We are running our fingers along brushed metallics, shimmering pearl surfaces, leathery bracelets, smooth marble, intricate relief structures with detailed imagery. This may sound like the interior of a luxury boutique, but we are actually in a rather everyday meeting room of a early 20th century stone building that houses the headquarters of Holmen Iggesund. With our fingers we are sampling print finishing options, all rich in texture and appearance. For anyone who loves tactile experiences, it is like being a kid in a candy store.

“The finishing options available for paperboard only have one limitation – your imagination,” says Johan Granås, Product Manager Invercote. Along with Jonas Adler, Business Development Manager, Johan is one of Holmen Iggesund’s in-house finishing options experts. According to the pair, an increasing number of graphic designers are exploring the ongoing evolution of printing possibilities.

“We definitely see a move towards more tactility,” Johan says, sipping coffee from an Invercote cup. “Designers and brands realise that people ‘see with their fingers’ to a much greater extent today than before. So there is a movement towards completely covering structures and a lot more extremely detailed micro embossing.”

Jonas agrees. “More is more,” he says. “Graphic designers opt for more decoration, more shine, more structures, more metallics and more multi-combinations – there are no limits anymore.”

Multi-stage printing processes demand a lot from the material. It must be able to withstand the stress of up to 20 printing stages without losing its quality, appearance or accuracy. A misregister of just a fraction of a millimetre would be fatal for the end result.

The qualities of paper and paperboard are very different, but the two invite comparisons since paperboard is increasingly being selected for use in projects in which paper used to be the first choice. Examples include magazine covers, boutique shopping bags, clothing tags – in short, anything that requires the best foundation for finishing options, will keep its appearance after being handled and can hold some weight. Jonas produces a shopping bag, one of the square kind used at exclusive fashion stores. Surprisingly, it holds 15 kilos without tearing.

“Too many graphic designers are simply not aware of the advantages of paperboard,” says Johan. “Take seasonal fashion catalogue covers, for instance. The creative team spends so much time on the clothes, choosing the right model, the right location, the right photographer – and then they wrap it in something that looks and feels anything but exclusive, a paper cover that will crack and fray after minimal handling.”

As Jonas puts it, “When people see the difference between a paperboard cover and a paper cover they often say, ‘I wish we had known’. An increasing number of graphic designers and purchasing departments are starting to calculate the real costs, the real purpose of the end product, and we’re seeing an increasing openness to using paperboard.”

“Paperboard has possibilities,” Johan adds. “The only negative seems to be the cost, since one tonne of paperboard costs more.”

All finishing options can be combined with all printing techniques. But if you are going for multi-stage finishes, you have to work with printers who know what they’re doing. Don’t be afraid to ask your printer the right questions, even for basic finishes. For instance, you must have the right match between varnish and ink for the best result.

“If you know exactly what effect you are after, there are subcontractors willing to build special tools for you if the effect has never been done before,” Jonas says. “You can drive the development forward. Your imagination is the limit. For very complicated embossing and debossing, the tools have to be custom built.”

Johan says there is a bigger focus on finishing options thanks to the Internet. “The packaging and small tags must feel top-of-the-line when the customers receive their package,” he says. “Since there is no contact with sales staff or a boutique, this is the first impression, and everybody knows how important the first impression is.”

To achieve a good result, you must be honest with your expectations and demands, Johan says. “Then you know where to start,” he explains.

“Nowadays you don’t have to print as much as before,” Jonas says. “But when you do, you want to make sure that you really make the most of the medium, that you really use it to its full capacity.”