Creating an effective, practical and aesthetically pleasing piece of print involves a number of different processes, from design through to production. Once the print is complete, there are many different techniques and special effects that can be added to enhance the quality and appeal of the project and the printed surface. These are referred to as print finishes.
The term print finishing refers to any additional added value work carried out on a print job once the item has been taken off the press and the ink has dried. These finishing processes may be specified for a variety of reasons. In some cases, additional coatings are added to protect the printed materials, whilst others are specified for added visual appeal.
From folding, binding, laminating, embossing, perforating and coating through to other more complex processes and other printing techniques, specifying creative print finishes can really elevate the impact of the finished product, from a simple business card to brochures and highly creative wedding invitations.
Inline and Offline Processes
Some print finishing processes can be carried out while the job is still on the printing press. These are known as inline processes. Others need to be completed using different equipment and techniques once the project is taken off the press. These are known as offline processes.
Most printers have the ability to complete a comprehensive range of finishing processes and printing techniques in-house. Other more complex techniques are carried out by specialist companies providing their services to the print industry.
Print Finishing Techniques
Some print finishing techniques are reasonably simple and can be added as an inline process to the printed sheet. Others require more specialist equipment, knowledge and expertise, can take some time to complete and involve significant extra cost.
Cutting and Creasing
Printers often use die cutters to cut printed materials, using a punching movement. Standard cutting and trimming are usually performed using a highly accurate guillotine. The two are different.
The cutting process involves cutting the paper to separate pages that have been printed on one large sheet. Trimming involves removing the paper from around the edges of each sheet.
Many projects require folding and creasing, which is usually carried out automatically using a folding machine. Folding options include half fold, gatefold, accordion fold, Z fold, letter fold and French fold, which folds the paper in half horizontally, then in half vertically.
Lamination in printing involves the application of (usually) a thin layer of plastic to the printed item. This covers the entire printing surface, chiefly to strengthen and protect it but also to enhance the appearance of the item. Laminate finishes may be gloss, matte or silk – with similar effects to household paints.
Protective coat lamination is often used for business cards and brochures, which tend to be handled a lot. It protects against scratching, smearing and water/moisture damage, adding to the appearance and longevity of the product.
Similarly, varnishing involves applying a coating to the printed item, creating a smooth and consistent texture. Again, it provides protection in use and is available in gloss, matte varnish and satin effects. The finish is not as hard as lamination, so the end result is smoother and more lightweight. It seals and protects the printed inks for applications like magazine covers, magazine pages and other high-profile projects.
Spot UV varnish is another transparent uv varnish option, which is cured under UV light. It’s a premium finish which adds a high-quality glossy effect to make the printed material really stand out. This technique is also available as a textured spot UV varnish to enhance the print finish.
Also known as foil printing and foil blocking, foil stamping is a speciality process created using a combination of heat and pressure to add a sophisticated matt or gloss foil stamping finish to selected areas of the finished printed product in a transfer process to the printed surface.
It takes time and is an expensive print finish option. This is because it requires the production of a die, but the ends can justify the means in terms of aesthetic appeal for the print project.
Embossing and debossing
One of the oldest printing techniques, the embossing process also uses dies to create raised sections on the printed product, emulating a 3D effect in accordance with the design. These embossed areas usually pick out words or logos and shapes. The opposite effect can also be created, using debossing which makes recesses into the paper or card.
Embossing and debossing can create an elegant effect, and can also be used in conjunction with other print finishing effects such as foil stamping and spot UV.
Simple thermography processes include direct thermal printing, where the printed surface of the paper is coated with a material sensitive to heat, like in the old fax machines.
Thermography is a more specialised process involving printing inks and powdered resins. These are baked during the process, which means the ink and resin take on a slightly raised and textured effect.
It’s a three-stage process. Once the item has been printed, the entire piece is coated with the resin, which only adheres to the wet ink. The item is then vacuumed to remove the unwanted resin. The final stage is to heat the item to melt the resin and cure the ink.
Thermography is a form of relief printing commonly used on printed material such as greeting cards and formal invitations.
Perforating involves using a specialised machine to punch rows of small holes into the print surface, typically to provide a ‘tear here’ line on tickets and vouchers.
Have you ever wondered how colour is applied to the edge of an item such as a business card to create a classy effect? This is edge painting, used to add colour or even metallic foil to enhance its appearance.
It’s really only suitable for use on thick cards or laminated papers and is carried out once all the other printing processes are complete. Using business cards as an example, these are stacked on a padding press and then rollered to create the effect.
Glow in the Dark
Glow-in-the-dark printing techniques involve the use of phosphorescent inks with optically active pigments. These absorb UV light and then emit this again in the dark to create the effect. Also known as photoluminescent inks, these have developed in recent years and now last much longer than before.
Aside from screen-printed clothing applications, badges and stickers, they’re also now used for safety directional signs and signposting emergency evacuation routes.
Looking for a fragrance burst? Less attractively known as ‘scratch and sniff’, fragrance inks are scented inks that activate when rubbed gently. They can be extremely effective – imagine the essence of fresh coffee, lavender, fruits and flowers within your printed piece!
Heat & Reveal
Also known as heat-sensitive printing or thermochromic printing, heat-and-reveal printing uses thermochromic inks to reveal a picture or a message of something underneath the printed page when heated or touched. Typically used on retail packaging, gift cards and greetings cards and other printed products, the possibilities are endless!
So now you understand more about the variety and potential for print finishes in the printing process, hopefully, all of this is food for thought for your next printed project!