8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs

Finishing is a process applied to a design’s substrate, or surface, that can provide your work with a specific look and feel, add decorative elements, alter its shape and size or provide functionality and presentation enhancements. Finishes can transform an ordinary design into something much more interesting and unique.

Below is a list of 8 various printing finishes (with images and links) that can be applied to your designs:


A varnish is a colorless coating that can both protect the substrate from wear-and-tear and enhance the look and feel of a design, or specific elements of the design (referred to as a spot varnish), with a glossy, dull or satin finish. Most magazine covers that you buy likely have a varnish applied to them — like the smooth, slippery-like texture that you feel on most magazine covers.

UV varnish example:

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Spot UV Varnish example:

Other types of Varnishes:

  • Gloss — typically used to enhances photographs
  • Matte (or dull) — helps improve readability; most used in the interior pages of publications
  • Satin or silk — the middleman between gloss and matte; not too glossy, not too dull
  • Neutral — used to protect the substrate without the appearance of the varnish
  • UV varnish — provides more shine than typical varnish; applied with an ultraviolet light
  • Full-bleed UV — very high gloss effect; most common
  • Spot UV — enhances specific parts of a design; can create a variety in texture
  • Textured spot UV – creates a specific texture; ie: leather, rubber, etc.
  • Pearlescent — provides more of a “luxurious effect”

Die Cut

Die cutting is when the shape of the paper is altered or areas are cut out to enhance the visual purpose of the design. Often die cuts are used to see beyond a page and onto the proceeding one.


Throw out Fold

A throw out fold allows extra space within a set sized publication. Think of the monthly centerfold image in Playboy magazine for a second (I swear I read them for the articles!) — the magazine, with its two-facing pages, allows the centerfold to be a larger (taking up 3 pages) by utilizing the throw out. The “third” page is folded over the second allowing it to fit within the two-facing pages.


Much like the throw out fold provides a third page to fit within a two-page spread, the gatefold allows a forth page. The left and right panels are folded inward and meet at the spine.

French fold

The french fold is an eight-page fold (4 front and 4 back panels) from a single sheet of paper that creates two right angles to each other. Most often used in invitations and announcements.

The Accordion fold

Folds that go in opposite direction to make save space and fit more content into a smaller whole. Most music CD inserts use this technique.

Roll fold

A piece of paper folded that has two or more parallel folds that fold in on each other. It may fold in from the left or right. To allow proper nesting of panels that fold in, inside panels are usually incrementally smaller than outer panels with the inside end panel being the smallest.

Learn how to properly fold paper for each one of the above folds.

Embossing and Debossing

Embossing (above the surface) and debossing (below the surface) is a stamping technique in which particular elements are three-dimensional and textured. This technique can be accomplished with or without (blind) the use of ink or foil.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping, which is the process of pressing colored foil onto a substrate with a heated die, can add texture and elegance to a design. It can also be used as a mirror to show reflections adding to the overall effect of a printed piece.

Deckle Edge

More-or-less a paper treatment, as the edge or edges of the substrate is torn giving it a ragged, decorative look. If you’ve had any printmaking classes, you might be familiar with Rag paper; rag paper is high-quality paper that leaves the papermaking machine with is torn edges left as is.

Fore-edge printing

Printing technique applied to the outside edges of a publication that can give the appearance of color, display words, or create texture (ie: gold or silver).


A ‘half-cut’ that allows parts of a substrate to be easily removed.

Remember, it is important to plan from the beginning if you would like to use any of these finishing techniques, contact your printer beforehand to fill them in with what you like to accomplish. Every printers will require you to setup your files differently to ensure the desired finish is accurate. Also, not every printer has the necessary tools to fit your “specialty” needs, while others outsource finishing options.

If you looking for a good online printer that will be able to assist you in the above finishes, I can attest to Jakprints. They provide a variety of services including laminating, binding, folding, perforation, varnishes, die cutting and custom embroidery and have always done a great job for me.

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Great article! I’ve been wondering what some of those terms meant. I know basic printing and how to set up bleeds and such, but I have difficulties setting up specialty print jobs.

    Just curious, how much extra does it usually cost to have something foiled, embossed, etc. at Jakprints? I realize diecuts normally add a significant amount to the cost, but I’ve never looked into how much smaller effects cost.

    Toby Cummings´s latest post..8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs

  2. Brian says:

    Glad you enjoyed the article. The last time, if I remember correctly, got quoted on 5,000 business cards I went from $90 to $300 with a foil stamping. Not positive on that though. If you want submit a quote to them on what your looking for. It’s free of charge. Hope this helps and good luck

  3. Marnie B says:

    This is fantastic. I always wonder what I can do to give cards, etc a little more edge.

    Thanks for a great post!

  4. Jon Bergan says:

    Really loving some of these – a great article!

    Jon Bergan´s latest post..8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs

  5. Very useful article and nicely illustrated with examples.

  6. JP Jones says:

    I love these finishes! I just wish there were cooler things for smaller budget pieces. Too many of my clients can’t afford die cuts and foil stamping.

    JP Jones´s latest post..8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs

  7. thomas says:

    That post reminded me on my print lessons in school… ahh how i miss those times. :)

    thomas´s latest post..8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs

  8. [...] How to spice up your designs with various finishes, folds and techniques View source [...]

  9. [...] presented on blogs in the design community, print related articles seem to be quite rare. Luckily The Design Cubicle has one of these print design gems in the form of 8 Print Finishes to Spice Up Your Designs, [...]

  10. David Airey says:

    Bookmarked. This is a post I can direct potential print clients towards.

    Thanks Brian.

  11. Brian says:

    David -
    Great, I’m thrilled you found this post useful. Also glad that I could return the favor of the so many useful articles I’ve read over at your blog. :)

  12. [...] Print Finishes To Spice Up Your Designs [...]

  13. Foils don’t just have to be metallic! If a solid color, they can make a surface have a plasticky look (is that how to spell “plasticky”? With a ‘k’ like picnicking? heh). Clear foils are a cool effect, too, almost like a varnish but sometimes they work better with certain stocks (particularly matte) than varnishes would. Man, I wish my company had the budget to do awesome finishes like this.

    This was a good roundup with excellent examples–just wish there were more of those! Thanks Brian! Stumbled and bookmarked.

  14. Brian says:

    LaurenMarie -
    I am a collector of awesome print finishes. Whenever I’m out and about and find a nicely printed design I snag one or two.

    Thanks for the stumble and bookmark as well.

  15. Oh I collect things too! I just need to be more active about keeping a better eye out.

  16. Jeff says:

    I may have missed this somehow above, but my favorite is letterpress: http://www.iloveletterpress.com/.

    French folds always look nice, and books that are stab-bound well can be really beautiful too.

  17. [...] also offer a full range of finishing options, such as embroidery, perforation, ticket numbering and custom die-cutting. Also, in addition to [...]

  18. When I first went to this post I thought this was going to be about some sort of Photoshop layer meant to simulate a traditional print finish. But low and behold the real thing, die cuts, gloss varnish, blind embossing.

    These techniques are what differentiates a client’s piece in the marketplace and if they can see the value in that, you will help them get past the cheaper is better mentality.

    Great post for everyone who deals with the professional print job! Very much needed, thanks for the loving descriptions of the craft.

  19. [...] on The Designcubicle, provides instructions for properly folding using these [...]

  20. [...] 8 Print Finishes to Spice up your designs [...]

  21. Wow these are cool. Definitely capable of spicing up the designs. I think all of them are important for their specific needs and requirements. Thanks for the great post.

  22. Felipe says:

    you would use pictures to show the print finishes, because here in Brazil we use other names!!

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: