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Rotary Trends

The Growth of Narrow Web Inline Foil Applications

by Dianna Brodine

May-June, 2013
The possibilities are expanding for both cold and hot stamping foils as technology evolves and the recovering economy makes it more likely that demand for high-end packaging will increase. Both processes can be completed inline, increasing efficiencies and shortening the time span between concept and consumer purchase. InsideFinishing consulted with industry experts to determine the future of inline foil processes.

Applications grow for inline cold foil application
Cold foil’s popularity is growing as an alternative to inline hot stamping for labels and cartons, with recognized benefits in terms of cost and speed to market. Scott Tacosik, product manager – graphics for Kurz Transfer Products, LP, explained. “In rotary, applications sensitive to cost and of high volume will continue to grow using the cold foil transfer process. The technical effort to install cold foil transfer capability is relatively small, while dramatically expanding the capabilities of the press.” Upfront costs for individual decoration jobs are relatively low as only printing plates are required, eliminating an investment in hot stamping tooling.

Rich Zeller, senior product manager for ITW Foils, noted that the overprintability of cold foils offers an advantage in certain industries. “In rotary applications, health and beauty without a doubt is a growing market for cold foils. The foils lay down exceptionally well on smooth, coated stocks and film stocks and are easily over-printable with UV inks,” he said. “Cold foils do not require tooling so speed to shelf is increased, which can be particularly crucial when it comes to product launches.”

When pressed for more growth areas for cold foil applications, Seth Levenstein, product manager – cold foil and transfer films for ITW Foils said, “Cold foil will continue to grow in in-mold labels, shrink film and folding cartons.”

In fact, said Bob Witte, vice president, sales and marketing for API Foils, Inc., “Label converters have been interested in adding metallic foil to the graphic designs on shrink sleeves for some time now. Hot stamping foil didn’t work effectively because the metal layer would visibly crack when the film sleeve went through the shrinking process.” The advent of cold foil meant that the thin metal layer in cold foil will contract to a degree, while still maintaining visual integrity because no heat is used during application. “When nipped to an appropriate UV adhesive, the process now is achievable, and the results are very attractive,” Witte explained. “Keep in mind that design is key. It’s important to avoid sharp bends and curves, while keeping the foiled graphics in the flatter areas.”

Gerry Nigg, sales and marketing manager for DMS Dies, believes cold foil is making its own market with applications like shrink wrap. “Cold foil isn’t necessarily going to take away market share from the hot stamp portion of the market,” he explained. “It’s going to grow into other areas; for example, toothpaste tubes or cosmetic tubes.”

Hot stamping still preferred for high-end applications
However, said Peter Frei, CEO for Pantec GS Systems, there are drawbacks to the cold foil process. “Brilliant foil is well-recognized as a very valuable attraction factor for packaging, and when done with hot foil, the quality in terms of appearance is better than with cold foil.” Frei explained that consumer appeal often is a deciding factor in which type of foil application to use. “Will the customers see the higher brilliance? Do they appreciate thin, fine design elements?” he asked. “In fact, our eyes see more than we are aware of, and even small quality differences between offset and flexo or hot foil and cold foil seem to have an important impact.” Frei believes that due to those facts, hot foil will remain dominant on uncoated and structured substrates, typically in wine labels and spirits.

Tacosik agreed that hot stamping allows decorating options that lend a high-end appeal. “There is nothing more beautiful than hot stamping,” he said. “Applications can be embossed, debossed, micro-embossed and sculpted in combination with the hot stamping process, resulting in a premium look for the package.” When additional processes such as embossing or micro-embossing (refraction) are included with the foil design, hot stamping is the preferred choice because cold foil is limited to a flat image only.

Zeller mentioned that hot foils have an advantage when it comes to uncoated stocks. “Hot foils offer superior glossiness and adhesion on dry, porous stocks which makes it perfect for the wine and spirits market,” he reminded, “and they still impart an unequalled premium feel to any application. Colors also can be customized for consistent brand integrity, and Levenstein added that the ability to add processes such as embossing and sculpting will lead to continued popularity in the greeting card market.

Nigg agreed that the quality inherent in hot stamping foils make them the logical choice for wine labels and pharmaceutical markets. “A lot of our customers use both cold and hot foils,” he said. “They use cold foils where they can print over the edges that cold foils leave, because end users don’t like the ‘dots’. Good quality still is possible, but it can’t compete with the finish of hot stamping for certain applications.” Good pointed out that tooling plays an integral part in the success of the foil application. “The tooling has to be correct to get the higher quality, and that’s why the narrow web people like hot stamp dies.”

Frei further explained the advantages of hot foil for certain applications. “Process control and process stability are easy with hot foil. Different speeds, substrates and design elements often can cause the cold foil curing process to become demanding, which slows set-up time,” he said.

Technology, process evolve for equipment, foils and dies
As technology has advanced in the areas of equipment, foils and dies, clear advantages have emerged for both cold foil and hot foil application. “Multi-reel and indexing capabilities for the cold foil transfer process is an advantage,” said Tacosik, “as is the ability to better control foil tensions and the stripping angle. Also, the addition of a vertical stamping process inline has surfaced, and that provides the narrow web printer with new capabilities to add embossing/debossing techniques inline.”

In fact, said Zeller, it is easier than ever before for printers and converters to enter new markets. “One factor is retrofit modules that allow existing presses to apply inline metallic and/or holographic effects,” he explained. “These movable modules can apply hot foils, cold foils or UV Casting film in any combination or order on press.” Utilizing multiple modules, brands can achieve unique layered effects while running at press-speed.

One advance in hot stamping equipment has led to a distinct advantage over the cold foil process, Tacosik said. “The foil saving techniques utilized in the hot stamp process cannot be realized in cold foil transfer,” he stated. Frei agreed: “Foil is expensive, but it also is very attractive for differentiation. Often, the high price prevents designers from using it, but with a foil saver new market areas can make use of foil in their designs.”

Frei explained that foil savers used to be complex, but now foiling equipment manufacturers have introduced a foil saver that allows quick changes to different numbers of foil streams and foil widths. “On mid- and long-runs or repeat jobs, the foil-saving benefit can not only cover the cost of the hot foil tool, but also generate higher profits since the cost per piece decorated is reduced.”

However, Tacosik cautioned, cold foil equipment manufacturers are developing their own foil saving measures. “A one-to-one foil usage should be calculated in the cold foil transfer process,” said Tacosik, “but many cold foil machine manufactures are implementing multi-reel or indexing capabilities, which will improve foil consumption.”

Advances in overprinting for cold foils continue to develop for demanding applications. Hot stamp foil manufacturers also are developing foils with a larger scope of performance. “Foils offering expanded coverage properties while maintaining clean definition are being offered to expand the range of applications that can be foil decorated,” said Tacosik.

Zeller explained that some brands are shifting their packaging budgets away from base materials and toward more surface appeal, leading to a more tactile experience on the shelf. “There seems to be a trend toward sensory experiences in general,” he said. “Reflective, tactile and raised surfaces and holographic effects are a few sensory enhancements that brands are using to stand out on shelves and to invite consumers to touch and hold their packaging.” 

Advances in machines and foils wouldn’t be as effective if the dies used in the foil stamping process hadn’t advanced as well. “About 20 years ago when people started doing hot stamping on presses, the presses were slower. Now the hybrid presses on the markets are achieving higher speeds and higher quality,” said Nigg. “We have to keep up with the speeds as a die manufacturer, because we know what heat does to a brass die going at 400 feet a minute.”

“If we don’t invest money in machines and engineering to put better technology into the hot stamp unit that heats up the die, we won’t meet the technology that is in the market today,” he said.

The future of inline foil applications
When looking to the future of inline foil applications for both hot stamping foil and the cold foil process, all of the experts seem excited about the possibilities for the decorative packaging market. “There will be new and exciting diffractive patterns,” said Tacosik, “and more brand enhancement technologies will be incorporated in foil decoration. I also believe we’ll see further utilization of the cold foil transfer process.”

Levenstein agreed that the visual impact of foil will continue to drive brand owners to package and product enhancement. “There will be an increased emphasis on metallic and holographic effects,” he said,” and a lot of foil growth for in-mold labels.”

Innovative differentiation will drive demand in highly decorative markets, according to Frei. “Typically, wine and alcohol labels use foil and embossing combinations with multiple foil colors and multiple stepping on larger scales,” he explained. “The ‘old’ traditions with multi-level embossing and foil seemed lost, but now inline flat bed foil embossing technology allows highly efficient single-pass production.” Frei sees the continued decline in wet glue and sheet production, with those processes transferred to roll-to-roll narrow-web production on pressure-sensitive materials.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Scott Tacosik, product manager – graphics, Kurz Transfer Products, LP (800.950.3645, www.kurzusa.com); Rich Zeller, senior product manager, and Seth Levenstein, product manager –cold foil and transfer films, ITW Foils (978.225.8200, www.itwfoils.com); Peter Frei, CEO, Pantec GS Systems (+41 71 644 98 98, www.pantec.com); Bob Witte, vice president, sales and marketing, API Foils, Inc. (785.842.7674, www.apigroup.com/foils) and Gerry Nigg, sales and marketing manager, DMS Dies (800.655.7882, www.dmsdies.com).