BLOG: Eye-Popping Tips

From Karen Saunders

Your Branding, Marketing & Self-Publishing Coach

What Printing Special Effects Will Add Flair to Your Print Job?

You may want to consider printing special effects to add pizzazz to a special job. They are implemented during the “finishing” stage, and will add to the cost of your piece. Ideal jobs for these special effects are pocket folders, brochures, and invitations.


Embossing uses a metal die, heat, and pressure to reshape the surface of paper. Embossing raises the image above the paper surface while debossing lowers the image. Unless combined with foils (described below), it is referred to as “blind embossing.” A small magnesium die (for example, a logo on your business card) may cost $100. You will need a more expensive brass die for intricate designs, beveled edges, sculptured images, or for print runs longer than 1000 impressions. Dies are priced on size, intricacy, and material—brass being the best quality. Embossing is very attractive on textured cover-weight papers (for example, pocket folders).

printing special effects EMBOSSING

Foil Stamping (or Foiling): Pretty Cool Printing Special Effects!

Foil stamping is a process that uses a heated die to stamp and adhere a special mylar-backed material to paper. Foils come in many colors and materials (including metallic and pearlescence), special patterns, and designs. You can combine foil stamping with embossing to create a more striking 3D image.


Diecuts are areas that are completely or partially punched out with a steel blade (like a cookie cutter). A diecut can be as simple as a slit designed to hold the corners of a business card to a folder. Die cuts on the outside of a piece allow part of an interior image to show through on the outside. These effects can be quite creative. Your entire piece may be diecut into a unique shape!

Some common uses of diecuts are rounded corners, door hanger slits, flaps, holes, windows, and pop-ups. Many printers keep a number of these common dies in stock.


Varnish is a liquid shellac put on a printed piece to add a glossy, satin, or dull finish. It is applied like a final layer of ink after your piece is printed. It may be clear or tinted. Varnish can be used to reduce glare or enhance readability. Spot gloss varnish applied to photos printed on a coated, matte paper will make the photos “pop.” Aqueous coating is a more durable process that provides protection from fingerprints, scuffing, and scratches. UV-coating provides a high-gloss, rubbery, clear finish.

Curl-free Laminate

This is a  film laminate that is used mostly on paperback book covers to add protection and durability. It comes in a gloss or matte finish.

Fifth Color: Pantone Matching System (PMS) Inks

You may notice that certain PMS colors do not reproduce well when printed with 4-color process (CMYK) inks. If your logo is one of these PMS colors, you may consider running a “fifth color.” In addition to the 4-color process inks, the printer would add the same PMS color ink that you normally use on your spot color jobs (for example, your stationery package) as your fifth color. The PMS ink would make your logo color match the color of your logo on your stationery materials. Click here to see the PMS ink color chart.

As you can see, there are a variety of printing special effects. Check with your print shop to see what they can do for you.