It has been difficult to find any information pertaining to the history of thermography in printing industry historical records because few records were kept. However, it is known that thermography, raised printing, dates back to the early 1900’s.

Thermography or raised printing was developed in approximately 1905.

At that time thermography was considered only as a means of adding novelty effects to the printing process. All of the work was done by hand because automated machines had not yet been designed. A person would dust each printed piece with powdered copal resin while the ink was still wet and remove the excess powder by raising the substrate to a vertical position and lightly tapping the back to shake off the excess resin.

Copal describes any of various varnish resins, consisting of the exudates obtained from various tropical trees. When hard, copal is lustrous, varying in hue from almost colorless and transparent to a bright yellowish brown. It dissolves in alcohol or other organic solvents upon heating and is used in making varnishes and printing ink. Copal is obtained from various sources; the term is vaguely used for resins that, though similar in physical properties, differ in their chemical makeup and are altogether distinct as to their source.

The piece would then be held over a heat source such as a hot plate to melt the powder and obtain the desired raised printing effect. Because of the heat involved, the process became known as “Fried Printing”.

Thermography continued as a specialty craft until around 1915, when the first machine was developed to do the process automatically. I believe that The Virkotype Company was the first company to design and produce an automated thermograph.

By 1920, the Virkotype Machine and The Virkotype Process were being marketed in Europe (England) by the Carlson Company.

Thermographic printing eventually became a lower-priced alternative to steel or copper engraving for adding an embossed effect to ink.

With the advent of automated thermography machinery, it became practical for printers to become involved. After World War II thermography started to become popular. With more advanced machines and superior powders made with polyester resins, more printers started using the process. Today, thermography is widely regarded as an appealing and preferred printing process that adds prestige to any printed piece.

Thermography is also now available with a laser safe finish procedure which can be used in a laser printer or copier without melting onto the fuser roller and transferring back onto the sheet of paper.

Thermographic printing techniques have advanced greatly since the early 1900’s.