Guide to Printing Techniques
Unsure about the difference between the printing options? We’ve created this guide to help!
Flat printing (either digital or offset) is the quickest and least expensive option especially for small quantities because of the minimal setup cost. This process doesn’t require a plate to be made. This process is great for printing in full color (think photos or watercolor painting) but you are limited in paper thickness and it doesn’t add a raised or pressed effect. We have been combining this process with letterpress or foil to add depth with both a colorful watercolor crest and the texture of pressed printing.
Thermography is similar in process to offset but it goes through a second process where a transparent powder is dusted on to the wet ink and then heated to make it raised. It can be done in both shiny and matte finishes. The matte finish most resembles traditional engraving. This process is great to get the raised effect of engraving for a lower price point. The most noticeable difference is that this process doesn’t have the indentation on the back side of the printing from the engraving plate and can look a little bubbly in large solid areas of ink. It is more expensive than the two flat printing techniques but less expensive than letterpress or engraving.
Letterpress is one of the most popular processes for wedding invitations because of the depth and texture that’s achieved when the plate is pressed into the paper. A photopolymer plate is rolled with ink and then pressed into the paper, one color at a time. 100% cotton paper gives the deepest impression and there’s the added bonus that it’s tree free! Because of the labor intensive setup and handmade artistry, this process is more expensive than digital or offset printing.
Foil stamping (also called hot stamping) is similar to letterpress but instead of ink is done with a copper or magnesium plate that is heated up and pressed into the paper with a thin, metallic foil that results in a shiny or metallic finish. The price point is similar to letterpress and is often paired with either letterpress or flat printing for added dimension.
Screen printing, also called silk screen, is used most often on acrylic and other thick or dense materials. A screen is made and the ink is squeezed through the screen to create the design, one color at a time.
Engraving uses an etched copper plate that’s then filled with ink to print one color at a time. A counter helps push the ink onto the paper and results in raised printing with a noticeable indentation or “bruising” on the back side. It’s one of the most traditional and formal printing processes but also one of the most expensive because of the labor intensive process and the need for highly skilled printers.
A sculpted brass die and counter are made to press the paper into a raised 3-dimensional shape. It can be done after ink or foil are printed first or printed alone to create a more subtle, “blind” emboss.
Laser cutting literally uses a laser beam to cut out a shape in the paper. The shapes can be highly intricate because of the “laser precision” but some paper shows charring on the edges from the laser burning. This process can also be used on acrylic and other more dense materials. Pricing is based on how long it takes the laser to cut out a single piece (as they are done one at a time) so more intricate shapes will be more expensive.
Die cutting cuts the paper into an outer shape that’s less intricate than what can be accomplished with laser cutting but is a lower price per piece for higher quantities. The process is similar to a cookie cutter in that a sharp metal shape is pressed into the paper and cuts it out. The advantage over laser cutting is that the paper isn’t burned when it’s cut so it leaves the edges pristine but you are limited to how intricately a piece of metal can be bent into the shape of the die.