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Embossing vs Debossing: What’s The Difference?

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Embossing vs Debossing

Embossing and Debossing are two techniques used to either impress or depress an image into paper. These are popular printing effects that are perfect for giving your print piece a fresh, contemporary look. Go the extra mile and combine them with other effects such as foil stamping, to create a luxury item.

When it comes to choosing between embossing and debossing, it comes down to preference. Let’s examine the difference between the two.

Embossing vs Debossing General

What is Embossing?

Embossing involves creating a three dimensional, raised up image or design. To emboss, two main things are used, a die, which is a personalised metal plate that’s cut into the image you want to emboss, and stock which is typically paper. The die presses into the stock like a stamp and slightly raises images off of the paper of your print piece. The die can be single-level or multi-level. A single-level raises your image to one consistent height or depth, and a multi-level creates a more complex emboss or deboss. 


The result is a three-dimensional effect that emphasises a particular area of your design. Often people emboss a company logo, a custom illustration, initials, or a pattern for a luxurious effect. Embossing can be done on a wide range of materials like metal, acrylic, leather, wood, cloth and of course, paper.


The Process of Embossing

The first step of embossing in a commercial process is the creation of the die. The die is made up of two metal plates (male and female) that sandwich the paper together. The printer creates the die by either hand-tooling, routering, or photo-etching the image that will be embossed onto the two metal plates. 


Once the paper or other stock material is between the two plates, the female plate has the required text or imagery etched into it, while the matching male plate has the same design sunken. When the paper is put between the two plates, the image is pushed up from the surrounding flat area – known as the substrate – and an embossed design is created.

Types of Embossing

Blind embossing is the simplest application of the embossing process. It simply involves creating a raised-up design, with no added ink or foil to enhance the image. However, there are many different effects that can be achieved in combination with embossing. For example, hot stamping foils are often used to create a shiny, metallic embossed finish. This is sometimes known as combination embossing.

Debossed Example

What is Debossing?

Essentially, debossing is the opposite of embossing. Debossing is when an image such as a logo or text is imprinted into your print piece, creating a depressed effect. Just like embossing, you can choose to leave the debossed area untouched. You can also add to it by filling it with ink or foil stamping. Unlike embossing, debossing doesn’t interfere with the back of your print piece. This gives you both sides to work with. Debossing can be used on its own or in conjunction with embossing.

Debossing is achieved by using a significant amount of pressure to push an image into a material, typically leather or thick card. The result effect is very fashionable and is used by many high-end brands as a sign of quality and prestige. Like embossing, debossing can be done blind or in combination with other finishes.

What Material Can You Use For Embossing & Debossing?

In General, embossing works better on paper stock, whilst debossing is better suited to thicker materials. It is technically possible for designs to be raised (embossed) from leather. However, it is a difficult process that involves a metal set of plates and filling the raised design with resin to maintain the 3D image. A more successful way of achieving this look can be to deboss the background, leaving your logo at the original material height – thus giving a raised effect.

Consideration For Embossing and Debossing

Not all images emboss well – in the long run you’ll save money and time by spending a little more of both upfront to get your project right. There are a few things you should consider before you emboss an element of your design:

  • Choose the ideal section of your design to emboss. Text, logos, a single image, initials and a small pattern or embellishment work best with embossing. Although there are no exact rules, an emboss or deboss looks best when it is used as an accent rather than a whole piece. An exception to this may be a recurring pattern on the cover of a small printed piece such as an invitation or a business card, where embossing a repetitive element on the entire side of a piece adds an element of class. 
  • Use simple artwork. Embossing and Debossing adds literal dimensionality to a 2D image, because of this, embossing actually looks its best when it’s done on simple artwork. Artwork that is shaded, coloured or otherwise designed to look 3D may appear distorted when embossed – so keep it simple. 
  • If you are doing multi-level embossing, your deepest areas should be the largest part of the design. If you go too deep with your emboss on a very small section of your design, the paper is more likely to tear. Save your deep embossing for larger sections of your artwork. 
  • If possible, use a heavier paper stock. The most effective embossed pieces use a detailed die and heavier paper stock to highlight the depth and detail of the embossed graphics or images. 
  • Consider the back of your print piece, as embossing will affect the design of this area. This does not make embossing a limitation, but an opportunity to add some really cool visuals to your piece.

Embossing vs Debossing

Embossing or debossing create the kind of printed pieces that stand out where others fall flat. They are simple techniques that can be achieved relatively easily. Using the right equipment, embossed and debossed products have a classic and timeless appeal. You can add an instant lift to any product, including business cards, product labels, leather gifts and more. Sooner Than Later offers high quality, personalised embossing and debossing services. If you are unsure about embossing and debossing, we have a wide range of other specialised finishing options that may suit you.

Originally published November 18, 2022
 11:00 AM
, Updated March 2, 2024