Post Press Finishing – Episode IV: Foiling, Embossing and De-bossing

Our final installment in this series on post-press finishing is about foiling, embossing and debossing.  These final steps can create a sense of uniqueness to a final piece, and, in the case of embossing, can add a dimensional affect without the cost of creating a 3D piece.  However, it is important to be aware of the limitations of foiling and embossing.  For both process, special dies are required, and depending on the complexity or size of the dies, they can become quite expensive.  Also, each process has to be run as separate runs.  For example, if you have a piece that foils and embosses, and still has to die cut, score and fold, the foil pass, emboss pass and die cut pass are all separate, and each requires a unique die



Silver foil, blind-foiling

Foiling is the process of applying a thin layer of metallic material, usually gold over silver, using high heat and pressure, and the die bonds the foil to the paper due to the heat and pressure.  Foil actually comes in narrow rolls, but those rolls can vary in dimension based upon the size of the foil area.  There are other foils as well, such as white, clear, or patterned foils.  Regardless of the foil style, the process is the same.  The die is created from the art file, and placed into position in the foil letterpress, with the foil rolls placed in as well in the feeder.  Heat is applied to the foil die, the die is pressed against the foil roll, which is finally pressed against the press sheet.  That final process bonds the foil to the press sheet. There are two types of foiling, with the first simply foiling in a specific place on the press sheet, which is called blind-foiling.  The second is called foil-to-print or foil-to-register, which is when you are foiling to a printed image or large font.  Sometimes a foiled are will have been embossed as well, creating not only an elevated area on the sheet, but one that stands out because of the foiling placed on it.



Blind emboss

Embossing is the process of raising the surface of the sheet to create an elevated design  element.  Debossing is the opposite: lowering the surface of the sheet, also to create a design element.  Both can be used with a graphic design element or with copy (preferably large copy, 12 pt or larger).  Either process requires the manufacturing of two dies: one that raises (or lowers the sheet for the deboss process), which is the male die, and one that is female opposite, which will receive the embossed or debossed sheet.  Just as with foiling, you have a blind emboss/deboss, which is just an area on the sheet that is raised or lowered, or you can have an emboss/deboss to print, which is where printed copy or an image is embossed or debossed to create a 3D effect.  The process to emboss or deboss a sheet is similar to die cutting.  You have a clamshell die cutter, with the male die on one side of the “shell”, and the female die on the other.  The sheets are fed into the clamshell, registered and then the clamshell closes, sandwiching the male and female dies into the sheet and create the emboss or deboss.


A sculpted emboss

A final, and even more elaborate process is doing a sculptured die.  A sculptured die is 3-dimensional, layered or even beveled, allowing for more intricate patterns or artistic elements to be used.  The process to emboss/deboss the sheet is the same, but the dies themselves are quite costly due to their 3-dimensional characteristics.

I hope that you have found these series of post-press finishing blogs to be useful and educational.  As always, we encourage you to contact your print services provider if you have any further questions.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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