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A Guide to Print Finishes

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So you’ve just created some amazing new artwork for a new project and it’s now time to have your work printed.

But have you thought about how you’d like your work to be finished? Did you consider that your project could use some Spot UV varnishes? How about varnished paper?

Embossing? When it comes to printing your work, sometimes it’s best to plan out your print job before you even get started. Below, I’ll outline the basic print finishes that you can typically find at your local or online printers.

Hopefully, this brief introduction to print finishes helps to get you started in thinking about your next printing project.


Varnish is often associated with wood. However, what you may not know is that varnishes are also used on paper.

Paper varnishes are applied to paper stock to give the page a smooth and consistent texture as well as having the added benefit of sealing the printed material to help preserve it better. High-quality books and magazines usually have a paper varnish applied to their pages. Varnishes can be glossy, as the example below shows: image_17_varnish Or matte (below): image_27_varnish Typically, varnishes are applied to the entire printing surface when a page needs to be robust but without adding too much weight to the paper stock, making it suitable for magazine pages, magazine covers, and brochures.


Lamination adds a layer of protective coating (usually some type of plastic), often glossy or matte, to the printed surface while also improving its sturdiness and water resistance. Lamination also has the added benefits of improving the tactile feel of the of the printed surface, lending it a smooth finish. If a high gloss laminate is applied to the printed surface, photos and images appear to have more contrast and have better sharpness, as shown below: image_15_lamination Matte laminated prints are more subdued but add a very luxurious and elegant finish to the printed surface: image_27_lamination_matte Lamination is not unlike varnishes.

However, whether lamination or varnishes are to be used in a project is wholly dependent on your needs and your desired outcome. Typically, lamination is used if sturdiness is required such as for business cards and soft covered books. Also, in my experience, lamination tends to be one of the more expensive print finishes.

Spot UV Varnish

Spot UV varnishes are paper varnishes applied to the printing surface and is cured or hardened by UV light during the printing process. This results in a glossy coating on the surface of your print, as shown below: image_09_spot_Varnish UV varnishes are usually used as a spot application where only specific parts of the page get a UV varnish. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This effectively gives texture and focal interest to different areas of the printing surface while leaving other areas untreated.

image_13_spot_varnish image_07_spot_varnish

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is the use of a malleable metallic material applied to the print surface by using heat and pressure. image_03_foil Foil stamping adds reflective properties to various elements of your design and can serve to add a bit of luxury to your project. image_22_foil Typically, it is used on text and the logo on the page or when certain elements call for it.



Generally, embossing refers to raising parts of the page for emphasis and texture. image_18_emboss This print finish adds physical depth to the embossed elements and thus, shadows and highlights are also produced in the design. image_21_emboss Embossing also adds a tactile dimension to your design.

Images and text are literally felt. image_20_emboss Often, embossing can be combined with other printing techniques such as foil stamping to enhance the effects of both techniques. image_19_emboss


Letterpress printing is one of the oldest printing techniques available. Some printers may call letterpress printing by the term debossing. image1_letterpress image_letter_press A letterpress is used to depress or indent certain portions of the page.

It can be seen as the opposite of embossing. image_12_letterpress Traditionally, the letterpress technique was used only for applying ink on a page as a form of relief printing and usually only for text. But it has evolved to also include pressing logos and other design elements directly into the paper substrate.



There are a lot more finishes that your printer may offer such as die cutting, folding, and laser cutting. The possibilities are limitless especially if you find the right printer to help you finish your project. However, be forewarned that print finishes (especially the really good ones) aren’t exactly cheap and so having a budget in mind is always helpful when deciding what to use on a certain project.

Indeed, print finishes are great for giving your designs that extra push to go from good to great. A good print finish can sometimes make or break a good design. The challenge, therefore, is finding the right applications and the perfect balance of their use.

And really, that’s where print finishing becomes an art in and of itself. I hope this short guide on some basic print finishes has gotten you thinking about your next print project!

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