Text by Conzelmann

How can embossing be explained in two or three sentences?

Embossing can be great theatre; fierce and loud or very subtle and quiet – it depends on the desired result. You don’t always need the entire orchestra sometimes a small accent is enough to deliver the desired, very special, touch.

Put simply an embossing is the act of making an impression, upwards or downwards, on a piece of material. An embossing can be done with or without supporting colour.

The art of embossing has developed from high pressure and gravure printing.

What different varieties of embossing are available? What is blind embossing? Deep embossing? High embossing? Embossing with colour – or without colour? With foil? What other types are available?

There are a variety of different embossing techniques available:

Blind embossing: Distinguished by the very delicate and conservative motif reproduction. Every detail is visible in a subtle three-dimensional representation – it is not exaggerated. Normally without colour or foil.

Embossed foil printing: Perfectly suited to the reproduction of gold and silver tones and wonderful for very deep black. Foil is often executed as a flat emboss but can also be used in relief. The development of new embossing tools and techniques allow for many special results to be reproduced. Micro and laser engravers also open new possibilities and applications including the use of hologram films for additional effect or to add an element of security to the printed piece.

Engraving: There are two primary applications for engraving – banknotes and stamps. And high-quality correspondence papers. Steel engraving, used in banknote printing, is the most widely used technique. It is used in the production of banknotes for a variety of security reasons: counterfeiting is problematic as the embossing is only possible with special machines and in many situations special colors are used to make copying even more challenging.

Such security features are equally interesting and valuable for fine correspondence papers

Why is embossing special?

Embossing, irrespective of the technique used, will always raise the standard and perception of a printed piece. The embossed item comes alive in three dimensions, displaying light and shade.

How does embossing work?

The art of embossing results in the subtle or pronounced deformation of the base material. To achieve this effect high-pressure or gravure printing machines are used. This equipment can take three primary forms depending on design: flat/flat | flat/round | round/round.

Embossing techniques are always direct printing processes; this means that the material always comes into direct contact with the embossing mold. To impress the material into the embossing mold a counter-mold is required. This counter-mold can be hard, soft, flat or plastic depending on the motif and the material.

Each embossing technique has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Blind embossing is dependent upon the image and surface. Very thin lines are problematic to reproduce and can often simply disappear into the material surface. If the blind emboss is carried out in multiple stages this can resolve the issue – reproducing even the smallest detail in wonderful clarity.

Embossing with foil is the ideal method to apply gold and silver tones or bright colors on dark substrates. Foils are always opaque. In the case of metallized films fine particles of aluminum is evaporated onto the carrier film. Color pigments are used with special, highly opaque pigments. Foils can be used for very fine motifs and also across large-area subjects. The foil can be applied flat or embossed.

Steel engraving is particularly suitable for fine lines and detail and also for reproducing white. Unfortunately reproducing flat motifs can be problematic.

Thanks to modern engraving techniques and the use of a wide range of different foils a very wide application area is possible. Steel engraving utilizes liquid or pasty colors. The colors are miscible so that practically every desired tone can be achieved.

The European market uses mostly steel-stain paints. These give the embossing a light, pleasant shine which further reinforces the light and shadow play and gives the embossing a particularly high-quality look. The steel stitch paints are laser-resistant.

In the USA and the UK embossers generally use dispersion paints for their steel embossing. These colors dry very quickly, making them extremely popular, and are also laser-resistant. Dispersion paints dry completely matt and form a little relief. Often the relief is not visually apparent and it is necessary to touch the piece to recognize the emboss.

All kinds of papers and formats can be utilized for embossing. Paper can always be formed. The best way to decide which material to use is to discuss the project and expectations with your customer.

There is a format size limit for steel engraving. The engravings must not be larger than 20 x 10 cm. The exception to this rule is the banknote print, but this is another chapter.

What needs to be considered?

Not every motif is suitable for every embossing technique. As described above, the individual methods have their limitations. Engraving cannot achieve flat-shaped motifs; blind embossing cannot achieve fine lines. The most appropriated and suitable embossing technique should be discussed based on the design.

What are the pros and cons?

For the value of the product, for longevity and for beauty there are only advantages.

Disadvantages: Engraving production is more complex. Depending on the process, sometimes only a few benefits can be achieved. Embossing machines are always "single-color" machines therefore several pressure cycles are sometimes necessary.

Embossing is particularly suited to projects where the aim is to grab attention and appear ‘special’.

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