Print Finishes

One of my favourite things working in graphic design is print finishing, although I work a lot with web and digital media its always great to get a project that involves print. You really get to think about what the outcome will look like, what stock to print it on, whether its printed on gloss or matt and print finishing.

So you’ve just finished some great artwork and now you want to get it printed, choosing what paper to print a project on can be a dizzying decision given the range of stock available, but that variety is nothing compared to the decorative finishes you can apply on top. In this blog I have outlined basic print finishes that you can typically find at your local or online printers. Hopefully, this brief introduction to print finishes helps to get you started in thinking about your next printing project.


As you probably already know, you can get many types of varnish for wood finishes around your home and garden, but what you may not know is varnish can also be used as a form of print technique. Varnish is a thin layer that is often used to give a gloss finish to your print and helps to protect the printing underneath. Varnishing usually takes place after the printing is already done and comes before folding, cutting or packaging. There are two types of varnish: oil or water based, both taking relatively long amounts of time to dry but overall worth the finish at the end.

High-quality books and magazines that you buy from day to day usually have a gloss varnish applied to the paper – this gives them a smooth and consistent texture as well as preserving the printed material. Typically, varnishes are used throughout the entire printing surface when a page needs to be robust, not adding too much weight to the paper making it perfect for magazine pages, covers & brochures.

Other varnishes include: Silk varnish – a finish that is between a gloss and matt texture and Spot UV varnish – in-depth detail about this finish below

Spot UV Varnish



Spot UV has always been one of my favourite print finish when printing business cards or leaflets, the finish just gives the design that little bit more, really complimenting and boosting the design. Spot UV Varnishes is a varnish that is applied to the printing surface and is cured or hardened by UV light during the printing process, leaving the surface of the print in a glossy coating, this has the affect of highlighting and drawing attention to that part of the design.



Out of all the printing jobs I have managed to work with, letterpress finishing is the finish I have worked with the most anything from wedding invitations to business cards, letterpress has got to be the favourite amongst many printing techniques (actually possibly considering a letterpress finish for my own wedding invitations once i’ve decided on a design route) Letterpress printing, which is actually the oldest form of printing, gives stunning, tactile results, especially in soft cotton papers, it is the technique of physically pushing a design directly into the paper substrate. Some printers may call letterpress printing by the termdebossing and can also be seen as the opposite of embossing. Traditionally the letterpress technique was used only to apply ink onto a page as a form of relief printing but as it has evolved letterpress has the freedom of using logos and other design elements to press into a variety of paper stock giving a the finish a nice touch effect.

Letterpress project that I did as a personal project. More can be seen here


Generally, embossing refers to raising parts of the page for emphasis and texture that adds a physical depth to the applied embossed print finish, shadows and highlights are often produced as well as a tactile dimension to the design, images and text are literally felt. Often, embossing can be combined with other printing techniques such as foil stamping to enhance the effects of both techniques.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is a special kind of printing procedure where heat, pressure, and a metallic paper (foil) is used to create different shiny designs and graphics on various materials. Foil stamping gives the stamped design a shiny and incredible look and is increasingly becoming the preferred method of printing in many an industry. Foil stamping adds reflective properties to various elements of your design and can serve to add a bit of luxury to your project. Typically, it is used on text and the logo on the page or when certain elements call for it.


Similar to varnishing, lamination offers a protective layer of coating to cover and preserve the printed material beneath it. Laminate coating is usually made from plastic which offers protection and water resistance to the printed media. Lamination is normally used for business cards or soft magazine/book covers as it adds a more substantial coating to the design and results in heavier print adding to its tactile feel.

Lamination can be both glossy or matte finished. Using a high gloss laminate adds more contrast and improve the sharpness of the design while a matte finish is more luxurious and understated. The right laminate can add that perfect final touch to your design.


Adding a print finish to your final design can really be the icing on the cake. Adding a unique finish can really improve the look and feel to your design, adding a sense of professionalism and creativity, lifting up the design. On your next print job be sure to think about a finish to your final design project, try adding a glossy or spot UV varnish, or simply add a matte laminate to add some extra weight. There are a lot more finishes that you can consider including finishes such as die cutting, folding and laser cutting so be creative. The possibilities are limitless especially if you find the right printer to help you finish your project.

Always keep in mind your budget, print finishes especially good ones including foil stamping aren’t cheap, so make sure you are aware when starting a project with print finishes.

Get in touch

If you need any help with printing or print finishes or want to start a project in print with me then let me know, I’m always happy to help. Alternatively in relation to this blog post read my post about business cards.

Coming soon: Types of folding…

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