Finishing techniques include cutting and creasing, varnishing, laminating, embossing and foil applications.

As a leading digital agency our primary focus for our clients is design & build of new websites and launching digital marketing campaigns. However with our agency routes deriving from the print industry we still love working on creative print jobs so we've taken the time to explore some of our favorite creative print finishing techniques. Enjoy!


Summary: Main finishes available

There are many different finishes that can be added to the final print job, and again is classed as print finishing being a final procedure.

  • Lamination – The most common finish is a lamination. This is where a plastic film is heated onto the paper. The finish can either be a gloss, silk or matt lamination.
  • UV Varnish - This is a cheaper alternative to lamination, and is a varnish rather than a film, and gives a high gloss finish.
  • Spot uv varnish - This is where perhaps pictures or images are picked out in gloss or matt uv.
  • Embossing - This is a raised area, perhaps highlighting a logo or picture.
  • Foil Blocking – A technique to apply an image to paper or board using metal foil. This technique is normally used for prestigious literature

 Printing: letterpress, lithography and gravure

These printing techniques require more expensive equipment, but will be found in commercial graphics manufacturing.

Letterpress printing

This method was originally done with moveable type. It is a form of relief printing - where the parts to be printed, both type and illustrations, are raised up from the base plate. It is commonly used for small printing jobs such as business cards and stationery. Illustrations for letterpress printing are made by a photographic process. Types of letterpress printing machines are:

  • Platen press The paper is pressed against the printing plate by a flat piece of metal called a platen. The plate is inked by rollers as the platen is opened.
  • Sheet-fed rotary press These have a curved printing surface and can print single sheets at a high speed.
  • Flat sheets are fed between the plate and a pressure roller.
  • Flat-cylinder press The printing plate is flat and paper is passed over it by a rotary pressure roller.

Letterpress printing is not often used now, as it is time-consuming to set up the loose type and make the plates, and there is only a limited range of fonts and styles.


Letterpress printing of newspapers. Nowadays flexography or offset-litho presses are used.


This is similar to letterpress printing. It uses a relief image and thin, flexible printing plates made of rubber or photopolymer. The image on the plates is produced by a photographic process, and the inks are quick-drying thin liquids. Flexography can be used to print on materials such as cellophane, polythene and metallic films, so the technique is used for printing plastic shopping bags and packaging for food products. It is also used to print newspapers and paperback books.


This is the most widely used method of printing today, and is equally good for colour work as for black and white printing. The process works on the principle that oil and greasy substances do not mix with water. The plate to be printed is coated with a type of grease, then rinsed, dampened with water and coated with ink. The ink only sticks to the parts of the plate that are not wet with water. The plate is fixed to a cylinder, paper is fed through and the image is transferred onto the paper.

Offset-lithography machines work using the same principle, but the paper does not come into direct contact with the printing plate, as the image is first transferred to a rubber roller. The printing plates for lithography are made by a photographic process. Lithography is used for medium and long printing runs of products such as magazines, posters, packaging and books.


For this process, the image to be printed is made up of small holes sunk into the surface of the printing plate. The cells are filled with ink and the excess is scraped off the surface, then a rubber-covered roller presses paper onto the surface of the plate and into contact with the ink in the cells. The printing plates are usually made from copper and may be produced by engraving or etching. Gravure printing is used for long, high-quality print runs such as magazines, mail-order catalogues, packaging, and printing onto fabric and wallpaper. It is also used for printing postage stamps and decorative plastic laminates, such as kitchen worktops.


Finishing techniques 

Cutting and creasing

Some printed materials will need to be cut after printing, and, if necessary, creased so that they can be folded. This particularly applies to packaging, but also to pop-up cards and books, and press-out shapes for model making.

A die cutter is the commonest cutting machine. The die supports the material being cut and has a hole or a recess into which a punch made of cutting blades fits exactly. The punch and die are fitted into a punching machine, or sometimes a converted letterpress machine. The work to be cut is fitted into the machine and the punch lowered down to cut. For creasing, the same technique is used, but with blunt blades that will crease the product. Cutting can also be done with a CNC cutter.

Die Cutting

Die Cutting can be used to produce different shapes on most papers & boards (including thicker display boards). Also most pockets for folders and apertures are achieved using this process



Gloss Varnishing


A gloss varnish is often used to enhance the appearance of printed photographs in brochures or flyers, as the coating reflects back the light and makes colours appear richer and more vivid. A gloss coating can add impact to your print, especially in sales or promotional material, where optimum presentation of images is paramount.

Matte Varnishing


A matte (or matt - the spellings are interchangeable) varnish gives the printed surface a non-glossy, smooth look. This type of seal is sometimes considered to ‘soften’ the appearance of a printed image. Small text in a leaflet or booklet is easier to read on a surface coated with matt vanish as the coating scatters the light, reducing glare.

Silk / Satin Varnishing


Naturally enough, this coating represents the ‘middle ground’ between the two above, being neither as glossy as a true gloss, nor as subtle as a matt.

Machine Sealing


A machine seal is a basic, and virtually invisible coating applied to a printed item by the printer. It does not affect the appearance of the job, but as it ‘seals’ the ink under a protective coat, the printer need not wait so long for the job to be dry enough to handle. It is often used when producing fast turnaround printing such as leaflets on matt and satin (silk) papers, as inks dry more slowly on these materials.

UV Varnishing


Ultra Violet (UV) Varnishing is a process for achieving an even more striking type of coating on your printed material. Requiring the use of special Ultraviolet drying machinery, a UV coating is like a deluxe version of the non-UV varnishes, with the varnish appearing noticeably richer and more luxurious. A UV varnish can be applied as either an all-over coating, or as a spot varnish:

All-over UV varnish


Simply put, this is a UV seal applied all over the printed surface. A gloss UV varnish seal is the most common type of all-over UV varnish, (perhaps because this finish really does give a very high gloss effect, more so than with a laminate in many cases) although silk and matt are also available.

Spot UV Varnish



As the name suggests, 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, but it also provides the additional visual stimulus of having varied textures on a single printed surface. This adds a lot of interest, and can identify the printing as a premium piece of literature in the perception of the reader.

One very effective technique is to apply a UV gloss spot varnish on top of matt laminated printing. This achieves maximum contrast between the highly reflective shiny UV coating and the light-absorbing matt laminate, and can, for instance, create a striking first impression on presentation folders or a brochure cover.

Textured Spot UV Varnish



In four finishes: Sandpaper, Leather, Crocodile Skin and Raised

A textured spot UV varnish allows the creative designer not only to surprise the recipient of the printing with a mix of textures on the same printed surface, but also to reinforce the tactile properties of the product he or she is depicting. For example, a manufacturer of ornamental glassware could use a raised effect gloss UV varnish to give a highly reflective, 3-dimensional portrayal of a featured piece of glass work, or an interior design company could use a combination of leather, sandpaper or crocodile skin varnishes to highlight some of the different textures the company works with.


Foil Blocking

These finishes can provide the ultimate in decorative appeal. They are not limited to gold and silver foils, but extend to an impressive range of pigmented,holographic and security foils.

All of these can be combined with embossed images to produce varying tactile effects – any one of which will enhance the printed message and provide shelf appeal for greetings cards, cartons, magazine covers, brochures etc.

A technique where a metallic foil is applied to a specific area of a printed sheet (such as a logo) to create an eye catching shiny effect. The method uses heat and pressure too apply the foil and the result is a much shinier finish than normal Metallic inks. However, it is more expensive as it requires special tools to be made.


Embossing / debossing

Embossing gives you the opportunity to enhance your print with stunning 3-D effects. Embossing is particularly effective when used in conjunction with our other processes i.e matt lamination and spot U.V with the spot U.V image embossed out of the lamination or foilblocking and embossing… Let your imagination run wild!

Subtly highlights specific areas by adding a 3D effect. Often used with foiling and laminating.

Embossing is the stamping of a design into paper or card to produce a raised effect, whereas blind embossing uses no ink or foil – the design is only visible as a raised area. Debossing, on the other hand, creates a depression rather than an impression.




Thermography adds an exciting new dimension to printed products by producing a raised finish to selected areas, such as a heading or logo, to highlight them. It can also be used as a less expensive alternative to Hot Foil Printing.

Different thermorgraphic powders will produce different finishes.

  • Metallic powders produce a high gloss metallic sheen, and come in silver, gold, bronze and copper.
  • Glitter powders can be mixed with tinsel, sequins and shiny flecks to produce a sparkling effect.
  • Fluorescent powders produce a brightly coloured finish.
  • Pearlescent powders produce an iridescent sheen.

Popular uses for Thermography include:

  • Corporate stationery
  • Presentation folders
  • Report covers
  • Invitations
  • Packaging
  We hope have enjoyed reading this article. For more marketing insights and agency tips check out more articles via our blog.
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