Home » Blog » Your Guide To Commercial Print Finishes For Your Next Project

Selecting the perfect print finishes for your marketing projects is the final and very vital step to creating a memorable and engaging experience for your customers, clients, and prospects. Specialty finishes elevate your print materials to an entirely new level with processes, techniques, and materials that highlight your design, keep it looking great, and catch and hold people’s attention visually, through touch, and even with pleasing scents.

This brief guide to widely used commercial print finishes and coatings can help you choose the right solution for the greatest impact of your print collateral.


As one of the most common and popular finishing techniques for printed material, varnishes are used to protect and preserve and give pages a smooth, uniform feel, just as wood varnishes shield wood surfaces from wear and damage. Varnishes can be glossy, satin, or matte and give printed pieces a modern, sleek appearance. Not only do varnishes add a slight weight to the paper, they are also valued for their ability to prevent smudging, smearing, and fingerprints. A varnish coating can be applied to an entire document or in selective spots.  There are several types of varnishes:

  • Gloss Varnish gives printed surfaces a vibrant look because it reflects light to make colors bright and vivid. Gloss varnish improves the appearance of photos and designs and provides higher contrast between colors.
  • Matte Varnish provides the same smooth, consistent coating as gloss varnish without the shiny and reflective surface. This varnish type softens appearances, which makes it an ideal choice for material that contains small text because matte varnish reduces glare off the page.
  • Silk or Satin Varnish lands somewhere in the middle between gloss and matte varnish in terms of the sheen and provides a nice balance for colors and text.
  • UV Varnish uses an ultraviolet technique to first apply a very glossy liquid coating to the surface of a printed page and then dries the page using ultraviolet light. The product: image-rich printed materials that look stunning and eye-catching. An added benefit is that paper with UV coatings can be recycled. UV varnishes can be applied to the entire printed surface for full coverage, to selected areas or spots to highlight and draw attention to important details (Spot UV varnishing), or provide raised UV coatings that add tactile and dramatic effect to the surface of the page.

Print varnishes are a popular choice for business cards, Point of Purchase displays, posters, brochures, and flyers.

Letterpress, also called Debossing

Letterpress was the earliest method for producing repeated impressions on a sheet or continuous roll of paper. The process delivers high quality by depressing portions of the page to give text or images a vintage look and feel. Letterpress adds a tactile dimension because images and text are not only read, but also felt. Letterpress or debossing is favored for its consistency and ability to print on a wide range of paper regardless of thickness or texture. Letterpress adds a timeless customized elegance look and feel.

Letterpress is used for book publishing, company logos on corporate stationery and business cards, and to add elegance to invitations.


Embossing is the opposite of letterpress or debossing and is a print finishing process that raises parts of a printed page for both visual and tactile emphasis. It can give the material a physical depth and produce shadows and highlights on the page to add 3D effects to text and images. It’s ideal for thicker paper and card stock and the dies used to create the embossed effect can be sculpted as single-level, multilevel, or with beveled edges to create memorable impressions. Embossing is commonly used with other finishing techniques like foil stamping or UV lamination to enhance designs with an elegant look and feel that literally makes your message stand out.

Embossing can be found on cards and envelopes, greeting cards, wedding stationery, books, invitations.

Die-Cutting and Creasing

To create printed materials that stand out with customized shapes and forms, die-cutting is a favored finishing option. The procedure is akin to how a pastry-cutter produces cookie and dessert shapes. During this finishing process, a custom piece—called a die—physically cuts shapes into a paper’s design. Die-cutting delivers a tactile element to printed materials and provides the ability to introduce intricate patterns into 2D designs. The same technique used in die-cutting can create page creasing folds or make micro-perforations for easy tearing.

This technique is commonly used for pocket folders, specialty cuts, , business cards, and brochures.


When protecting printed material from moisture, repeated handling, and fading, the preferred finishing technique is lamination. Similar in many ways to varnish finishes, lamination gives materials a professional, high-quality look. However, unlike a varnish finish, lamination adds a degree of sturdiness due to its thickness and weight. Lamination can add a glossy, satin, or matte sheen to material and improves the appearance of photos, images, and colorful designs. Laminate coating is typically a thin polypropylene film. AQ (Aqueous Coating) is another option that provides the same result with the added benefit of being water-based and environmentally friendly. 

Lamination is a popular print finish used for restaurant and bar menus, price lists, maps, educational and training materials, , membership cards and IDs.

Foil Stamping

To give printed materials an especially elegant, luxurious look and feel, one of the easiest methods is foil stamping.  It highlights important text and logos with metallics or colored foils. This finishing technique most often requires melding paper and foil with heat and pressure. Next either a die cut or a digital foil fusing process completes the process to create stunning results that have more shine and gloss than metallic inks. Foil stamping is extremely effective for highlighting and adding visual importance and formality to printed material. While silver and gold are used most often, foils are available in assorted shades of color and reflection.

Some great ways to incorporate foiling into your printing finishes would be creating intricate backgrounds on invitation cards, business stationery, high-end booklets and photo albums, and product labels.

Thermographic Printing

Also called Raised-Ink printing, this finishing process is a more affordable version of embossing that builds texture with special ink and powders to result in shiny text or images. Rather than require dies that are pressed into the paper to create an impression, thermographic printing comprises three steps that occur sequentially to achieve the desired look and feel. First, before ink has dried on the paper, a powdered resin coats the sheet, adhering only to the wet ink. Next, the sheet is passed under a vacuum which sucks unused resin off the paper once it has dried. Last, the sheet is passed under a heating unit that melts and causes the ink to rise and complete the process.

Thermographic printing is commonly used on greeting cards, invitations and business cards.

Trends in Printing Processes We’re Watching

Marketing.com is in a constant state of innovation shaped by emerging technologies and evolving practices. Here are three trends we’re monitoring and recommending:

  1. Environmentally friendly print processes and materials will grow in importance as more customers and consumers demand that companies reduce waste, eliminate toxic chemicals, and use materials created from sustainable sources or that can be recycled.
  2. Scented inks that activate the sense of smell are one of the most powerful ways to trigger emotions, evoke memories, and create a more immersive experience for customers and consumers. While it is a familiar tool for marketing health and beauty products, it will find increased use in the hospitality, food and beverage, and other industries because it has been shown to increase consumer engagement and response, generate high recall, and enhance brand image.
  3. Special effects like shimmering and processes using laser cutting are gaining traction as ways to create dramatic effects and unique textured experiences on printed material.  Shimmering uses pearlescent coatings to provide a luxurious appearance. Laser cutting produces high-quality shapes and patterns on a wide variety of paper stock and is a more affordable option to die cutting. These and other innovative practices will continue to evolve and give businesses more options to attract and engage customers.

When it comes down to separating your business from your competitors, it’s the details that matter. The right print finishing process or technique is the final flourish that makes your marketing and print content impossible to overlook. Innovations and cost-saving efficiencies are providing affordable print finishing solutions that stir the senses and add a layer of beauty and elegance to every printed piece for a memorable experience.

Contact a Marketing.com print marketing expert today to learn more about how we can help you connect the dots to build stronger relationships with clients and employees through these trends.