Decoding Printing Methods
The questions I get more than anything else as a wedding stationer are centered around the various types of printing methods. If you're not in the design or printing industry, I know the world of printing can seem so incredibly daunting. And you want your invitations to be a true reflection of you, so it's important to know what printing method would be a perfect match for the design you work so hard with your stationer on!
When it comes to wedding invitations, these are some of the most common printing methods:
Letterpress Printing. Letterpress printing is a traditional printing method that involves creating a relief of your design using a press. In order to create the relief, a plate is made by washing away the blank areas, leaving the designed areas that will become your relief. Each color requires it's own plate, and each color needs to go through the press separately, making 2 or more colored letterpress invitations more costly. I work with letterpress printers who manage traditional letterpresses (meaning an actual person runs every single piece of paper through the press manually - so an order of 100 invitations and response cards goes through the press 200 times; add a second color and it goes through 400 times!). Every time a new design is created, a new plate must be made. There are a variety of papers out there capable of handling the relief of letterpress printing. My printers stock luxurious Italian stocks in white, ivory, and deckled (torn) edge.
A letterpress invitation suite on ivory cardstock with foil stamped envelope liners
Foil Stamping. Similar to letterpress printing, foil stamping requires a die to be made of the areas that will be printed in metallic foil. The metallic foil is applied to the paper with the heated die. Also similar to letterpress, a new die must be made for every new metallic foil design. I work with printers who stock a variety of metallic foil colors on a variety of paper stock options including textured, smooth, kraft, and recycled.
A digitally printed invitation suite with the names and swirl detail stamped in gold metallic foil with glitter envelope liners
Die Cutting. While die cutting isn't a printing method, it can be just as important to the overall look of your invitation. Die cut cards can be cut into a variety of shapes to add character to your invitations. Rounded and inverted corners are also an option that can be used in place of die cutting.
Digitally printed programs with a custom die cut shape
Heat Embossing. Heat embossing is the process of creating a stamp, adding ink to your stamp, and pouring embossing powder on top. The excess powder is then removed from the paper to create your design.
Flat Foil Printing. Flat foil printing is similar to the foil stamping method, but more cost effective. Rather than making a die, a specialty printer is used to print metallic ink directly onto the paper. The difference between this method and foil stamping is that the entire design must be printed in metallic ink, and the paper options and sizes are much more limited.
Flat gold foil printing
Digital Printing. Digital printing is the most cost-effective way to print your invitations. The process involves printing your digital design directly onto the paper. This method is perfect for small run jobs, like wedding invitations. I use a variety of printers who stock several styles and colors of paper stock for digital printing, but the paper stocks that run through a digital printer do not match the thickness and quality of several other printing methods. This is a great option for designs that have a wide array of colors and thin lines or design elements. Unlike other methods, digital printing must be done on a stock that is lighter in color than the ink colors being printed.
Digitally printed invitation suite. The large areas of charcoal gray background were achieved by printing charcoal gray overlaid with white text
Many of these printing methods can be combined to achieve a unique look, too!
While this is not a comprehensive list, these are the most common printing methods I use for my clients, but the sky really is the limit! Other printing options include white ink printing, blind embossing, thermography, offset lithography, and so much more!
Got a question about a specific printing method? Leave it in the comments, or contact me! I'm happy to help!
All photos, with the exception of the die cut photo, are taken by the talented Caroline Lima.