Taking your printed work to the next level is an exciting process. A beautiful design and good paper stock can be enough, but sometimes you just need that extra special something to really give the “ooooh” factor. There are a number of tactile and visual print finishes you can add to your final design to give it that final flourish. Whilst these are print finishes, it’s best to think of them at the beginning of any printed project as you have budget and timeline to factor in, as well as making sure what you want to add is appropriate to your finished piece and not done for the sake of it.


One of the standard print finishes is varnishing. This includes coating the cover of a document with a varnish. These come in matt, satin or gloss. Conversely, you can varnish specific areas such as a title or logo, a graphic or a pattern – this is called a spot UV. This works best on a darker paper stock where the varnish is then highlighted by light reflecting off the print. Spots work best when there is nothing printed underneath or on larger elements. When printed directly above smaller, intricate areas such as text, it won’t line up exactly and therefore the spot will be offset from the text which can look a little messy.

For a particularly quirky and tactile finish, it is also possible to create a raised textured spot uv.




Hot foiling stamping is commonly used to create shiny text or elements on printed pieces. The text or the design is etched on to a copper plate where it is then heated and then stamped on to the paper which creates a debossed effect. You need a fairly thick, pliable stock for this to work. Whilst metallic foiling is a popular option, there are matt colour options available. White, for example, looks great on a coloured card stock.



Die and Laser cutting

Die cutting involves the printer making a custom die made from metal blades which is then pressed on to the paper to create a cut-out shape. The result gives you a precise, high quality edge, although there is a limit on how intricate the design can be. If you want a more detailed, intricate cut-out then laser cutting is a more precise method of achieving this. As the name suggests, it cuts using a laser rather than a blade. It’s highly precise and works on pretty much any paper stock.




Embossing and debossing are similar processes. Both involve paper being pressed between two metal dies, one raised – the other recessed, leaving a permanent shape imprinted into the stock. Embossing stands out from the paper, debossing creates an indent. Both techniques are used for drawing attention to a graphic, logo, text etc. Whilst this finish can be used in combination with colour, especially a metallic hot foil, it can also be used for a subtle finish where it just creates an impression on the paper with nothing printed underneath.



Edge painting

Edge painting works best on individual printed items such as business cards or invitations that are printed on a thick card stock. It also works well on the page edges of a book or document with a lot of pages. It’s basically a process where the sides of a printed piece are painted with a layer of paint or ink. There are two methods of doing this, one is by hand and the other involves using a sprayer. If you are going for a multi-coloured, gradient effect then the sprayer will almost certainly be used.




White ink

When printing white on a coloured stock as opposed to white paper, designers were limited to setting up a spot layer for a matt white foil. This was restrictive in terms of what could be achieved design-wise. The foil would be one solid colour with the absence of transparencies so would be very difficult to get a white design with lots of shades in it, like if you wanted to print a black and white image on a stock of non-white paper. With white ink it means you aren’t limited to printing on white paper stock to get the same effect.




Metallic ink

Another alternative to foil stamping albeit with a subtler finish than the more reflective look that stamping has. You won’t have the debossed effect gained from stamping here either.



Pearlescent and iridescent inks

Printing with pearlescent ink allows a variety of colour to be seen when viewed at different angles. These can create a rainbow hued effect which changes as the light hits the ink.



Thermochromic ink

This particular ink reacts to heat being applied to it. It can be triggered just by body heat so simply touching or holding something with thermochromic ink applied to it is enough to activate the effect. It is best to use black as this will mask the colours underneath the most effectively. When activated, the black will then change to a semi-transparent state. There are also chill-and-reveal inks available which can change colour when put in a fridge for example.



Photochromic ink

This is a light reactive ink which changes colour under UV light. Under normal light, it has a creamy white appearance, exposing it to UV light reveals a new colour underneath.



Whilst not a printed finish, the way in which you bind a document can really boost the appearance of the finished piece. The most standard choice is saddle stitching which is a stapled bind but there are some great alternatives to this if you want a more professionally finished print:

Case binding: One of the more expensive options where the finished result is a hard-cover book. Although pricey, this is an extremely durable method of binding.

Perfect binding: The spine of the paper is glued into a paper cover but unlike case binding, this isn’t as durable because of the lack of a reinforced cover. However, this has a more professional feel to it than saddle stitching.

Lay-flay binding: This is a more expensive option than perfect binding but it does allow your pages to lie flat as your spine is not glued directly to the cover. The flexible glue which is applied to the spine takes a little while longer to cure but the finished document will allow you to have flat, seamless spreads.

Singer sewn binding: This is a highly secure method of binding where the document is bound with thread that is stitched down the centre of the spine. A glued spine can degrade over time so having a sewn spine can greatly improve the longevity of a printed document. If the stitch is directly down the middle of the spine, then you will have a perfectly laid flat document. You can also stitch a few millimetres from the left hand side so that the stich is visible on the cover but you will lose the lay-flat when the document is opened.

Screw binding: This is another fairly durable binding method where your pages are placed between two hard covered boards and held in place by screws. There is the main option of the screws being visible along the front and back cover but it is possible to have an overarching cover which you can use to hid the screws.



Printing with different paper stocks

Combining different print finish effects with various paper stocks can be a nice touch to a design. It’s important to select the right stock for whatever effect you combine it with as some will work better than others. Aside from the usual silk, gloss and uncoated paper stocks, there is a whole world of metallic, transparent, kraft and textured paper out there.



Crucially, with all these options the trick is less is more. Unless you’re going for the OTT look it’s best not to apply too many. Not only will you end up with a potential hot mess of a design but this will cause your print costs to rocket and will take significantly longer to print.

It’s also useful to have a good relationship with your printer, designers aren’t necessarily print experts so we will often need to lean on printers for advice on how best to get our desired results. They can also keep you up to date of any new print techniques and advise on how best to set up and send files over.

I would also recommend getting a test print done if you are doing something you’ve never tried before. It could save you any costly mistakes down the line and the only way you’ll know how a final print will look is if you have it in your hands.