How To: Identify a Printing Process

We often get asked the differences between the various printing processes we use to craft our stationery, especially between engraving and thermography. Of course, the best way to tell the difference is to pay a visit to your local stationer so you can feel the difference. However, below we’ve outlined all of the different processes and what makes them unique.

Engraving is the finest, most distinct form of three-dimensional “raised printing.” No other paper manufacturer offers our engraving quality, craftsmanship and level of service.

As a highly skilled craft dating back to the 16th century, engraving conveys an unspoken message of distinction and timelessness. It has a warmth and elegance all its own. Running your fingers over a piece of engraved stationery reveals the textures unique to engraving — finely detailed, raised letters with slight indentations on the reverse side of the paper. There is no substitute for true engraving.

engraved hot air balloon

How it Works

  1. Text or image is reproduced as a “reverse” photographic image on a film negative.
  2. The film negative is placed on a chemically treated copper plate.
  3. Light passing through the film exposes the text image on the surface of the plate.
  4. The plate is dipped in acid and the exposed surface is chemically etched. (Some types of etching is done by hand.)
  5. The copper plate is called a die. The die is now ready for die-stamping, the process of transferring ink to paper from an engraved die.
  6. The die is placed on the press and a “counter” is cut to approximately the size of the area taken up by the engraved letters on the die.
  7. On the press, ink is applied to the die. The ink is wiped off the surface of the die but the ink remains in the engraved cavity.
  8. The counter concentrates the pressure of the press on the area in which the image is to be engraved, forcing part of the paper into the etched cavity of the die, creating inked, raised surfaces in the paper. This is the process that creates the sharp definition that is associated with the engraving art.
  9. Each color selected requires a separate engraving plate and a separate pass through the press.

One special detail we love about engraved stationery is that the copper plate used to create their personalized stationery is sent along with their order so it can be re-used for future orders.

engraving plate 2Embossing/Blind Embossing is similar to the engraving process, but executed without ink. The plate is pressed into the paper creating raised text or design.

As blind embossing requires thicker lines to produce a clear impression in the paper, it is recommended to use typestyles, monograms and designs suitable for embossing only. Embossing on light colored papers produces a more subtle result while darker papers produce more dramatic results.blind embossed monogramLetterpress is a relief printing method using polymer plates. Letterpress offers a tactile quality and nostalgic feel that can’t be achieved with any other technique. Crane’s 100% cotton Lettra paper is the perfect match for the letterpress process.

letterpress botanical note loresLetterpress began in Europe in the 14th century as an alternative to laborious calligraphy. Type was hand cast and individual characters were hand-set into lines. Now, most letterpress is done with machine-set composition. Once the relief surface has been prepared, it is put in the press. A roller (or sometimes a dauber) is used to place ink on the type, which is then pressed against paper to transfer the images. Multiple blocks are used to create images with more than one color. The letterforms leave their mark, adding a sensuous texture to the page.

Letterpress ink is suitable for most colored papers, however, stocks that are limited to engraving only are not suitable for letterpress. This is because the letterpress ink is less opaque, so therefore the darker paper colors will skew the ink shade, especially for medium gold and cranberry shades.

Thermography is a process that produces a dimensional effect similar to engraving without the use of copper plate dies. Images are given a raised appearance by dusting a fine resinous powder (matte, gloss or semi-gloss) over slow-drying ink, then applying heat to melt and fuse the resin onto the ink. Any offset ink color, or even a clear resin, will work, and the image area can be any size. The image detail is not as clear and sharp as engraving but is more attractive than flat printing.

thermography example

How it Works

  1. Text or image is transferred “direct to plate” on a long roll form in the image setter. A paper plate with an aluminum backing is created. This plate chemically transfers the image of the impression to the paper.
  2. The plate is mounted on the press cylinder and is first wet and then inked. The ink is offset onto a blanket cylinder. The image is flat printed on the paper as it passes between the blanket cylinder and the impression cylinder.
  3. While the ink is still wet, it is dusted with resinous powder. Some of the powder sticks to the wet ink; the excess powder is vacuumed from the surface before the paper passes through a heated tunnel.
  4. The heat melts the powder that forms a clear, raised surface over the printed image. The paper itself remains flat. It is the melted resin that creates the raised effect.

How to tell the different between engraving and thermography

  • Look for the bruise that engraving leaves on the font of the paper and the indentation on the back of the paper.
  • Feel the printing. The engraving will feel sharp and refined.
  • Engraving will have a matte finish, showing the ink’s true color.
  • Thermography will be thick and glossy, and the resinous powder will slightly change the color of the ink.
  • Thermography inks are transparent, so colored papers will also alter the shade of ink.

Foil stamping is a process for which foils made of metal or other materials, available in various colors, are carried on a plastic sheet and transferred through a stamping process onto paper. The effect gives the design a vibrant metallic glow and contemporary look.foil stamp exampleFlat printing, also known as lithography, is created by ink applied to a flat printing plate. It is the most common but least distinctive printing technique.

For more questions about printing processes, please email our Crane Concierge at

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