Hey, Designer, what was that word you just used?

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director and Designer at Lerner

Sometimes when you’ve been in a particular job role or three for a while you start taking for granted that everyone around you knows what you’re talking about when throwing around technical design or book speak. Or maybe it’s not even technical book speak, but department slang. Then every once in a while a colleague from another department wanders over into the design world, overhears us bandying about such words, gives us an odd look, then walks away. This is how ideas for blog posts are born.

So here it is, folks. Some technical words as they apply to finishing printing treatments on book jackets and covers, defined as we use them at Lerner:

Foil stamp: an extra printing application, done with stamp, which adheres a metallic or pigmented foil to the paper. When you see something super shiny on a cover or jacket, this is usually a foil stamp. Stamps can be holographic or glittery or pearly… or just a straight color.  Foils can be used over an entire cover with an image printed on top of that, which will give the entire cover a metallic sheen. Or, they can also be used for a mirror effect.

Holographic foil combined with an emboss on the title.
Foil stamp bringing self reflection to the reader

At Lerner we use the foil stamp more regularly on our novel hardcovers—otherwise known as the case—beneath the jackets. Here’s just a sampling of some Carolrhoda Lab and Middle Grade novel cases:

I would be remiss not to mention the talented Designers who have put together these jackets and undercover easter eggs: Kim Morales, Emily Harris, and Laura Otto Rinne. I may have done a couple as well.


Emboss: a printing treatment, added at the end of the printing process, in which a part of the paper is raised to make a 3D or sculptural appearance to a book cover. It’s tactile, it’s awesome, it makes whatever you emboss stand out further on a cover. Used often for titles. (if we can get our title even one millimeter physically closer to you than the others…)
Some variations on an emboss:

Deboss: the affected area of the jacket is sunken rather than raised. Why would you want to do this, you ask? Well, what if you were trying to mimic claw marks, scratched into the surface.

part of the production file for a case deboss or foil stamp.
This will eventually end up on a color paper, so won’t be black & white.
(Unless the designer Kim chooses to use white paper for the case.)

Blind emboss: just the emboss to create the shape. No ink. Very subtle.

Sculptural emboss: a regular emboss has one level, a sculptural emboss has more levels for a more intricate look. If I ever get this kind of emboss approved, I’ll gladly take a picture of the final product and update this post.

Lamination: That plastic coating on jackets that makes them durable. You probably knew this one. But did you know laminate can be either on the front surface or the underneath surface of the jacket, depending how tactile the cover should be. There are different types of laminate as well: standard gloss, matte, or soft-touch matte (or in department words: “the one that feels really nice”).
Varnish: a final paper coating, not as protective (or plastic) as lamination, but can aid in keeping fingerprints to a minimum. We often use a lamination & spot varnish to achieve a cover with both matte and gloss areas. Which is very hard to take a picture of. (departmental slang: “let’s do the matte/gloss thing with this jacket!”)

And one more for now: that little piece of textile on the top and the bottom of the spine, where the pages meet the binding–that’s called the headband. And yes, designers delight in choosing the color for something even this small. Every detail matters.

This picture really does make it look like I use a lot of red & orange on book cases. Hm.

The goal with any of these finishing printing treatments here is to make our covers stand out from crowd while representing the content of the book the best we can—for instance, for book covers such as The Bunker Diary, with a less-than-cheerful topic, it’s really best not to misrepresent the tone by having a bright shiny glossy look on the front.

Do we ever wonder if these finishing details matter to the reader? All the time. But we believe they do. Go to any bookstore, you’ll see foils, embosses, debosses, matte laminate, or many other printing enhancements on covers (Glitter! Metallic ink!) everywhere. What do you think—do these options make YOU want to pick up and read one book more than another?

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