article I would like to give you some basic explanations of the various print finishes that are available, but still the best thing to do is to talk about this with your (local) printer.

Get some advice on which techniques and materials are available and ask for some similar examples. This is also a great opportunity to ask technical specifications for your ongoing print project and any other questions you may have.

Overprint Varnish

It is a colorless coating that is applied over the total print design, to protect it from smudges and fingerprints. I use this especially when I’m printing business cards, because these marketing-tools are hand-outs (fingerprints).

Spot UV

Spot UV varnish is available in gloss, matt and satin. UV coatings come in liquid or paste forms and remain as a liquid or paste until exposed to ultraviolet light. It can be applied discretely to selected areas of a printed page to highlight or emphasise that selection.

Very stunning effect, works best with matt lamination for producing a very effective contrast that highlights pictures or text (the subject will appear to jump off the page) and this process also gives off a different texture.

  • matte – Gives a smooth finish to the printed pages, increases readability but gives loss of fine image detail.
  • satin/silk – Provides some highlight, but is not as flat as a matte varnish.
  • gloss – Used to enhance the appearance of photographs (high detail images) or other graphic elements.


Matt or gloss, a thin plastic coating heat sealed onto one or both sides of a printed sheet. Lamination has several benefits;  Enhances look and protects from moisture and handling so ideal for covers. It also helps to increase sheet stability or rigidity and can make work waterproof and tear-proof.

Foil Blocking

The process is achieved by pressing coloured foil onto a substrate with a heated die, which causes the foil to separate from its backing, leaving the design of the die on the paper.

This can be pigment or metallic foil, often gold or silver (as provides a truly “metallic” look), but can also be various patterns or what is known as pastel foil which is a flat opaque color or white special film-backed material. A logo or area of type can be printed in a solid (opaque) foil.

print finishes

Embossing and Debossing

Embossing is where an image is pressed into the material so that the image raises from the surface. Embossing is basically used to create a distinctive effect. Used in combination with foil stamping, embossing is a process that alters the surface of paper stock or other substrates by providing a three dimensional or raised effect on selected areas.

The three factors that need to be controlled during the embossing process are:

  1. Pressure
  2. Heat
  3. Die Depth

Debossing refers to an effect that is opposite of embossing, in stead of the paper being raised in specific design areas, it is indented. An uncoated stock usually gives the best effect.


Letterpressing is relief printing of text and image. A reversed, raised surface is inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper to obtain a positive right-reading image, giving the design both color and depth. This technique is suitable for vector images and text, using solid Pantone inks.

Die Cut

When a piece needs to be cut to a specific shape that is not square/rectangular a die needs to be made from which the piece is stamped out. The die is used to cut away specified sections of the design in order to create a decorative and tactile effect or to reveal a part of the proceeding page.

Kiss cut

To die cut the top layer but not the backing of self-adhesive paper – used for labels on a sheet for example


Perforation is a process that generates rows of small holes through a substrate which weaken it along their axis and make tearing or folding easy.

Perforations can be applied to paper stocks and other substrates either while the job is being printed (online) or they can be applied before or after the job is printed (off-line). Often used on leaflets where you want someone to easily respond by tearing off part of the page.

Pattern Perf

Pattern perforation is often required in the printing of promotional coupons or similar items that need to be separated, typically for return mailing. Pattern perforation describes the process of applying perforation in a specified location, this can be for (big) texts or even images or graphics.


The print finishes described above, can give your project a great decorative and memorable effect. As with substrates, finishes can be used to enhance messages and communicate meanings to audiences.


Author: Jan Rajtoral

Jan Rajtoral AKA Gonzo the Great is the Founder of and Designer at gonzodesign, providing design services across the full spectrum of Brand Identity, Graphic Design, Print and Advertising Design & Website Design.


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  1. Hi Welsh Designer,

    can’t disagree with you on that one ;-P

    Thanks for your comment, Cheers & Ciao ..

  2. You can’t beat a matt laminate with spot UV. It just screams professional.

  3. Hi Esther,

    thanks for your comment, I love these techniques too! Hope to use ’embossing or debossing’ once in my lifetime, .. never done that before!

    Cheers & Ciao ..

  4. LOVE this sort of info! Thnkx Gonzo! You can make it more desirable if I would be able to print it out really nicely. You are now pinned to the wall and all over the place…a little booklet maybe?