What Printing Finishes & Techniques Are Available - Digital & Litho

Print Finishing is a term used by the print industry to describe any process that takes place after a job has been printed. Typically, print finishing might involve cutting, folding, lamination, glueing, stapling, binding and so on.

What print finishing are available?

These days there is a vast range of finishing options available to customers that simply weren’t available even a few years ago. Many are competitively priced, meaning that designers and marketers can increase the level of impact their printed campaigns have by adding a twist to their campaign which is creative and at quite a low cost.

We’ve taken some time to make a list of the numerous print finishes that are available to you. increasing the level of quality of your direct mail heightens the impact of your direct marketing and the perceived value of your brand.

Machine Sealing

Machine sealing is a thin covering added during the printing process that seals the ink onto the paper. It’s usually used on matt and silk papers that are less ink absorbent to prevent the ink from rubbing away. It’s one of the most basic varnishes and although it doesn’t add to the impact of a printed item, it prolongs the life.


Varnishes have two purposes. The first is to enhance a printed campaign item and make it ‘pop’, increasing the impact of when it’s being looked at. The second is improving the durability of the piece.

Gloss Laminate

A Gloss varnish (shown above) adds a shiny coating that heightens the impact of photographs and printed sections on the page. A matte varnish gives a smooth look that doesn’t reflect as much light and reduces ‘glare’ – the inability to read something due to light reflecting back from what you’re reading.

UV Varnish

A UV varnish finish covers the whole of a printed item in a thick and smooth transparent coating. They’re available in gloss, matte (shown below) and tints and are used to enhance the colours used on the page. The UV element of the name is derived from Ultra Violet due to nature of the way the varnish is dried using UV lights.

Matt Laminate Print Finish

Textured Varnish

A Textured Varnish is glossy but with a slightly rippled tactile feel to the page. It can also be used as a UV Spot and is a great alternative to the standard Gloss Varnish.

Spot UV

Spot UV is worth a mention because marketers can use this varnish to enhance a particular item on or part of the page as opposed to the whole page. It adds vibrancy to a specific section and increases impact significantly. In other words, it’s eye-catching, which is usually high up on the list of what a marketer wants. The technique can be improved further by using Spot UV on top of a matte laminated printed item because the contrast is even sharper. This clothing label uses spot UV to catch the eye and add a luxury look and feel to the brand:

Spot UV Coating

Other varnishes

There are a lot of weird and wonderful varnishes out there, for example, metallic flake varnish that sparkles to catch the eye as you move the printed item. Spot varnishing is an alternative way to apply this finish. There are tinted varnishes that add gloss and colour to elements of campaigns. Or why not try scratch-off latex varnish as they use on lotto tickets to reveal numbers, or codes or promotions underneath.


Die-cutting is used in the printing industry to cut out a shape in the printed item using a steel cutting die. It can be used to cut decorative shapes, shapes such as holes within a piece, or even the main shape of the item itself.

Die Cutting Finishing

A die-cut element breaks up the physical image the eye sees, and the human mind is designed by nature to look for irregularity as part of its fight or flight awareness, so any cut-out shapes or patterns naturally draw the eye.

Although die-cutting can produce some stunning and unique results, it’s not for every print job. Some paper and card stocks are not suitable for its use but that’s why, when it is used, it has such an impact.


Folded items can be one of the most effective elements of a campaign or direct mail mail-out and can – depending on how the item is created and what it is designed to do – vastly improve both the impact and the response rates.

There are very few restraints on what a marketer can do with folding. It can be used to hide a message, creating intrigue. It can be used in conjunction with perforations to increase the ease of response. It can be used to tell a story unfolding step by step in order. In short, folding is a print finishing technique that every marketer should be both aware of and use to its utmost.

Paper items can be folded with either a buckle or a knife, commonly achieved by use three types of folding machines: buckle folders, knife folders and a combination of both. Buckle folding works by feeding paper through the machine until it buckles and then high friction rollers grip the paper and push it through to fold it in the process. Knife Folding – or ‘cross’ or ‘French’ folding – is used for thick paper, and is commonly used for maps or where the paper has been or needs to be stitched.

Some different types of folding can be daunting – half-folding, tri-folding, roll-folding, gate-folding, double-gate-folding, and Z-folding – and that’s just the basic folds. Don’t worry, WDM can help you choose the most appropriate folding for your job.

Folding machines vary in sophistication, but any direct mail service provider worth their salt will use high-end machines capable of processing complex folding jobs and unusual paper forms.


Perforation involves the creation a line of small dotted holes, usually in a straight line, that eases the tearing-off a part of a printed sheet.

Marketers can use perforation finishing to create easily detachable parts or a direct mail campaign. It allows them to provide elements of the campaign that can be returned as a response – such as a replay paid item – or used and kept as a reference by the reader, so they have ‘sticky’ or ‘stick around’ value. Like die-cutting, perforation die can be created in any shape imaginable.

A perforated finish allows the reader to tear-away that certain part of the page, it’s often used in catalogues, magazines, flyers or newsletters when a special offer voucher is up for grabs.


Polywrapping is a way of enclosing a magazine or brochure; it is the fastest, most economical and efficient method of doing so. It’s mostly used for books, brochures, CD’s, magazines and more. The benefits of this technique are that it’s lighter than envelope which means it can work out cheaper to post, it helps protect the print and keeps it clean and dry. You can also usually see through polywrap, unlike an envelope which means there’s immediate impact on the reader upon delivery.

Polywrapping Machine

Although, you can also get opaque polywrap which clothing stores and other online delivery companies will send out when you’re receiving goods from them.

Booklet Making

Booklet making is the process of binding multiple sheets or ‘spreads’ together to form a multi-page document. Most booklets require a page count that is divisible by four.

Binding, Stapling and Stitching

Binding is simply the term used to join printed leaves or sections of publications together with either wire, glue or other means. Saddle stitching staples sheets together where they fold at the spine. It’s also known as pamphlet stitching, saddle wiring or stitch binding. Side stitching staples through printed sheets along one edge and is also called cleat stitching and side wiring. Comb binding feeds a comb of plastic or metal through punched out holes along the edge of already printed pages, and when released the comb springs back into its circular shape enclosing and binding the pages into a booklet.


There are three main types of lamination; matte, gloss and silk. Matte and silk are very similar as they are both considered a softer laminate to the touch, and both have a matte appearance.

They also both combine with spot UV varnish and foil blocking. They both have a high chance of being scuffed. However, the matte lamination is usually available in an anti-scuff version. Gloss lamination is a lot shinier than the matte and silk options and tends to reflect a lot more light.

Embossing (and debossing)

Embossing and debossing both similar techniques of pressing into the card or paper around an image, logo or bit of text. Embossing is pressed from underneath and leaves a raised design whereas Debossing is the opposite and is pressed from above, leaving a depressed (or debossed) imprint.

When embossing a print, ink or foil can be added to it, or it can be left unprinted/unfoiled. When it’s left blank, this is known as a blind emboss.

Both embossing and debossing can be used with a combination of foil stamping or offset printing to add depth to the print.


Letterpress is one of the oldest printing techniques, using wooden blocks with a raised piece of metal on the front. This piece of metal was in the shape of letters so when it was placed in ink and then onto a piece of paper, card or fabric, it left the imprint of the particular letter or shape.

The letterpress printing process, originating from the 1400’s is still used in present day.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is used a lot of the time on things like wedding invitations; it’s similar to letterpress because the colour is applied to the paper with pressure. Metal dies are created in the appropriate size and shape for each colour once the design is finalised. Heat is applied to the dies which are then stamped onto the paper with enough pressure to seal it with a thin layer of foil.

Foil Pressing Example

Edge painting

Edge painting is press self-explanatory, it is the process where the outer edge of the card is painted. Edge printing can be done in any colour, including foils and metallics.The colours are usually mixed by hand to get specific Pantone colours.

Heat & Reveal

Heat and reveal printing uses thermochromic inks which allow an underlying image to be revealed when heat is applied. This is the same sort of process that you see on certain ceramic mugs where an image is revealed when they contain a hot beverage.

Glow in the Dark

Glow in the dark printing is similar to the heat and reveal technique but rather than the inks being sensitive to heat, these glow in the dark inks are sensitive to light. If the print is in a dark room it will start to glow.

Fragranced ink

Fragranced inks can usually be found in magazines and brochures for beauty products; they will sometimes give you a tester of a new perfume which they’ve launched where you have to rub the page to reveal the scent.

At WDM, we can help you choose the best finish for your prints. Get in touch with us today for a free print sample pack so you can see and feel the difference they make


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