Raised print

Raised print

There are two ways to create the impression of three dimensions in design/print: one is to use special effects in the design itself (as in the intro image above); the other is to actually make it three dimensional. A raised (or lowered) print can really make an impression (pun intended) and give a design more depth (…sorry) and a whole new dimension (OK, enough).

Print technology has come a long way over the years and this post describes a few finishes which, in some cases, have been with us for a long time.  However, they have been refined and perfected and can be used to create some classic, interesting and eye-catching design.

Whilst there are others, the most commonly used are these:

  • Embossing / Debossing
  • Digital Embossing
  • Thermography
  • Die-cutting


Embossing / debossing

This is a well-known technique and can be both subtle and impressive (pun intended).  In a similar process to that of foil blocking, a metal die block is produced and stamped onto the paper, either from behind, pushing the paper UP (embossing) or from the front, pushing the design DOWN into the paper (debossing).  The design can simply be embossed onto the paper without any colour (blind embossing) or foil can be used at the same time to create a truly impressive result.


Embossing and debossing example


Embossing/debossing is made more desirable by the fact that one can FEEL the result as well as see it, creating a tactile design which one cannot help but reach out and touch.  It is often used on business cards or for crests at the top of high-end letterheads.

Obviously, whatever is embossed on one side will be debossed in reverse on the other side.  This can be a problem with double-sided materials where the reverse side is interfered with by the converse effect.  A way around this is to stick two sheets together, effectively blanking out the reverse.


  • Embossing is raised up, out of the sheet
  • Debossing is pushed down into the sheet
  • Whatever effect is used on the front will be reversed on the back
  • Production of the metal block can be pricey


Digital Embossing

Now there’s a new technology in the printing playground.  Digital embossing.  Using a process similar to UV varnish, but allowing much greater accuracy and lift, this technology combines the effects of spot varnish and embossing but with major benefits.

  1. it doesn’t require the use of special formes, dies, chemicals and solvents, and it reduces the overall energy consumption of the project.
  2. it allows for variable thickness through the support of halftones.  This give two benefits: texture and the ability to ‘fade’ the effect of the emboss and taper it out.  The texture capability allows for myriad design possibilities, such as recreating the texture of a leaf or a basketball.
  3. it is extremely accurate and doesn’t require separate registration and alignment measures.  This gives much more flexibility in its use, such as fine text or intricate artwork.
  4. because it is a digital process, it allows for over a thousand copies or just one, as the project requires.
  5. the impressed image does not appear in reverse on the other side of the sheet, so it doesn’t interfere with anything on that side.

All that is required on the part of the designer is a separate output file where only the area to be embossed is shown in black (K).  The process may add a couple of days to the print time, primarily to let the embossed area dry and prevent crushing.


  • No extra plates required
  • Mistakes are easy to correct
  • Many or few copies as required
  • No reversed design on reverse of paper
  • Accurate registration
  • Intricate designs possible
  • Tapered or faded embossing result possible



This is a more cost-effective way of creating raised text or designs which one can feel.

The design is printed in sticky ink and the whole sheet is covered in thermographic powder, which sticks to the still-wet ink.  Excess powder is vacuumed up and stored.  The sheet then passed through an oven of around a thousand degrees Fahrenheit, which fuses the ink and powder and expands it upwards from the sheet.  The process can be made laser-safe by using special powder and treatment with UV light to harden the surface so it doesn’t re-melt in a laser printer.

The advantage of this over embossing is that it’s cheaper and only affects the intended side of the sheet, not both.  It is also possible to use any desired ink colour, rather than simply being ‘blind’ or using foil.


  • Raises the design up from the page without affecting the reverse
  • Cheaper than embossing
  • Coloured inks



Whilst not really a raised print (in fact, it’s really the opposite, creating a negative space for the text), this technique does create a tactile finish to the design, one that can be felt as well as seen.

This involves using a ‘forme’ to cut precise shapes or edges in the stock.  It is often used for creating folders and slots for business cards, but can be used for more intricate designs as well.

Die-cutting example


Preparing the artwork

These finishes require specialist artwork.  The printer needs to know which parts of the design are to be included in the required finish.

The easiest way to do this is to use a spot colour for the special finish.  The spot ‘plate’ can be any colour but it should be renamed (‘THERMO’, for example) accordingly.  The design of a magazine cover, for example, may have C, M, Y and K plus an ‘EMBOSS’ plate.

The other way which may be specified is that the specific parts of the design to be in special finish are supplied as a single black plate, i.e. a PDF by itself with just the text to be raised displayed in solid black.  This black plate is then used as the template for the special finish.

black plate separation

digital embossing result



As with anything, at FirstpointPrint we’ll talk you through any technical issues if they arise.


  • Use a renamed spot colour for the special finish or
  • Supply a separate black plate