Demystifying Specialty Print Methods

Demystifying Specialty Print Methods - print terminology, pricing factors & my favorite print methods such as letterpress, metallic foil stamping, and laser engraving

Don't ever let anyone tell you print is dead. In this digital age, having something tangible to represent your brand is more important than ever. Designing stunning stationery is one of my absolute favorite facets of brand design. Not only is lovely stationery nice to hold, but it can make some powerful statements about your brand too!

Let's dig into some print terms, my favorite print methods, and what you need to know about them. When it comes to stationery and collateral, the sky is the limit and there are LOTS of variables to consider. So for simplicity's sake, let's limit the discussion here to business cards.

Print Terminology

Stationery vs. Stationary

“Stationery” with an “e” refers to items you'd include in brand collateral such as business cards, notecards, envelopes, letterhead, etc. On the other hand, “stationary” with an “a” simply means something that's not moving. Don't feel bad—this one gets a lot of people. But now that you know, it's best to use the right spelling—gotta keep that credibility up!

Embossing vs. Debossing

There's a tendency to call any printing that's got some texture or depth to it “embossing.” I don't blame you. I didn't know the difference until I worked as a designer at a letterpress shop. The difference is that embossing is raised from the paper, while debossing is pressed into it. For example, letterpress is a form of debossing. I associate the “de” of debossing with the word “deep” in case you need a trick for remembering the difference.

Don't ever let anyone tell you print is dead.

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Impression & The Kiss

That depth you feel when you run your fingers over a letterpressed business card? That's the impression. However, way back in the day getting a deep impression into the paper wasn't the goal at all. In fact, A skilled traditional pressman (printer) would make it so the ink would ever so lightly “kiss” the paper to get the appropriate ink coverage with barely any impression at all. Talk about some lovely terminology—how romantic is it that ink pressed to paper is called the kiss??

Moveable Type vs. Plates

Back in the days of Gutenberg and the traditional printing press, moveable type was used to set paragraphs for newspapers and books. Most letterpress shops still have solid collection of moveable type, and still print with it on occasion. However, these days custom designs are created using plates. Modern plates are commonly made from photopolymer (plastic), magnesium, copper or zinc.

Choosing the Right Print Method for Your Brand

Next, let's talk about a few of my favorite print methods and how you can choose the right combination for your brand.


There's so much history behind letterpress, and it's a total joy when I can design business cards that are printed this way. It's definitely got that authentic, hand-crafted feel. Speaking of the feels, I guarantee recipients won't be able to stop running their fingers across them.

However, if you're looking for some really shiny metallics or to print a light color on darker or colored paper, letterpress probably isn't the best choice for you.

Foil Stamping

Hot foil stamping is similar to letterpress, in that a plate on a press is used to apply the design to the paper. The differences are that the plate is heated and instead of pressing ink into the paper, you're stamping from a roll of foil leaf. Foil comes in a variety of colors and finishes including metallic, matte, gloss, pearl, and holographic. If you're looking for a true reflective metallic like gold or copper, foil stamping is the way to go!


Looking for something with a more modern or rustic feel? Laser-cut is exactly what it sounds like. Lasers are used to burn the design into whatever material you're using. The bonus is that you can use cool materials instead of paper to get an even more unique result—materials like wood, metal, and plastic.

Pricing Factors

Not only can you use one of these print methods for your business cards, you can mix and match them too. Seriously, the sky is the limit here but as you can imagine, the more elaborate your cards are, the more expensive they'll be.

What factors influence the price for specialty printed business cards?

  • Quantity: This seems like an obvious one, and of course the number of cards you have printed will impact cost. Although having more cards printed will cost more, the cost per card usually goes down the more you have printed because of set-up and material fees. That said, it's usually not worth it to go below 100.
  • Paper stock: The quality and thickness of your paper (or other material you may use like wood, chip board, metal, plastic) will impact the price too.
  • Number of colors: With letterpress and foil, each color ink or foil adds an additional plate that needs to be made and hence an additional cost.
  • Number of sides: A business card with a one-sided design will cost less than a double-sided design. Paper thickness also weighs in here, since if you'll be printing on both sides you need the paper to be thick enough that the impression won't show through or mess with the printing on the opposite side.
  • Consistency of coverage: If separate design elements require different impression in the same color, they could also require an additional plate. For example, if you're printing a solid large circle in the same color as some really small serifed type that's got some very thin lines, you'll likely need two plates.
  • Other Add-ons: There's a whole world of fun finishing techniques—things like painted edges, die cut details, rounded corners, deckled edges, etc. These can add to the impact of your cards and make for an even more stunning finished product. Of course, they'll impact the price as well.

Keep it Simple

For most people coming from a world of digital printing, sticking to a limited color palette (I play in the 1-3 color range usually) sounds restrictive. However, limiting the color palette actually makes for a more cohesive and lovely design.

I'll be sure to dig into those finishing techniques soon. In the meantime, consider these specialty print methods for your business cards and get in touch to create something truly remarkable for your customers to remember you by. They'll speak volumes of your brand and make some seriously great impressions. Sorry, couldn't resist. 😊

Note: All images are linked to the source.