Engraving versus Thermography...benefits and drawbacks

Most of our wedding invitations & stationery are printed using thermography, a raised printing method that is relatively inexpensive and offers any option you could want in PMS (Pantone) colors. It's versatile and fast and provides that finished look that you can't get off of a digital printer...here's an example of typical thermographic printing on a metallic stock:

You can see the raised impression and the light reflection on the surface of the graphic. Lighter colors have a beautiful translucent effect that works especially well on metallic stocks. So why would we use engraved printing, a much more expensive process (which is the primary drawback)? What is the difference in process and what are the benefits of engraving?

Thermography is an offset printing process. The type/image goes onto the paper as flat ink and then while the ink is still wet, a very fine powder is dusted onto the paper and it goes through a very high heat oven. That powder liquifies and hardens to form the raised print.

Engraving requires the design to be etched onto a copper plate. The engraver then forces the paper onto that plate with very high pressure and the result is a raised image on the front, and you can see the "bruise" of the plate on the back of the paper. That is the evidence of true engraved stationery. Additionally, when metallic ink is used, the paper passes through the process once more to burnish the ink and give it a finished, smooth look.

The benefits of engraving include:
  • Engraved type and graphics usually result in a much sharper image compared to those printed with thermography.
  • Whereas thermography usually has a glossy look, engraved graphics look more like matte-finish paint on paper, with little gloss except in the case of metallic inks.
  • Engraving allows you to print light colors on dark paper stocks. Thermography doesn't have a "white" ink, so there's no way to get that sharp, white or light type layout or graphic that you can with engraving (note: you can also use white/light foil to get that light on dark impact, but it's a very different look).
  • Engraving is the true "traditional" printing method for wedding invitations, so if you're having a very formal, traditional wedding and have the budget for it, engraving is an excellent choice for your stationery.
Here are a couple of views of an engraved job we recently completed. We never would have achieved the sharp distinction of line in the interwoven monograms if we had printed them with thermography. For the full view of this job, click HERE to see the full portfolio from this wedding.

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