Embossing vs. Debossing: When Should I Use Either One?

Posted on February 15, 2018 | Updated on March 1, 2021

Embossing and debossing are similar in some ways. They create a difference in the texture of paper, making hills and valleys. However, they are quite different. Embossing is made up of raised portions, typically letters. Whereas debossing is the sunken portion of the paper. The process to create them is fairly similar, but there are different techniques to create the effects and many variations on each type of design. With all the techniques, the surface of the paper is altered in some way.

It can be difficult to know which design you should use to attain a particular effect. Some of the details of embossing and debossing are listed below. However, designers should try different methods and techniques until they achieve the look they want. When it comes to this type of art, there are many ways to put your personality into your designs.

Techniques for Embossing and Debossing

There are three things designers have to consider when creating an altered surface through embossing or debossing: Pressure and weight of the paper, heat to set the impression in the paper, and the depth of the die or how deep the embossing is. Which technique you choose is going to depend upon the design itself. Not to mention how much of an impact you want to make with that design.

For example, if you are creating and old English-looking script design, then an embossed design looks better than a debossed design because the serifs of the letters tend to get lost in the valleys of debossing. On the other hand, a blocky-type script might look better debossed because of the sharp angles of the letters.

Take a look at the invitation below from Dolce Press and how the embossed letters stand out better than the debossed version. There is a close-up photo of the embossing and debossing and a photo from the distance so you can see the impact of both styles.

Takeaway: It might be best to design both ways at first, even if you just do a letter or two, so you can see how the finished product might translate with the script you’ve chosen. Even the type of paper you choose can make a difference in the overall design. So you’ll want to see how the method looks as a finished product before choosing which method to use.


Many times, people want metallic foil added to these designs. Foiling almost always works best with embossing. It can create an interesting look when set against a very dark background or paper color, however. Experiment with gold foil debossed lettering on maroon paper or a navy blue cardstock. If using a lighter-color paper, gold foil looks best when embossing.

Special Occasions

Typically, you might use embossing for special occasions. For example, if you are creating an invitation for a child’s birthday party, you’d likely stick with flat paper and not utilize either of these techniques. However, if you are creating an invitation for a 50th wedding anniversary, then an embossed invitation with the number 50 in gold foiled letters can make a big impact.

Embossing and debossing are both a bit time-consuming, and thus cost more to create than a basic printed design. Because of this, they are often reserved for those special times people don’t mind spending a bit more on. This would be for events like weddings, anniversaries and big birthday celebrations.

Techniques for Embossing and Debossing

You also must decide which technique works best for you as a designer and creates the exact effect you want.

  •         Blind emboss: No ink or foil is used in this technique to bring attention to the embossed or debossed area. The only change is whether the paper has raised or recessed areas. This works well if you want to create a very subtle look.
  •         Glazing: This is similar to blind embossing, but the raised area has a very glossy look to it, creating a shiny area on the embossed portions of the page. This has a very modern edge to it. It might work well to advertise an art gallery opening, for example.
  •         Scorching: With scorching, the temperature of the die plate is very high, and this scorches the paper slightly. This works great if you want an antique look to your design.
  •         Foil emboss: This creates a raised area for foil to be placed over. As mentioned above, this is good when trying to create an elegant design or to create an invitation for a very special occasion.

Although there are other techniques, these are the most common and what you’re likely to use as a designer. There are also variations to all of these techniques, which you can experiment with to get the exact look you’re going for.

If you want a more detailed design, you can also use a stamp with ink and then use embossing pens to run over the design. By using a pen by hand rather than a die plate, you can add detail you otherwise might not be able to get. Some people even use a die plate. Then they go back in with pens to create additional detail and make the design as specific as possible. This doesn’t work well for things you need to create in large quantities. It takes a lot of time, but it can be an excellent tool to create a logo design or something one-off.

So What Should I Do?

Ultimately, you need to listen to the client. Come up with a design that is similar to what they want and also works well aesthetically. If the client insists they want debossed with gold foil but has chosen an ivory cardstock, try to steer them toward a darker color. Show examples, so the client can see how much better the design looks. You can make almost any embossed or debossed design look special and elegant. You just sometimes need to tweak the finer details.

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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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