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In this guide, I’ll talk about the processes I use when creating artwork in InDesign for special finishes such as varnishes, foil blocking, embossing, and die-cutting. Each finish has some best practice guides you should follow, but once you get your head around creating one you should be able to easily apply this knowledge to the other processes. 

To illustrate each print finish, I’ll use an example of a cover I created for Computer Arts in collaboration with Celloglas, a specialist in decorative print finishes. At the bottom of each page, you’ll find a video showing each design being brought to life at the printers.

Foil blocking


It’s always best to create the artwork for foil block printing as a vector. If that’s not possible then you want the artwork to be a minimum of 600 DPI – this will help you avoid jagged edges and keep the foil blocking look crisp. Remember, you can’t achieve gradients or shading with a foil, so the artwork needs to be a solid color. 

Generally, you’ll get the best results when you’re not trying to line the foil blocking up with a printed image, as paper stretch/shrinkage can cause the foil to misregister.

Best practices

  • Avoid using any foil lines thinner than 0.5mm/1pt
  • Leave at least 1mm space between the separate foiled elements to stop shapes bleeding into one another
  • Don’t try and align the foil to fine details such as small type (especially serifs) or thin lines
  • When lining up the foil with a printed image, add a 1mm to the foil guide to allow for misregistration
  • Large areas of solid foil can be tricky to get right and you may not always get the best results.

Create foil blocking in InDesign


I find the easiest way is to supply your foil-blocking artwork is as a separate PDF file. I tend to design the document as a mockup, using a block color to represent any foil elements, then add the foil block elements to my final print artwork. 

This means you can see the closest example of how the final printed product will look, and reduces the risk of any misregistration issues. It also means you have a mockup version ready to send to the printers.

  • Finalise your design, with the foil block elements in a solid colour on a separate layer over the top of your print artwork
  • Duplicate the page three times. One page will be your mockup, one will be the final artwork for printing, and one will be the foil block
  • Delete the unwanted elements from the relevant pages, and save each version with the relevant name
  • Open the files and delete the unwanted pages from each file
  • In your foil document, change the colour to solid black, and check to make sure you’ve covered everything by turning off the black ink and looking in your Separations Preview panel
  • Some printers may require you to set up a spot colour and work with one document. In this case, make sure the spot colour is set to Overprint (via ‘Window > Attributes’) so you don’t lose any of the detail underneath the foil block element.

Die cuts and folding


As with foil blocking, for the best result, you want to create your die lines as a vector graphic. I use solid lines for areas that need cutting, and dotted lines for the areas that need to be folded. Once again, you want to work over the top of your print document. 

When designing your artwork, remember you’ll get the best results if you don’t try to align the die to a printed image, as there is always the chance of slight misregistration.

There are some general rules of thumb to take into consideration when creating your artwork.

  • Mark up die cuts with solid lines and folds with a dotted line
  • Die cut holes need to be at least 4mm, and the lines at least 1pt thick
  • Leave at least 2mm space between the die cut holes
  • Remember, the more holes or the larger the holes, the weaker the paper/card will become
  • Consider the shape of your die cut – be wary of anything that could easily catch and rip

If you’re attempting to create anything complicated, it is always best to contact your printer/die cutter first. Every design has the potential for unforeseen problems.

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