How to Create Artwork to Foil, Stamp, and Emboss Your Books

by | Dec 4, 2017

Although most indie authors produce ebooks and print on demand paperbacks, more and more are finding a use for hardbound books.

The kinds of books I’m talking about all involve a stiff case of some kind that contains the interior pages of the book. In a paperback, this is literally one piece of paper (which is why we call them “paperbacks” in the first place) that wraps around and is glued to the book block.

But there are lots of uses for hard cover books too, like:

  • Front-list publications you want to issue as cloth or paper covered casebound books with a colorful dust jacket
  • Manuals, guides, textbooks or others that need to stand up to rough handling and are best issued as casewrap books, in which the jacket artwork is printed on the paper or cloth that’s glued to the cases and which, consequently, don’t need dust jackets
  • Blank books like journals, planners, and sketch books are often published in hardbound versions where the case provides a “platform” for writing

If you take the dust jacket off a book on your shelf, you’ll see the book’s case itself. It’s likely to be either cloth or paper, or in some cases cloth wrapped around the spine, with paper on the rest of the case.

These cases are usually foiled and stamped, especially the cloth cases. This part of the book production uses technology that dates directly back to the invention of letterpresses, the earliest type of printing equipment.

(This is also one reason that print on demand vendors can offer hardcover books with dust jackets, but not foiling or stamping.)

It requires the use of a letterpress of some kind to hit the cloth or paper with a specially made metal die. Sometimes these dies are heated to help transfer metallic foil from a roll onto the material that’s being used for the cases.

Want more information on creating print books of lasting beauty, ones your readers will love? Check out the Book Construction Blueprint: Expert Advice for Creating Industry-Standard Print Books.

This same equipment is used for both stamping and embossing jackets, paper covers, and cloth or paper cases. When you stamp material with the die, but without any colored or metallic foil, it’s referred to as “blind stamping” and this technique can be used to create some interesting effects.

Creating Line Art

You’ll want to use either a layout program, like Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress, or a vector-based drawing program like Adobe Illustrator to create the artwork for your stamping dies.

Like all other artwork produced for your book, the end result will be a PDF that you’ll send to your book printer.

We want to make sure the artwork is pure black and white line art, just like your type, which is also vector-based.

Stamping, foiling, and blind stamping are all illustrated in Quest for Distinction: Pepperdine University in the 20th Century, a book I produced last year.

First, I created a separate page for each die I would need. In this case, my design required:

  1. Foil stamping on the dust jacket to highlight the title
  2. Foil stamping on the spine of the case to identify the book without the jacket and for libraries that remove the jackets
  3. Blind stamping of a design element on the front of the case to add more “finish” and to emphasize the logo of the university

I made sure to label the pages so there was no confusion at the printer’s about which was which.

When creating the front cover blind stamping art, I wanted to take into account the “hinge” naturally created between the spine and the front cover of a casebound book.

Here’s what the artwork looked like. In each case, I used a “keyline” showing the exact position. This eliminates any possibility of a miscommunication with the printer.

book jacket

Line art for jacket stamping and foiling

Here you can see the effect on the finished jacket:

book jacket

The foiled and embossed title adds emphasis

This is the artwork for the spine:

book spine stamping

We used gold foil on the spine, too. Here’s the finished result:

book spine stamping

Finally, this is the art used for the “blind” stamping—using no foil—on the front cover. The black areas will be debossed, so you have to think in negative space to see how this will work.

book gold stamping

Artwork for blind stamping

Here you can see how the full-cloth case displays the stamping on the front cover. I enjoy this look and use it often:

book binding

Blind stamped cloth case

Pro tip: Before doing anything, ask the printer for a template to help position the elements you want to stamp on the cases. You’ll likely receive something like this to guide you in understanding how the elements of the case are put together:

foil stamping

Printer’s casebound template

Note: Book printing, binding and template from Thomson-Shore, one of America’s premier short-run book printers. If you have questions about offset printing, use my contact form to let me know.

Related Articles

Self-Publishing Basics: 5 Book Binding Styles Illustrated
Casewrap vs Dust Jacket? Self-Publishers Make the Hard(cover) Choice
Casewrap Books in Berkeley: Inspiration for Self-Publishers
Book Covers, Dust Jackets, and Case-Wrap Books

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Sheila

    Hi Joel,

    It’s been a few years since you wrote this article. I hope you see this!
    Do you have any recommendations for a fixative, a product, or a technique which would help in preserving the foil stamping on the book once the stamping has been finished? So the stamping doesn’t flake off over time, or flakes off slowly.

    If there is a particular foil brand I could buy or something which can be sprayed on, I would love to know about it.

    Thank you in advance,

    • Sheila

      p.s. Something to spray on a fabric hardcover.

    • Joel Friedlander

      You are talking about the foil stamping on the cloth cases, I assume. No, I don’t know of anything like you are looking for. The “foil” that printers use for this kind of stamping is actually a complex, multi-layered product that has a layer intended to protect the foil once it’s been stamped. I have to say that in over 40 years of producing books, I’ve never come across this as a production problem. Good luck!

  2. Christina Knight

    I purchased some tarzan hardcover books from Barnes and Noble, which have dustcovers. I removed the dustcovers of each book to encase them in mylar dust jackets. I found that none of these books had the title or author anywhere on the covers. Considering what I paid for them, I was quite disappointed. Is there anyway I can foil stamp the titles on the spines of the books?

  3. Wendy

    Very interesting. I love how much you know, Joel!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Aww, thanks Wendy.

  4. Michael N. Marcus

    Apart from the fancy jackets, any hardcover makes a nice gift, and may be harder for reviewers to ignore, even when most of an author’s books are paperbacks and/or e.

    • Joel Friedlander

      And if you want to get booked on TV, it’s much easier to make an impression with a jacketed hardcover.

  5. Ernie Zelinski

    I just came across the term “Blind stamping” in the last month or two. I am publishing my “Life’s Secret Handbook (Reminders for Adventurous Souls Who Want to Make a Big Difference in This World)” with a PU Leather (fake leather) cover. When I met with the print broker in Seattle, he used this term for what would be embossed on the front cover and the spine on the PU Leather. Incidentally, since the book is a ego/marketing project meant for giving to clients, readers, friends, etc., I wasn’t going to put a price on the jacket. But one night after having too much to drink, I thought, “No, I will put a price on it. The price will be $97 US / $127 CAN.” So, the barcode and the back cover of the jacket now reflect this price. I think that this is going to pay off big time. But what do I know? My books (mainly self-published) have only sold 975,000 copies worldwide.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ernie, I think your pricing idea is genius; you just cranked up the “perceived value” of your book. And the blind stamping should add an elegant touch, good luck!



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