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Of course, knowing the basics of typography, layout rules, color management, illustration, or any other skill that graphic designers use on a daily basis is a must. Nevertheless, some printing techniques can help you to take your work from good to great. Adding that extra touch will sometimes be costly, but it will definitely make your designs better.

You should also not use these techniques without knowing what you are doing, otherwise you could end up with the opposite of what you want: extra cost and no added value, sometimes it could even degrade your work. So take some time to read about each technique, and maybe investigate further before you are going to use one of these options.

1. Letterpress

Starting in the 15th century, letterpress has been the regular printing technique until the 19th century. The process of letterpress printing demands much more work than modern techniques, the printer needs to compose and lock movable type into the bed of a press, then ink it and press it on paper. It is a set of skills that not many workers still get nowadays, but it can give beautiful results.

movable type 001Composed Movable Type by Lee Lilly on Flickr

When using wooden blocks for printing, usually chosen for larger formats like posters, the ink will often have a nice texture that gives it a handmade feeling. With metal letters, you will get a slight embossing in your paper that gives some depth to your design. In both cases, the craftmanship that is necessary for printing will be visible on the final outcome, especially if you use some nice papers.

After being discarded to use more modern printing techniques, letterpress has become popular again and is often used by graphic designers for smaller scale print work, such as business cards or wedding invitations. There is even an iPad application dedicated to recreate the letterpress experience, Letter M Press.

letterpress print 002Letterpress Printed Summer Promo Card by Chavelli on Flickr

2. Die Cut

Die cutting, while not a printing technique per se, can turn an average design into a beautiful piece of work. Like printing, the process involves a press, but this time for cutting the paper with various shapes. The shapes can be regular or custom-made.

Most print shops will have some standard dies (the piece used for the cutting) for the shapes that are used more often, but if you want to get more creative you will have to get a custom die created specifically for your design. This is obviously more costly, but it allows you to cut pretty much any shapes within the limits of the technology.

Die cut is often used to give business cards a different shape, but it can be used on pretty much anything: postcards, brochures, catalogue front pages to reveal the next page, book covers,…

die cut 003Die Cut Card for Just Chic Events

3. Varnish

Varnish is a thin layer that is often used to give a gloss finish to your print and helps to protect the printing underneath. I said often, because there are different types of varnish, gloss is just the most popular.

The varnishing process takes place after the printing work is done, and comes before folding, cutting or packaging. Technically speaking, there are two types of varnishes, oil or water based. In both cases it takes quite long to dry, but that’s not really the graphic designer’s problem.

When speaking of the rendering, there are more types of varnishes:

Gloss: that gives a glossy finish to the surface.
Matte: that gives a non-glossy, smooth finish.
Silk: a finish that looks like a compromise between the glossy and matte varnishes.
UV: a technique that uses ultraviolet process to give an extra-glossy and very reflective finish.

Any of these varnishes will give a nice look to your printed designs, but in my opinion the best use of varnish is to use partial varnish. Spraying the varnish partially will make only a part of your design more reflective, attracting the viewer’s attention to these parts of the design.

varnish 004Business Card of Paul Hartsook Using a Partial Varnish Via Card Observer

4. Embossing

Embossing, or debossing for the opposite effect (but it uses the same technique), is the process of raising a pattern against the background (while debossing sinks the pattern). This technique creates relief in your printed work and gives it a third dimension.

There are two ways to create embossings: stamp embossing and dry embossing. Stamp embossing is done by stamping an image on paper, then adding powder and applying heat on it. For dry embossing, it is done by tracing a stencil with a stylus over paper. Embossing and debossing are definitely techniques that your clients will love, so you should ask for some samples at your print shop to let the client see it for himself and convince him to spend the extra bucks for it.

embossing 005Embossing Sample by Publicide

5. Lamination

Lamination can be achieved in two ways: it can be a film added on your printed work, or it can be done with a liquid that dries and forms a tough surface. In both case the result is a water-resistant surface that becomes more glossy, with vibrant colors.

For example, lamination can be used in book covers, to reinforce it, or when designing menus for restaurants. Any printed design that needs to be more resistant to water, the weather or things like that, is a good bet for lamination.

6. Foil

Foil printing, commonly called foil stamping, is the application of a silver or gold pigment foil. It can also be made with other kind of pigments, but it’s less frequent. That technique can help you to create much more shiny and unique designs that you couldn’t do with regular colors. Fashion catalogues use it more than others, but you can get creative with it.

foil stamping 006Foil Sample by

7. Serigraphy

Serigraphy, also known as silkscreen printing, is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil to receive a desired image. It existed for centuries, but in modern society it was popularized in the sixties by Andy Warhol with his prints of Marilyn Monroe or Chairman Mao.

It is still used quite often for small quantity prints, packaging or more artistic posters. One of the big advantages of serigraphy is that you can print on other surfaces than regular paper, allowing you to create some things that are impossible with other printing techniques.

8. Thermographic Printing

Thermographic printing, or thermography, is a process that lets you create some raised printing, a bit like in engraving. A powder is added to a slow drying ink to create the raised printing effect. Done right, thermographic printing can make your designs look very classy.


As you can see, printing techniques can help you to create many different types of effects that are impossible with software. Which of these techniques have you already tried and which are your favorite?

Featured Image Courtesy Wood Type Pictures via RageHaus.