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The Printing Techniques Every Web Designer Needs to Know

NFL players take ballet classes so they can be lighter on their feet. Serious runners lift weights to increase their strength and endurance. Boxers practice yoga to improve their balance and agility in the ring.

You may not be a professional athlete, but you can still take a tip from these guys and gals. Just like cross-training helps them improve at their sports, learning about the wide world of print design will make you a better web designer.

Understanding how inks combine to create designs will increase your understanding of how colors work together on the web. Learning about textured imprint methods might just inspire you to try some sophisticated 3D elements in your designs. And knowing how printing techniques actually work will prepare you for the day when a client asks you to create some print designs to match their new website.

The four most popular printing techniques are a great place to start. We’ll explain how they’re done—and you can also check out this resource to learn how tochoose the right printing style and paper stock for your project.

Four Color Process Printing

As a web professional, you’re likely most familiar with the RGB colors that are used for digital design. That other color profile—CMYK—is what print designers use. Printing in CMYK is called “four color process” because it mixes four colors to create a design. (In case you’re wondering, the colors are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key—which really means black.)

To create a four color process design, printers mix the inks at printing time. That means they’re original to every job—and that you can create an unlimited range of custom colors for your CMYK design. Four color process is a favorite because of its versatility.

PMS Printing

PMS printing uses a third color profile, called the Pantone Matching System in honor of the company that created it. Pantone Inc., which started out as a commercial printing company in NYC in the 1950s,struggled to keep track of all its ink pigments. That made matching colors difficult, until a part-time employee designed a system for reproducing colors consistently.

Today, printers use PMS inks when they have to match an exact color on a client’s design. These inks don’t offer the infinite number of colors that CMYK can create, but with over 1,500 options available, theycan definitely get the job done. Best of all, their standard colors mean that you’ll get consistent results at any print shop.

Foil Stamping

In foil stamping, a metal die like the one in the photo is custom-made to match the design. Asheet of ultra-thinfoil is placed between the die and the paper stock. Once the die is heated to the right temperature, it presses down on the foil, using the heat to seal the design into the paper.

Metallic foils are the most popular, because their shiny surface attracts attention and creates a luxurious look, but you can still find plenty of non-metallic options. Foils also come in a wide variety of colors—from bright neon hues to classy corporate tones—so you’re sure to find one that works for your project.


A close relative of foil stamping, embossingputs enough pressure on a metal die to transferthe design onto the surface of the paper. Except in this case, there’s no foil to separate them—the dieis applied directly to the paper to create a raised design.

There are multiple types of embossing. Blind embossing is the most common and one of the simplest because it uses one level of texture, whereas a sculpted emboss creates multiple levels of texture. Debossing reverses the process to create an indented design. Because embossing alters the stock’s surfacewithout changing its color, you can add ink or foil to really play upyour design.

Want to see these printing techniques in action? Check out these examples from printing firm Company Folders, who created this great graphic for you:

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