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Embossing and debossing are processes of creating either raised or recessed relief images and designs in paper and other materials. An embossed pattern is raised against the background, while a debossed pattern is sunken into the surface of the material (but might protrude somewhat on the reverse, back side). Also see: bas relief.
Embossing is typically accomplished by applying heat and pressure with male and female dies, usually made of copper or brass, that fit together and squeeze the fibers of the substrate. The combination of pressure and heat raises the level of the image higher than the substrate, while "ironing" it to make it smooth. In printing this is accomplished on a letterpress. The most common machines are the Kluge Letterpress and the Heidelberg Letterpress.
"Debossing" is similar to embossing, but recesses the design rather than raising it.
Most types of paper can be embossed, and size is not normally a consideration. Embossing without ink, so that the image is raised but not colored, is called "blind embossing." Embossing used in conjunction with ink, so that the raised area is colored, is called "color register embossing." Embossing used in conjunction with foil stamping is called "combination stamping" or "combo stamping."
Embossing involves a separate stage in the production process, after any varnishing and laminating. It requires a separate press run, and is priced accordingly. In addition to being used as a design element, embossing can be used to improve the performance of paper products like napkins, diapers, and tissue paper.
A notary public may use an embossed seal to mark legal papers, either in the form of an adhesive seal, or using a clamp-like embossing device, to certify a signature on a document, contract, etc., or cause to become certified through a notary public or bill. Registered professional engineers also use embossing seals to certify drawings, thereby guaranteeing to the recipient that due diligence has been exercised in the design.
Embossing has been used regularly on postage stamps. The embossed paper of a letter sheet or stamped envelope is called an indicium. Notable early examples include some of the earliest stamps of Italy, Natal, and Switzerland, as well as the early high values of Britain. Modern stamps still sometimes use embossing as a design element.
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