Luxury for Less: Budget-friendly Alternatives to Specialty Print Finishes

Make print magic with strategic design choices that don’t break the bank.

We’re design, print, and marketing professionals here at YellowDog – not a gaggle of magicians. That said, we are always looking for ways to use our design and printing powers to save our clients money while still delivering the premium print products of their dreams. 

Regardless of the size of your business or brand, you want your print materials to look and feel as professional as you are. While it’s true that “specialty” finishes like die-cutting, embossing, or foiling add flair to your print project, the high cost of these finishes can eat up a print budget in no time. Luckily, we have some magic tricks up our sleeves for how to achieve your print project on a budget.

Biggest budget breaker: The custom metal die

steel rule dies

You’ll soon see a theme that here at YellowDog we have been working to eliminate the biggest budget-killer of all: the custom die. A die is basically a metal cookie cutter for print items. Dies can take weeks to make, cost hundreds of dollars each, and are unable to be changed once they have been made. And, just like holiday cookie cutters every other month of the year, they take up a lot of storage space. So. Out with the metal dies, and in with these print-perfect alternatives.

Foil-stamping : Replace with metallic toners

Foil stamping is the standard way to achieve a metallic effect.  To do this, a metal die of your design must be made in order to hot-stamp the foil into your paper product. However, we’ve figured out how to hypnotize your audience with glistening metallic designs at a fraction of the cost. 

journal printed with gold metallic ink
black posters with gold ink

The trick:

Our favorite design hack and budget-friendly alternative to foil stamping is using metallic toners! Our Xerox Iridesse prints with metallic toners (gold and silver) which by themselves have the “sparkle” needed to be a convincing metallic. This is unique for digital printing machines which typically only use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black to replicate colors. 

The reason why you can’t really print a replication of silver is that without the sparkle, it’s just gray. Gold is even more difficult, as the approximate color for “gold” changes frequently, ranging from bright yellow to a duller brownish color. Without the sparkle and depth of the metallic it can easily get muddied in replication. 

Though our gold and silver do not quite mimic the ultra-gloss shine of a foil-stamped piece, we can also create custom metallic colors by blending in CMYK colors (Or even gold and silver together!) to make a completely unique design and color. Think rose gold or copper, or even make your blues into icy metallics! Add a touch of shimmer to your designs or print entirely in gold or silver, and change your mind as much as you want. One of the most popular use cases for metallic inks are custom cards and invitations.

White, which also traditionally needs to be either foiled or screen-printed, is also possible with our Xerox Irridesse! Print white onto black or any other dark-colored paper for a sophisticated finish without the hefty price tag!

Embossing or debossing: Replace with strategic design and spot gloss finishes

Embossing (or having a raised design in your paper) and debossing (having a sunken design in your paper) look great but are pricey to achieve due to the creation of the metal die. With both effects, you also have to contend with the finish on both sides of your paper, where one side is embossed and the other is debossed. This can limit double-sided designs, especially for something like a business card where space is limited. Instead, we have some tricks up our sleeve to create the same illusion while keeping some money in your pocket.

spot gloss menu

The trick:

In lieu of this costly extra step, you can use spot-gloss effects with our clear gloss toner to add some texture and visual appeal to your project. The gloss accent can be a subtle addition to a gloss paper or a real stand-out on a matte paper stock. This effect works wonders to spice up business cards, flyers and brochures, and more.

Alternatively, simply use a drop shadow on a high-resolution image in your print design to create a simulated embossed effect. You could also print black toner onto a black paper to get a subtle visual effect similar to the look of embossing.

Die-cutting: Replace with digital die-cutting

You’ve heard this one before, but this time it’s in the name! Die-cutting in the traditional way requires a metal die to be made of whatever shape you are trying to cut out. In our efforts to eliminate costly dies from our print process, we also have a digital alternative to standard die-cutting: our Sinajet!

die cut invitation
die cut notebook cover
die cut stickers

The trick:

Trade out costly and cumbersome dies for digitally designed cuts that you can change and update at your leisure. The way that our machine works is that we design a program with your custom shaped die lines and print program guides on our press sheets so the machine can register and replicate the cut design perfectly with each new sheet of paper. This machine uses several tools with knife-blades for precision and depth cutting! 
Unlike traditional die-cutting, we can cut into a variety of materials, like foam core, styrene, cardboard, chipboard, synthetic paper, and all types of cardstock and text weight papers. Up to 23” x 35” size. Most popular for custom stickers, which we can do as a full die-cut or as a kiss-cut sticker sheet. We can also add score lines for custom box shapes and sizes. (We’ll print the boxes, too, but that’s a different story!)

creative director

Talk with a Designer or Account Manager

Our award-winning design team and account managers are here to guide you through the process and suggest cost-friendly alternatives that will still result in a professional and polished end result. 

Now that you know the secret to “Pinterest-worthy” designs isn’t in the cost it takes to create, but rather in the strategic design decisions behind them, you’re ready to perform your own print magic. 

Vera Benschop

Vera Benschop

Vera Benschop is our Print Production Manager and knower of all things book-making. When not running a tight ship on the YellowDog production floor, she’s handcrafting her own brand of photography zines. Check out her work on Instagram @benschopbooks.
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