I recently download the instructions/owners manual for the Kelsey press. In the general description printing, the manual describes raised printing. Basically the process is to print as normal, but then sprinkle each print with a printing compound, shake off the excess that doesn’t stick to the ink and the expose the print to a bit of heat.

I assume this is an “old” tehnique at the manual is old. My question is about the quality of the finished product and if worth doing, where I might order the printing compound.

Any thoughts, comments, etc will be appreciated.


Log in to reply   40 replies so far

Sounds like thermography.

Thermographic powder can be obtained from Caslon in the UK. Earlier this week I printed a job using thermography. Text was printed in black ink, through which I mixed a bit of transparent white, to give it a bit more tack. To get the powder on the printed cards, I used a large open box, in which I had the powder, dip the card in move it slightly to cover the printed areas with powder, shake off the surplus and carefully warm it with an electric paintstripper. The powder and the ink mixes and rises. Leave to dry.

image: thermography.JPG


I seem to recall that the thermography powder, marketed as the Virkotype process, came in several grinds: for a high or low gloss, and for fine type, or for large areas. Also clear, black, gold and silver. Gold “embossing” required a yellow print.
I think this was a powdered rosin?

I seem to recall that the thermography powder, marketed as the Virkotype process, came in several grinds: for a high or low gloss, and for fine type, or for large areas. Also clear, black, gold and silver. Gold “embossing” required a yellow print.
I think this was a powdered rosin?

Years ago a friend of mine would dust the printed card with finely powered rosin (the kind used for violin bows), then he placed the cards in an old toaster oven for a few seconds. It worked great, if you like that sort of thing.


I just scrapped my thermography machine. Years ago I had to show a proof to a customer of an invitation that she wanted in gold raised print, I dusted a card I printed in black ink with gold powder, it was the best looking gold I had seen, silver powder will also raise black ink to look silver, There are all kind of colored powders and also gloss or dull finished powders, fine or coarse powders for fine or bolder type. I bought my powder from Thermotype in Florida. Nobody wants raised print anymore, I was only doing one or two jobs a year and the commercial machines take up a bit of room, tried to give my machine away but had no takers. Now when I raise for fun I hand dust and heat the powder with a heat gun. You have to dust the printed piece while the ink is wet, raising can be done anytime once you powder the piece.

One of my customers used “embossing powder” from a craft rubber stamp supplier. It works the same way as Virkotype powder, the customer held a hot clothing iron over the powder to set it.

Have a look at this: http://www.caslon.co.uk/html/thermography_powders.html

at the bottom, you can download some PDFs. This might help you. Dickg is right, I use a heat gun. Here in the Netherlands, we nickname them painter’s hairdryers!

Other than the production equipment being a bit more automatic nowadays, this is just the same as how raised print business cards, letterhead and so on are done. Virkotype, embossing powder, etc. are all trade names or brand names for thermography. Oh, and I’ve heard you can also use a toaster oven for making the resin puff. I’ve never tried doing any thermography myself as I’ve always thought it looked cheap and cheesy.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

For the record Virkotype was a licensed product, this was the way it was marketed. Business Cards Tomorrow uses this process in a wholesale fashion for their cheap business cards. The thermo powder should be easy to purchase. I have used a hot plate and a heat gun for this process. I always thought Thermography looked cheap.

Ah, BCT! At my day job we send about 3 jobs a week to their Jackson, MS location. They definitely have a good market going. Everybody loves thermo business cards, apparently.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thanks for all the input.

Just for fun, might try thermography to sit what what we get!


when you apply the heat you have to watch it kinda closely, the powder will melt and raise the letters nice and rounded, just a little too much heat and the type will fall back down flat.

I guess I’ll stick my neck out and step into the frey. Thermography started out as a cheap method to create the effect of ‘raised lettering’ that was originally achieved by going to the expense of having engraved stationary printed from engraved plates. I am guessing that it is still as bad as it was in the 70’s. Basically a clear coating over a printed ink that was then “bubbled-up” while being heated. I say bubbled-up because that is what it looks like if you put a loop on it. It was also fairly sloppy, but that fact was not as evident because the material of the clear and crisp printing underneath was the optical part of the combo.

Usually used on small type (a la business cards) as large solid surface areas had an incredibly awful rough rubbery surface texture after the thermography powder was cooked into those areas.

That is the way I remember it.


good memory Rick.

Back in the 70s my brother Stan and I had letterpress business card business that all we printed using thermo powder. We printed on sheets 4 up and the cards dropped from the Windmill to long machine that had a heat unit built over a belt that carried the cards.

Some days we would have up to 50 orders. I miss that shop, C-4, Windmill, Ludlow saw, etc. My brother who I never saw print before,joined me, watched how to put together linotype slugs for a business and started turning out sellable work within a hour.

He could turn out more business cards in mulit-colors faster than anyone I knew at the time.

If he did the job, you didn’t have to worry about the customer wanting it, it was GREAT looking.

Today, you can’t get him never a press, he makes a million dollars selling homes.

But, those days, was the best.

Obviously we are in the wrong business.


Rick, it’s still about the same, though the texture is a bit smoother now. Big solids still have that odd, orange-peel rubber texture though. You can also get the powder in loads of PMS colors, not just clear. Small type or fine lines look better with the clear because when it plugs, it’s not really noticeable. Larger stuff looks more solid using the colored powders but you have to take into account the swell of the powder more. But, yes. It’s still the cheap way to make prints that look vaguely like intaglio prints. Except nowadays nobody’s ever actually seen fine intaglio stationary to know how cheap thermo looks in comparison.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thermography cheap looking???!!!! It was quite upper echelon at one point. Even the menus on the Titanic used thermography. (Not the steerage folks either…First Class!)

This is from The Titanic Historical Society’s website:

“For some reason, which isn’t logical, there are individuals who think the Titanic’s menus were different from those used on the other White Star Line ships. (Examples of first-, second- and third-class were illustrated in the article and examples may be seen at the Titanic Museum). Stationery, log cards, menu cards, etc. produced for White Star were supplied by the Liverpool Printing and Stationery Co. in standard sizes. Menu cards and other pre-printed blanks were letterpress printed in the ship’s own printshop. These same blanks, the ones made for first-class, had edges of 22k gold—another underlying element of understated elegance—subtle appearances that White Star adopted on everyday items reflecting a standard for quality. The spacing between the printed words varied—slightly different fonts were used since the type was set by hand and a printer often adopted his own style using what was available. As one runs a finger across a White Star menu the impressions made from the type can be felt whereas the “Rosemead menu” is smooth.

*******Most importantly, everything on paper in first-class on White Star vessels—whether it was letterheads, menus, notices, wine lists, stationery/envelopes, etc., was thermographically printed. Thermography is a chemical process which produced a glossy, raised image by using heat or infrared light. The image was first printed by letterpress using an adhesive ink which was coated with a fusible resin containing pigment (red for the burgee) and metallic powder (gold for the company logo, Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. [OSNC] as examples. (Of those illustrated in this article, the ship names are also thermographically printed). When passed under a heater or infrared lamp the coating fused and raised to give a sharp, clean image. From the reverse side of the paper or card the process resembles blind embossing. The White Star Line burgee, company logo and the ship’s name, were therefore, “raised” on first-class menus, etc. Upon examining the “Rosemead menu” the White Star burgee, OSNC logo and “SS Titanic” isn’t raised, but simply printed in red, gold and black ink. That’s the critical detail.

Thermographic printing was used on White Star Line vessels at least as early as 1873 (Mr. Louden-Brown has an item from first class with that date). It was costly because of the large number of sheets spoilt in the process and also because passengers took more sheets of letter paper then they really needed. Therefore by the mid-1920s White Star began to replace this type of printed stationery with conventional letterpress or offset lithography printed items.”

For the complete article, follow this link:


Interesting stuff…

image: TITANIC-MENU.jpg


Thermographic printing would not have left a debossing effect on the back of the sheet as described in the article. They are actually describing embossing, but the writer of the article did not do their homework, and instead tried to adapt a more modern printing method to fit their interpretation. Embossing was quite common for fine stationery even into the recent past. Do not believe everything you read on the internet.


I believe the effect was actually produced by engraved stationery printing. The process was extensively used at one company where I worked, which had a bank of about half a dozen presses going all day. The press has a blanket, I believe, to force the paper against the inked intaglio plate in order to draw the ink out of the engraved image, and the debossing on the back of the sheet is the deformation of the paper as it was pressed into the image by the blanket. The raised effect on the printed side is partly due to the large amount of ink transferred and partly to the fact that the paper is actually raised there as well. It’s a noisy process too — the sound of those platens coming down and smashing the paper against the plate. The plates had to be hardened steel to stand it, and were, I believe, hand engraved and then hardened. Old school fine stationery.


You’re right, Devil’s Tail, I’m just as suspicious as well. But the article mentions: “From the reverse side of the paper or card the process resembles blind embossing.”
You just stated: “Thermographic printing would not have left a debossing effect on the back of the sheet as described in the article. They are actually describing embossing,…”
I think you may have it mixed up.

If for instance, it was letterpress printed to begin with, it would leave a debossed effect on the back. Then if thermographic powder were added to the front and heated, it would have the embossed effect on the front. Right?

Nowadays, thermographic printing on most biz cards just has a raised image on the front with a smooth back.

Interesting subject even if the production methods are different.

when using letterpress to do thermography you need a kiss impression, you would not see anything on the back. Ad Lib is right, they were engraved.

One application I bet nobody’s thought of: Smack it hard for deep impression, then fill the impressions with thermo powder and bake it — instant kiss impression, with bubbles — what could be finer?


I did note that the description mentioned using different colored powders for the different colors (red and gold), which woulf have required a different printing and different thermography run for each color. That would be very timje-consuming. No one has mentioned that this also requires that all the excess powder needs to be dusted off/removed before the heating process.

The sad but true comment was that most people have no clue anymore as to what real engraved intaglio printing looks and FEELS like. Its a shame because it really was CLASSY.


It wasn’t thermographic printing (thermography is something else entirely), and that’s pretty obvious. Raised letter engraving is an intaglio process, rather than relief, but the info on the card would have been printed letterpress because that is what would have been available on the ship. I guess that adds to the confusion. It seems that other commercial printing processes were off of the author’s radar, and I would dare to say are foreign to many BP members as well.

Hi Gang,
This year we tried a little thermography for our Christmas card. I purchased a few small jars of thermography powder from a stationary chain called Paper Source. They call the powder, “Embossing Powder”. They sell many colors including some with glitter,-oh boy! We used the “clear”.
In the video (see link below) my wife is using a paint stripper gun to heat the powder. It worked quite well.



Too bad the words embossing and debossing now confuse rather than inform. If a printed piece actually exhibits the effects of blind embossing on the back (pushed up toward the image on the opposite reading side), then yes, it is an intaglio process, i.e, it is engraved. That is exactly what would be expected of first-class work on a luxury vessel like the Titanic, and that part would be done by printers onshore. The details of daily menus, place cards, etc. would then be set in metal and imprinted by letterpress in the onboard print shop. Might have been a Victoria or Phoenix or Brehmer platen used. These platens give a large sheet realtive to a small footprint and were popular on ships.
Was thermography even invented when the Titanic sank? Perhaps Fritz has already seen this in his Inland Printer magazines.

Your absolutely right. Thermography was always derided as “poor man’s engraving”. And there certainly is a significant difference between Thermography and Engraving. That is the reason that I put the words “Embossing Powder” in quotation marks. However in an attempt to be constructive I just wrote my post with the facts. (All be it little sarcastic with the glitter comment) However thermography has its place as graphic element and I posted this to show others how they might incorporate it into their designs.

Steve, if you use a colored powder you can dust black ink and it will raise whatever color you used. I had to show a proof of a wedding invite so I proofed it in black ink and dusted it with gold powder and it raised gold, looked very good, also done it with silver powder.

I borrowed some very old, 1972 vintage, thermo powder from a fellow printer, in both gold and “gloss” (clear) which I tried before I purchased the “embossing powder”. And you are absolutely correct the color of the powder will overtake the color of the ink.
Unfortunately the vintage product was very course and produced an unpleasing effect.

Thermography was coming into use at the time of the Titanic and was being advertised in the Inland Printer (embossography, or some such term then), but this menu is quite obviously engraved with the letterpress menu added on board the ship. I ran an engraving operation in San Francisco for a year and this was common work back in the 1960s and is still done today to some extent except that the menu part would be printed by offset or digitally. I have a number of companies as customers that are doing engraving and letterpress, and also have a number of BCT franchise customers. Most non-printers who attempt to discuss the technical aspects of engraving or letterpress as did the person who wrote the referenced Titanic article get tangled up in not knowing what they are talking about. And I hate to say it but that also afflicts a few Briar Press contributors as well.

What pushes the paper into the recessed and inked part of an engraving die is called a counter, thus a counter die, and these are typically hand cut from something called “engravers board.” A competent pressman can attach an appropriately sized piece of engraver’s board to the bed of an engraving press, take an impression, cut the counter based on the initial impression, and be running in 10 to 15 minutes, after setting the gauges, or with automatic presses like a Cronite, getting the paper feeder set up. I have never run an engraving press, but have watched several hundred jobs from start to finish. One other glitch in the Titanic article was the implication that gold, per se, was used in the gold ink. Various alloys of aluminum and bronze were used then and are today in the form of ground metallic powders mixed into the varnish of the ink to produce a metallic color. For polished, high luster gold work in engraving, the inked impression is run through a second time with no ink and that polishes the metallic flakes in the ink. We called it “bumping up” and one job we did on a regular basis was the letterhead for the mayor of San Francisco where the seal of the city was in polished gold—in quantities of 25,000 at a time, at least twice a year. I hate to think what the digital revolution has done to gravy jobs like that one.


I believe this video has been cited elsewhere on Briar Press, but I thought I’d add it to this thread for those who haven’t seen it:



The video does not really give you a good shot of the press in terms of size/scale. Here is a shot of a Cronite 5x9 sans feed tables that we recently purchased.

Big chunk of metal….

image: 5X9_cronite.jpg


Most engraving dies are made today as shown in the video—acid etched on copper from computer generated film. For years, plates were hand engraved, and some of that is shown in the video, and most of the lettering was acid etched using pattern plates and pantographs, more involved than I have time to describe. I have a few plates/dies banging around the office from many years ago and they are shown in this short collection on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157639331956203/

Now time to go to a pot luck dinner. First things first, and food rates high on my list.


Fritz has it right. For many years I too wonder about the true engraving process and how it was done. The counter die is the key to the raised printing not the engraved or intaglio process plate.

Not exactly, the depth of the die creates the raised image, while the counter pushes it into the die from the back. The die is inked and wiped leaving the color in the recess of the die, so basically it prints and embosses at the same time.


Hi There,
I’m an engraver. I apprenticed in Washington, DC in the late 1980’s. Still doing it as a side business. I make sculptured steel engraved dies mostly on 1/2 inch steel. These dies are commonly used in Cronite or Modern presses. I make seal dies, monograms, logos, coat of arms, whatever. The image is transfered to the steel and cut down into the metal like a reversed sculpture. The press then pushes the paper down into the image and you get a perfect three dimesional imprint. You can use ink or blind emboss but you need a very strong press to get the amount of pressure required.

This discussion has drifted from my original post, but I find the discussion about engraving very interesting.

Bruce cpd, how do you cut the steel plate? With a computer controlled laser or ?

LetterpressDad, I use burins, also caller gravers in the trade, to cut the steel. These are small hardened steel chisels with various cutting profiles for the different size lines to be cut. Sorry, no lasers. The steel is soft rolled steel so it cuts pretty easily and can be case hardened and/or chrome plated later.
I use a jeweler’s lupe type of arrangement to see what I’m doing and after I transfer the design to the metal I use the burins to cut and remove the metal by hand.
When the die is in the press the ink roller pushes the ink into the cuts of the design, the surface is wiped clean by a wax paper, and the counter forces the paper into the cuts of the die, which embosses the paper and leaves the ink on that raised surface.
I could go on about this subject all day, I love engraving, but I have a job to run on a letterpress machine at the moment.