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High-Visibility Enhancements Seeing Strong Growth

by Jeff Peterson

August-September, 2013

The label manufacturing industry arguably has seen more changes over the past 20 to 30 years than any other graphic arts segment. Historically, labels were printed sheet-fed or flexo on paper stock, and then foil stamped, embossed and/or coated offline. Most labels were applied with glue; even the use of pressure-sensitive stock was an uncommon occurrence.

Today, brand managers have an abundance of choices as it relates to the type of label used and decorative options available to them. And, with the wide array of selections in the marketplace, designers are becoming more creative than ever before. “The increase and explosion of decorative options for labels has opened up the possibility of new designs and innovative graphic concepts through many different market segments,” explained Jay Luft, vice president of technology for McDowell Label, Plano, TX. “This allows for freedom of design in the conceptual stage of the artwork and creates the opportunity for many new unique and decorative designs.” McDowell has seen a dramatic rise in the use of foils in industries such as wine and spirits, nutraceuticals and health and beauty – just to name a few.

In today’s environment, the brand manager can choose coated or uncoated paper stock – or even the clear plastic label stock that continues to rise in popularity, especially in the health and beauty segment. In addition, there now are options such as shrink-wrap labels and in-mold labels on the market that provide even more choices from both an artistic and functional standpoint. “When I started in this business 19 years ago, the only real decorative option for our customers was offline hot foil stamping,” stated Jeff Salisbury, president of Label Impressions, Orange, CA. “We’re now being asked to produce labels with inline foil, screen, combination varnishes, special effects and other coatings such as color shifting inks, scent and even taste! We have a 10-color press to produce multiple effects and are considering the addition of a 12-color press. The extra stations are not so much to add more color, but to accommodate increasing demand for special effects such as cold foil, specialty coatings and varnishes.”

One of the key elements to the continued growth of decorative foil and coatings on labels has been the ability for label manufacturers to accomplish these processes inline without slowing the press down. In the past, both hot and cold foils had to run at significantly reduced press speeds. Today, foils are available that allow the operator to run at optimum speeds from the printing to the finished label.

Cold foil opportunities

There is little argument that the development of the cold foil process has sparked a growth in the use of foil overall in label production. Although cold foil has been available to label printers for many years, it has only been in the past few years that the process has been more widely accepted by label manufacturers and end-users. “The increase and explosion of the use of cold foil has been helped by the availability of more metallic colors and holographic patterns,” stated Luft. Foil manufacturers have continued to create better adhesives for the cold foil process, and a larger variety of foil colors and products has become available as the process has gained in popularity.

“We are seeing cold foil used across many industries, but especially in the health and beauty segment. With the advances in sizing/release coatings, adhesives and UV curing, we are able to produce type with fine serifs down to 4 pt., along with thick, tight borders and reverses. In fact, our cold foil quality has surpassed what we were producing with hot foil,” explained Salisbury. Due to the low tooling and set-up costs for cold foil, as well as the improvements in the quality of the finished label, cold foil continues to see expanded growth throughout the industry.

Hot foil applications

Although cold foil has expanded the overall growth in the use of foil, there still are plenty of applications for hot foil stamping in label production. “Our experience has been that hot foil still is the preference for many of our customers,” stated Subtle Impressions President Jim Schaefer, Gastonia, NC. “We have seen the improvements in cold foil, but still believe hot foil has a higher quality and provides cleaner edges.”

Although cold foil has come a long way, there remains a stigma in the marketplace among end-users who believe that it provides a lower quality than hot stamping. And, there certainly are applications where hot foil is the better choice. “The gap has closed quite a bit when it comes to the physical appearance of hot foil vs. cold foil,” stated Luft. “Hot foil tends to be utilized on more porous or decorative paper materials or when the customer is looking for a light debossed look or feel to the foiled image. The cold foil lays on top of the label stock, while the hot foil actually is pressed into the stock by the brass engraved die, leaving a slight ‘indention’. This can provide a desirable look and feel, and it does provide a more permanent bond to the label.”

There are very few customers who have switched from hot foil to cold foil. The growth for cold foil applications primarily has been among new applications – especially those where hot foil may have not been an option in the past because of overall costs. This has had a positive effect on the overall use of foil and other specialty effects with more exposure in the marketplace overall.

Other specialty effects

Another area of growth in label decorating has been in specialized coatings, such as soft touch and textured coatings that provide a “touchy feely” experience for the consumer. McDowell Label has seen growth in its tactile doming process, where a specialized coating can be applied inline on a flexographic press and provide a similar effect as embossing. “Unlike traditional doming, where the entire surface area of the label is domed with an elevated or raised coating, our process allows for freedom-of-design where any part of the graphic identity can be enhanced and optimized,” explained McDowell Label President John McDowell. “Oftentimes, brand owners will elect for multiple graphic icons with varying tactile effects to be employed on their brand packaging – whether it be a traditional pressure-sensitive label or even shrink-sleeves.”

Salisbury believes that specialty tactile coatings will continue to be a popular choice on many label designs as well. “With our flexographic presses, having as many as 10 to 12 separate stations will help us to accommodate the increasing demand for special effects and coatings,” he stated. Label Impressions also has begun experimenting with Cast and Cure™ (a UV process that creates a clear holographic pattern). “The Cast and Cure technology has seen some success with higher-volume brands, especially with carton manufacturing, and still is trying to break through in labels/labeling marketplace,” explained Salisbury.

Although Schaefer has not dabbled in the tactile specialty coatings, he has seen growth with some of the special release UVs for expanded content and chemical resistance for certain product applications.


The potential for continued growth in label decorating techniques seems to be very strong. “As new and intriguing designs are being created, the cost competitiveness of the materials has made the use of these types of design elements affordable in today’s markets,” explained Luft. “As our industry continues to innovate and develop more cost-effective ways to incorporate these new and evolving technologies into the mainstream printing process, we will see the value added print elements of brand packaging continue to grow.”