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An Overview of Thermographic Printing

Thermographic printing is a popular technique which has become widely used on everything from wedding invitations to greetings cards and beyond. What sets thermographic printing apart from other methods is the fact that printers can use the process to make elements of the image or the font almost 3D whilst maintaining a natural aesthetic.

An Introduction to Thermography Printing

British Letterpress have stated that whilst the origins of thermography are unclear, it is known to date back to when engraving was the most commonly used method of font styling. Originally, engraving would involve using a copper or zinc metal plate. The grooves would then be filled with the desired ink before being transferred to paper using high pressure. The effect ended up being a print which was slightly raised.

Although the effect was aesthetically pleasing, new plates were needed for every project, meaning it took up a great deal of time. Although this method is still used, it is one of the most costly. Thermography was born out of a desire to speed the process up and cut costs. By using the moveable type printing presses, thermography was able to save customers and printers significant amounts of money.



How does it work?

Thermography is the combination of three straightforward processes. The first process is the application of the thermographic powder, occasionally referred to as embossing powder. The powder, which is made from plastic resins, is coated on the page, and attaches itself to any wet ink.

The next stage begins with vacuuming away any excess powder, meaning only the inked parts which are coated remain. Finally, once the excess has been removed, the transforming process can begin. This is where the substrate gets moved through an oven and is exposed to temperatures ranging between 900 and 1300C. The exposure to the temperature lasts for no more than a few seconds in total.

During the time in the oven, the rise in temperature causes the powder elements to melt, creating the shiny and raised effect many consumers will be familiar with.


What are the benefits?

The benefit of thermographic printing is mainly its visual appeal. For printers it's an inexpensive method, especially when compared to engraving, and it gives a more natural look than other printing options such as Spot UV printing. Those who use thermographic printing tend to use it on items such as greetings cards and invitations. Raised elements in the picture or font can really make a card or invitation stand out, and the natural feeling of the finished product adds a touch of sophistication.


thermographic printing


Important thermographic printing tips to remember


Intricate designs

While it has many advantages, thermoprinting is not suitable in certain circumstances. For starters, thermography is not the best method to use for halftones. The images tend to fill with powder which spoils the cards. Complicated elements should, therefore, be avoided to prevent this problem. It is also essential to stay clear of small fonts.


Damage and durability

The thermo image may scratch, making the overall look untidy. You will notice abrasion on the pictures and letters. While this is not a crucial problem, you may see your images become dull and unattractive over time.


Do not fold

Thermography uses raised ink, which is the beauty of the art, but because of this, you cannot fold the card, or the raised ink will crack, spoiling the design and ultimately the card.


Blister large solid colours

Thermography undoubtedly creates beautiful images, but if a picture has a large area with a solid colour, there's a high likelihood of a blister occurring. Other than this possibility, thermographic printing has no overall size constraints that should worry you.


Heavy textured papers not supported

Using heavy textured papers is also a problem with thermoprinting. The likelihood of trapping the powder mix in a non-printing area is high. The best paperweight is the standard paper, which weighs about 20lb or 75gms.



There are three heat-related issues you need to make note of. Thermographic printing is a heat process, and some laser printers use heat to print. When printing, the powder mix on your document may melt and damage both the material and printing unit. To prevent this, run enough tests and specify a paper that is laser guaranteed.

Secondly, too much heat may cause the paper to catch fire. Be careful to operate with the right amount of heat and avoid a rise in temperature.

Finally, if the heat is too low, your design will tend to appear uneven. Low heat means that some elements will melt, while others will not. Maintaining the right amount of heat is thus important for a perfect design.


Dry ink

For a well-balanced thermographic print, you need the right ink texture. The powder refuses to adhere to ink that is too dry. When this happens, you will end up with pictures that are half printed.


Best way to use thermographic printing

Print documents

Thermography printing is commonly used to print business cards, wedding cards, gift cards, and letterheads. Thermography is quickly overtaking engraved embossing in printing diploma certificates. It is a cheaper alternative when compared to engraving.


Highlight specific areas

Applying thermography to specific areas of a document is not just about beauty: it also gives prominence to the area it's used, naturally attracting the recipient's attention. If you want a name or contact to be prominent in a card, then this is an effective way to do it without being intrusive. This kind of special effect is hard to achieve with other methods of printing. It gives a more vibrant, professional and intense look than flat printing.


Natural look and feel

Thermography printing also gives a natural look and feel to a card. Machines achieve precision and elegance, but the card still looks as natural as a handmade card. This inherent elegant precision adds to the charm of the card.


Raises your social standard

Thermo printing is also a way to make a statement. Because of the elegance it exudes, thermoprinting makes the card look expensive. This look and feel is an important aspect when it comes to printing invitation cards. These cards are a representation of the person or institution. By using thermoprinting, you can present yourself as classy and refined.


Colours used

The powder mix is available in two types of finishes: clear matt and high gloss. These allow the ink colour to show through. Text and graphics can be printed in two or more spot colours. This means that you can have artwork with two or more colours. Metallic gold and silver are also available. Full-colour pictures can be achieved through four-colour thermography. This process combines the use of traditional printing methods and thermographic machines.


What makes thermographic print different from embossing?

Embossing is different from thermography printing mainly because of the process of making the three-dimension design. Both have raised images, but an embossed image is applied using a two-part tool, one male and another female. The image is pushed to a raise by the two parts. Thermo printing creates an image on one side. Embossing uses etched metals while thermography uses ink and powder to create the design. By the end of the heating process, the ink is raised and thoroughly dried. This reduces the waiting time before cards are sent to the slitter.



The key points to remember about thermographic printing is that it is much faster than engraving. The three simple processes which are used in thermographic printing can be quickly summarised, beginning with the powder stage where the powder is applied to wet ink on the page. This is followed by vacuuming to remove the excess before it heads into the oven for no more than 2-3 seconds to create the familiar, shiny appearance. In short, thermographic printing helped to revolutionise printing and is now commonly used throughout the world.

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