Print Types 101

image courtesy of Mospens Studio (mospensstudio.com)
image courtesy of Mospens Studio (mospensstudio.com)

Perplexed about print types? You’re not alone! There are 7 major types available and the price range varies widely.

The type of printing you choose can have a large impact on your viewer, since paper goods are important for setting the theme, color scheme, and level of formality for your event. And since they’re responsible for disseminating your information, it’s guaranteed that everyone will look at them! In the case of save-the-dates and invitations, they’re usually the first hint for your guests as to how your wedding will look and feel.

So how do you choose a printing type? First, educate yourself as to your options, and then factor in the combination of which makes the most sense with your theme, level of formality, and budget. (Pro tip: Don’t forget to add in both postage and return envelope postage in your stationery budget; especially if you choose a square or odd-sized invitation!)

PRINTING TYPES

Digital (the 1st image in the collage above)

This is a cost- and time-effective method of printing. It looks like a nicer version of your laser printer at home.
– flat ink on paper
– multiple types of paper are appropriate, but must be thin enough to send through a printer
– most flexible with regards to level of formality; can skew formal but will be most effective for casual designs

Offset

Offset is still a flat-ink printing type, but due to a difference in printing process, it’s a better quality, which also makes it slightly more expensive than digital printing.
– flat ink on paper
– more choice in paper types than with digital printing
– due to the heavier weight of paper available, an excellent choice for a cost-effective formal style

Thermography (the 2nd image in the collage above)

Often referred to as raised-ink printing, this is a process of combining resin-like powder and ink in the shape of your design or letters, and heating it until it hardens. It usually looks shiny or glittery.
– raised letters/design on front, no effect on back
– avoid shiny or glittery papers so the text and design remain legible; cotton fiber is a good option
– specialized ink means a restriction in ink color options, though it’s still a wide variety available
– increased difficulty of the process means an increased cost
– turn-around time is not typically long, compared to the most formal types of printing
– subtle sparkle in the ink

Foil

There’s technically no ink used in foil printing, just foil heat-stamped to the paper, lending this process the name “dry inking.”
– slightly indented on front, slightly raised in back
– most effective when using a high contract between foil and paper colors
– thin lines don’t show up as well, so best used for heavier images and larger text
– dependent upon preference, but generally, a little foil goes a long way
– check the turn-around time with your stationer, as the process requires specialized equipment not all have on site
– the most expensive printing process

Letterpress (the 3rd image in the collage above)

This is still largely a manual printing process, with plates made for your design and then hand-set into a machine and pressed into the front of the paper. It’s pricey because of the process and the custom plates that have to be made, but some places will offer a “cut-price” letterpress option with less customization available, so look around if this is your preference!
– indented on front, raised on back
– more ink colors mean more money, as the plates have to be changed manually for each color
– typically a more formal feel, though some very modern styles can benefit, as well
– you need very thick paper for letterpress, which feeds the formal feeling
– check the turn-around time on this print type, as it can very widely depending on whether or not the stationer has a letterpress on site
– one of the most expensive printing types – using a pre-made design from the stationer can save some money on custom letterpress plates

Embossing (the 4th image in the collage above)

This is very similar to engraving, but typically uses no ink and relies on the relief created between two levels to give contrast and interest (think the embossed leather belts your grandpa used to wear – or was that just my grandpa?).
– though typically used without ink, ink can be added to the raised design
– needs a thicker paper to show off the design crisply
– very subtle, if used without ink, and can work for both formal and contemporary styles
– similar in price and turn-around time as engraving and letterpress

Engraving

Unlike embossing, engraving is done with ink from the beginning of the process. The ink used in this process is particularly thick, making it ideal for light ink colors and dark backgrounds.
– very formal look and feel
– works best with thick paper so it doesn’t tear during the pressing of the letters (the actual engraving portion of the process)
– multiple colors of ink can add lots of time and expense to this process since each color will require a separate plate and another run for each invitation through the machine
– pricing is on par with embossing and letterpress

We hope this helps! Paper goods are often at the bottom of couples’ budget priorities, but hopefully this illustrates what can be done with some forethought and a good design. Check back after Easter weekend to see some ideas for creative paper use, as well. “Hoppy” planning!

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