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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: A Debossing and Embossing Primer

Both debossing and embossing bring an added dimension to offset commercial printing—literally—because they add depth to what otherwise is a flat piece of paper. This alone can give your design piece a most tactile quality, as well as a visual boost.

So What’s the Difference?

Embossing is the more common version of this finishing technique. In this case a set of metal dies (one on either side of the paper) presses the substrate into a raised pattern or form that extends outward toward the viewer (even if only by an eighth of an inch). Debossing, on the other hand involves forcing the paper in the other direction, away from the viewer. In this case the image is lowered beneath the surface of the paper.

In both embossing and debossing, there are always two dies, one on either side of the paper. The only difference is the direction in which the surface of the paper is pushed.

How Is This Done?

Embossing and debossing are not done on an offset press. They are an entirely different process done on a letterpress. Unlike offset printing, a chemical process that depends on the inability of ink and water to mix, letterpress is a “strike-on” process in which a raised image is smashed against the commercial printing paper to create a printing impression.

(A similar approach is used in both manual and electric typewriters. When you type a key, a raised letter on a metal arm swings out and contacts both the inked typewriter ribbon and the paper to make the actual printed impression.)

The letterpress–or rather a converted letterpress retrofitted to hold the dies in place for the embossing or debossing process, or a dedicated embossing press similar to a letterpress–shapes the paper stock as it is fed into the equipment.

Choosing Blind or Registered Embossing

When you emboss or deboss something, such as a logo, you have two options. The first is to blind emboss the image, which just means there is no custom printing work, but just the raised or lowered paper surface. The embossed or debossed logo rises above or descends below the paper surface and can be felt (the tactile appeal of the process) as well as seen.

If you want more visibility, you can register the embossing to an already printed image. You may have seen print book titles that seem to jump off the dust jacket paper because they have been both printed and embossed. In this case the printing comes first (done on an offset press more than likely), and the embossing step follows. Why? Because if you emboss the paper first and then run the sheet through the high pressure of the offset press, the rollers will crush the embossed or debossed image.

Selecting the Best Paper for Embossing

Your printer can help you choose a good stock, but a soft, thick paper like linen or felt can be ideal for embossing and debossing. The paper fibers can be bent easily by the heat and pressure of the process, as well as by the raised and lowered male and female die set. In fact, due to the heat and pressure you will often see an added smoothness where the paper has been embossed or debossed. Many people find the contrast between the surrounding paper and the smoother embossed/debossed image to be aesthetically appealing.

Things to Consider

    1. Blind embossing costs less than registered embossing. First of all, you’re only paying for one process. Secondly, the custom printing vendor does not need to ensure precise positioning (i.e., tight register) with blind embossing.


    1. Thin type and serifs, as well as thin rules, don’t do as well when embossed. Make sure the image area (drawing, type letterform, or rule) is wide enough for the paper to be forced into the die set. Discuss this with your printer to ensure success.


    1. Deep embossing dies have beveled edges (and are often called “sculpted” dies). These beveled edges will reduce the apparent width or thickness of rules and letterforms. Therefore, make your art just slightly wider/thicker than normal to account for this effect. To be safe, discuss this with your printer as well.


    1. Dies are not made by the printer. They are made by specialists. In addition to being expensive, this subcontracted work takes time. Make sure your printer has accounted for this extra time in constructing your overall custom printing schedule.


    1. Consider embossing and debossing for print book covers, custom pocket folders, and even stationery.


  1. As an alternative, consider such 3-D modeling techniques as the Scodix enhancement process. Not all printers have access to outside vendors for this relatively new process, but it is intriguing. You don’t need to make a metal embossing die. Rather, digital information drives the Scodix machine, causing it to build up a faux-embossed (raised) surface that simulates embossing.

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