Thermography Raised Printing

Raised Letters

Commercial Scale With Thermal Label Printing. Berenika_L / Getty Images

Commonly known as poor man's engraving, thermography or thermographic printing produces raised printing similar in appearance to engraving but using a completely different process. In thermography, a special powdered resin is added on top of the ink of the printed document. After removing the excess powder the printed piece is heated and the powder and ink mixture dries to form a raised effect on the paper.

Developed in 1905 as a way to add special effects to printing, the process was completely manual. Automated machines for thermography would come along about a decade later.

The thermography process is typically done using traditional printing methods with slow-drying ink (so that the thermography powders adhere to the printing) and special thermography machines that apply the powder, vacuum the excess and heat the powder. Alternatively, a manual process involves applying the powder by hand then using a heating system or even a handheld heat gun to activate the powder and produced the raised printing effect.

Through the choice of powders and the heating process, the final effect can be glossy or matte.

Uses of Thermography

Often used to produce wedding invitations, business cards, and letterhead, done right, thermographic printing can be an attractive and cost-effective alternative to the more expensive engraving process.

Almost any type of desktop publishing project can include thermographic printing including greeting cards, envelopes, certificates, presentation folders, and report covers.

Designing for Thermography

  • To avoid having the powder become trapped in areas where you don't want it, don't use thermographic printing with images that contain extremely small type (below 6 or 7 points), intricate designs or fine details.
  • Although you can cover large areas with thermography the results may be uneven. Talk to your printer in advance for recommendations.
  • Choose smooth (coated or uncoated) papers. Heavy textures can trap the powder.
  • Thermography can only be applied to one side of the paper. Use it for single-sided designs or plan to use flat printing only on one side of the page. But talk to your printer in advance to avoid surprises.
  • Because thermography is a heat-based printing method if you plan to create materials (such as letterhead shells) that will later be run through a laser printer, ask your printer about laser-safe thermography to avoid having your designs ruined by the heat of some printers and copiers.

Also Known As: offset thermography | raised printing | thermographic printing | heat raised printing

Additional Resources for Learning About Thermography

Thermography at includes additional tips on designing for thermography.

Thermography vs. Flat Printing describes some of the benefits and a few short-comings of this raised printing process.

History of Thermography attempts to piece together the origins of this printing process which was nicknamed "Fried Printing" because it involved a hot plate.