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Options Expanding for Decoration Beyond Print

by Jeff Peterson, Foil & Specialty Effects Association

February-March, 2012

Not long ago, the choices for graphic designers, printers and other graphic arts professionals to add special decorating processes to printed material were relegated to a few simple choices – mainly high-gloss UV, foil stamping and embossing. Today, options from different ways to apply metallic finishes to decorative specialty coatings have provided new opportunities to create unique and attention-getting promotional material, direct mail, greeting cards, packaging and more.

Metallic finishes
Creating a metallic finish on a printed product can be accomplished in several ways. The application, the finished size, the coverage and the quantity all are important in determining the best approach. The problem in the marketplace is that printers and designers are not always provided all of the options and are limited to a specific process based on the knowledge or capabilities of the vendor or supplier. For high-volume applications with large-coverage areas of a metallic finish, utilizing a metallic film-laminated paper or board may be the best choice. This allows the least amount of passes through the press by overprinting opaque white in the areas where the metallic is unwanted. Although the cost of the laminated board is relatively expensive compared to standard paper stock or board, it can be offset and controlled through the high quantity of the run and the decrease in press time. Laminated board also provides an extreme “mirror-like” finish across the entire sheet. This may not be a good choice if the metallic effect is designed only for specific areas on the printed sheet. Additionally, laminated board may not be a good cost-effective choice for lower-volume applications.

Hot foil
Hot foil stamping is an excellent choice for enhancing a printed piece when specific areas, such as a logo or title, are designed to be enhanced with foil. Although this typically means an additional press run to apply the foil, the cost savings through using a standard paper or board stock versus laminated board can be significant. Hot foil stamping also provides more flexibility with metallic colors and holographic patterns. A film laminated metallic or holographic sheet is more limited in colors and patterns, especially those kept in inventory for quick delivery. As with film-laminated board, hot foil stamping provides a high “mirrorlike” finish. In addition, hot foil stamping is considered a more sustainable option than other metallic enhancements because the foil is applied to the paper and the plastic carrier is stripped away and not part of what is left on the paper stock. A foil-laminated board, in most cases, is laminated with both the metallic layer and plastic film, creating more challenges in the recycling process.

Cold foil
Cold foil has become more prevalent in recent years and is an excellent option for certain applications. Although it has been very popular in the narrow-web flexographic market for label applications, it also has seen recent growth with the application of cold foil in-line with large-format sheetfed offset printing presses. This technology utilizes a tacky adhesive that is typically applied in the first station of a sheetfed printing press. The foil is nipped to the adhesive and the foil carrier is stripped away, thereby applying the foil only where the clear adhesive is laid down. Press manufacturers are offering this technology on new presses and there are retrofit units available for existing presses as well. Cold foil can be an excellent alternative to overprinting film-laminated board. The advantage of cold foil is potential cost savings through utilizing a less expensive paper or board versus a pre-laminated product, and it can be applied in specific areas on the sheet, eliminating the use of white opaque ink that can sometimes pose an added challenge in the production process. In addition, the foil can be applied and then printed all in-line in one pass, saving the cost of multiple press setup. Utilizing the cold foil process also is considered a sustainable option when applying a metalized finish because it only utilizes the film as a carrier (same as hot foil stamping) and the plastic film is not applied to the substrate. However, there are drawbacks to using cold foil as with any process. First, there may be a decrease in the run speeds of the press when adding cold foil, which may not be desirable for very long runs. In addition, the cold foil process does not provide the “mirror-like” finish that can be obtained through hot foil stamping or a pre-laminated paper or board. The application and expectations of the customer will determine if it is a feasible option.

Another method of creating a metallic finish on the printed sheet is through a UV-curable metallic coating. This process applies a special coating that includes metallic platelets within the coating that creates a shiny metallic finish when applied and cured. This process can be applied in-line on a sheetfed printing press or off-line on a UV coating machine. The benefit of the process is certainly the ability to apply it in-line and eliminate a separate pass. And these types of coatings can be applied to precise areas, reducing waste and eliminating the need for an opaque white ink pass. It also is considered more sustainable than a laminated board or sheet and is said to be easily removed in the repulping process.

Although there are cost benefits with the UV-curable metallic coatings, the finish still does not meet the “mirror-like” finish provided by hot foil stamping or a foil laminate.

Many times embossing is included with a metallic finish design. This also should be part of the equation when determining the best process to use. Hot foil stamping may be the best choice when embossing is involved because the foil and embossing can be applied at the same time in one pass on a foil stamping press (combination foil and embossing). If the foiled area is being overprinted and then embossed, other processes may be better, or just as good, because the embossing will have to be accomplished in a separate press pass.

Enhanced coatings
In addition to the expanded choices of metallic finishes, there are now many different types of decorative coatings in the marketplace today. This includes raised (profile) UV coatings that can create an embossed gloss look to a printed piece without the debossing on the back side of the sheet. There also are thermochromic coatings that actually change color with temperature changes, and special textured UV coatings that can be applied to provide the feel of leather, frosted glass and more.

Another popular coating technique is utilizing glitter with the combination of raised (profile) UV or specially engineered UV gloss coatings. The glitter coatings are available in a variety of colors and cut sizes and can be pre-mixed by the coating supplier or the glitter can be added by the operator on press. The conventional process of applying glitter leaves a residue not suitable for many applications. When combining the glitter with the UV coating, the glitter is “cured” with the coating, sealing it and eliminating any residue.

A final exciting coating technique that is relatively new in the marketplace is a process that creates a clear holographic pattern on the surface of a printed roll or sheet. The process is commonly known as Cast and Cure™, although several folding carton manufacturers have created their own name to market the process. The process utilizes a specialty film that has a microembossed holographic pattern. Once the UV coating is applied, the film lays over the top of the sheet before the coating is cured. Then the sheet with the film still applied runs through the UV curing process. The film is stripped away, leaving the holographic effect on the sheet. Because there is no actual transfer of a foil or material onto the substrate, the film can be reused several times before new film is needed. With the ability to reuse the film combined with the fact that the process does not omit any VOCs, it also is marketed as an environmentally friendly decorating process. There are machines now being manufactured that can be retrofitted to a new or existing printing press for Cast and Cure™ applications, as well as for applying cold foil in-line.

In conclusion
The landscape for applying specialty decorating techniques has changed dramatically just in the last few years. It opens up a variety of options from design to finished product. The best recommendation is to fully examine all of the alternatives and balance the costs and quality of the processes to determine the best approach.

This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of the magazine, a publication of Printing Industries of America. The issue was dedicated to a forecast of the print production process.