Elevate the Look of Your Brand (Part I)—A Quick Guide to Print Finishes

Premium paper stock, speciality printing processes and finishes, all contribute towards creating a distinctive visual identity.

For inspiration, we’ll be rolling a series of articles that look at the many ways you can elevate the look of your brand.


It’s all About the Details

When it comes to producing stationery and branded materials, there are a variety of options to consider other than the actual printing process. Adding special finishes to your company’s collateral is a great way to elevate the overall look and feel of your brand.

Below we’ve outlined some of the special finishes available in the industry. Each will give a different result but all can contribute to creating eye-catching print communication materials that enhance your brand at every touchpoint.


Coatings can help your printed products stand out by making them more durable, elegant or by drawing attention to a selected area of the printed item. Different coating options are available, offering different levels of visual impact, protection and cost.

Types of Coatings

Aqueous coating is a clear, fast-drying water-based coating that provides additional protection from fingerprints, scuffing and other handling blemishes. It is available in gloss, satin and dull finishes and is typically applied to the entire surface of the paper as flood coating.

One popular variation is a soft-touch coating which is also applied in liquid form, usually as an inline process after the printing ink has been applied. A soft-touch coating adds a velvety texture that makes the paper feel ‘soft’ to the touch, increasing its tactile appeal.

UV coating
This process gets his name from its application—UV coatings are applied to the printing surface and then cured by exposure to ultraviolet lamps. This finish provides the highest gloss finish versus other coatings and is most commonly used as a spot application, hence the name spot UV coating, typically used to highlight a specific element on a paper stock by giving it a high gloss reflective finish.

With blind-spot UV (also known as ghost spot UV) there’s no printing underneath it—this finish involves a coating applied onto the bare paper itself, making it visible only at certain angles and lighting.

A varnish is a widely used print coating consisting of clear inks applied after the printing process. It’s low cost and can be applied either as a spot treatment, to add shine and depth to specific elements on the page, or flooded, as an all-over coating to offer protection and sheen. Overall, varnish coatings improve the appearance of printed materials by adding a protective layer over the paper stock.


The most common print finish is a lamination, which consists in adding a thin layer of protective coating (usually plastic) to the printed surface. It creates a smooth feeling to the touch while also improving the sturdiness of the finished print product. Lamination comes in two different types—film-based and water-based—both are strong finishes, but film laminate coating is slower to apply, making it the more expensive than liquid lamination. The latter doesn’t support spot-treatment.

Like the other print coatings, laminates come in a number of varieties—common types of lamination include gloss, matt, satin and the latest additions soft touch and velvet lamination.

Gloss lamination can be applied to enhance the contrast of photos and make them pop on the page.

Matt lamination is more subtle and can add an elegant finish to the printed stock. Often used to soften the appearance of the printed image, as well as reducing glare, matt laminate will give you a printed surface with no shine as well as a smooth look.

Soft-touch laminate is a specially-textured matte plastic film that is bonded on top of the printing. This finish is more expensive than the Soft-Touch coating but the laminate adds durability to the printing whereas the coating does not. A soft-touch laminate creates a velvety texture and a soft look on the paper while creating a barrier which is fingerprint-resistant.

Protecting your collateral from fingerprints and scuffing

After investing so much time and energy creating your collateral, the last thing you want is for marks and fingerprints to spoil your covers. That’s where Anti-scuff laminate comes in. Solid, dark colours such as black or blue have a tendency to show up knocks and scratches. The anti-scuff laminate helps combat this and gives a great overall finish to your print. Recommended as an alternative to matt laminate for solid dark colours, extends shelf life, protects against fingerprint marks and scuffing,

Speciality Print Processes

Foil Stamping

Foiling is one of the most popular print finishing techniques. It involves a metallic, gloss, matt or clear foil being applied with pressure to the stock using a heated metal die and a hot foiling stamping machine, hence the name hot foiling.

Foiling adds memorable shine and a reflective dimension to printed materials with a slightly indented feel into the paper. Foil Stamping with black foil on black paper stock or clear gloss foil on white paper stock provides a minimal and contemporary tone-on-tone look. Foil stamping also allows to successfully add white lettering on black stock.

Finally, there are holographic foils, which can be used to add a stylish silvery-rainbow, reflective effect to printed items and create a bit of a futuristic look depending on how the light hits the printed surface.

Metallic Printing

Metallic inks contain metallic components that give them a reflective quality and bright finish compared to standard inks. There are many glittery and shining metallic Pantone inks available. More muted than foiling, metallic inks can create a stunning yet subtle effect for a really sophisticated and memorable finish. 

Edge Painting

This finishing process involves covering the sides of a printed piece with a layer of ink or paint.

Edge gilding is very similar to edge painting, but it involves the use of a shiny metallic silver or gold leaf to a paper’s edge. The thicker the paper, the more noticeable will be the reflective edge.

Embossing and Debossing

Embossing and debossing are other techniques to add a tactile and dimensional feel to a branded piece of collateral. With these finishing processes, the surface of the paper stock is either raised or pressed down, bringing a three-dimensional feel to printed items.

Blind embossing is when this effect is applied to blank paper without ink, while a registered emboss is amplified with colour—either through offset printing or a foil stamp, to create a relief effect.


Now used for decorative and vintage effects, this printing process dates back to the 1400s and involves a block template of raised letters that are inked up and pressed onto the paper surface, recreating the letters in reverse. Traditional letterpress printing stands apart from full-colour printing in the way that the ink is slightly indented into the page.

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