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Technology Focus

Foil vs Foilboard

by Kym Conis

February-March, 2000
Recently, I strolled through the isles of a supermarket with a friend in order to explain once and for all that my work involves hot stamping foils and has nothing to do with the Reynolds Wrap swan in your refrigerator housing last night’s dinner out! Starting with an isle I knew would be resplendent with fine examples of my trade, I took my friend to the cosmetic and personal care isle and began to point out examples of foil stamping and embossing. "Oh I get it," my friend exclaimed as he pulled down a toothpaste carton, "I see this all the time – so this is foil!" "Well, not exactly," I explained. "That’s foil board and it’s an entirely different process."

My friend threw his hands up in defeat, resigned to the conclusion that he would never understand what I do for a living. I, on the other hand, began to look more closely at the decorated cartons adorning the isles, noting the ratio of foil stamped cartons to ones utilizing foil board. What I noted was a growing presence of laminates on personal care items. Granted, I only surveyed one particular segment of a huge market, but it got me thinking. What are the various applications for hot stamping foil and foil board and what factors play a part in deciding between the two? Moreover, can (and do) the two coexist?

This exact topic raised quite a bit of interest among finishers at the recent FSEA Annual Conference in Las Vegas and is one that InsideFinishing would like to explore in greater depth. What are the features, benefits, and limitations of each process and what applications apply to each? And beyond the ‘text book definitions,’ what information can be learned from those utilizing both processes in their daily operations? What are their preferences and why?

Market Dynamics

Most would agree that among the many different markets utilizing foil and/or foil board, the objectives remain essentially the same: brand identity, perceived value and quality, differentiation, security, and brand authenticity. Especially in the retail market, as a host of end products battle for shelf presence, the necessity for value-added services becomes even more essential. And naturally as demand rises, so too do demands on the finisher—demands for shorter runs, faster changeovers, quicker turnarounds, more variety (through a wider range of substrates, applications, and processes), and all at the ‘best value cost.’ Therefore, as we look at the benefits and limitations of foil versus foil board, factors such as cost, quality, production time and material lead-time will play important roles in meeting customer demands.

Foil vs. Foil Board: Benefits and Limitations

Both hot stamping foil and foil laminated board are available in multiple colors and patterns (although foil availability far outweighs foil board), both can have custom background patterns, and both can be stamped before and/or after the printing process. In looking at the features, benefits, and limitations of foil and the foil stamping process, Steve Skalski with Graphic Converting, Inc., and Paul Laskey with API Foils offered the following list of foil benefits and limitations during their presentations at the FSEA Convention. For comparison, a list of foil board benefits and limitations are also listed.

Benefits of Foil

  • Short lead-time for delivery of standard colors and patterns (usually less than 2 weeks)
  • No limitations on the number of patterns/colors per sheet
  • Flexibility in regard to substrate range and design variation
  • Brightness of foil
  • Higher print quality attainable by printing over knocked out areas
  • Embossing/Debossing and etching capabilities
  • Apply foil to localized area instead of full sheet coverage
  • Resistance Features
  • Quality and authenticity
  • No limit on paper size
  • Quicker turnaround on custom order paper or can cut down larger stock

Limitations of Foil

  • Makeready time
  • Slower production speeds
  • Shim lines on holographic foils
  • Increased cost to run full or heavy coverage
  • Registration issues
  • Compatibility with substrates, coatings, laminates and inks; no one foil will work with all applications

Benefits of Foil Board

  • Quicker production speeds
  • Available in shimless holographic sheets
  • Registration accuracy—registering print to print vs. foil to print
  • Less costly to run full coverage on longer runs
  • Primed print surface
  • Can reverse out printing to achieve foil stamped images without another pass
  • Can achieve shades and translucent effects
  • Fewer processes compared to overprinting foil stamped images
  • Does not require foil stamping equipment

Limitations of Foil Board

  • Need to cover with solid inks
  • Higher cost of product
  • Scuffing/scratching in handling and printing processes
  • Not as bright as foil
  • Additional passes to ‘pop’ image with opaque white vs. foil stamping on paper
  • Etching and embossing require additional passes
  • Lack of flexibility in substrates
  • Less compatibility with inks, coatings, foils, and glues
  • Longer lead-time for material (usually 4-5 weeks)
  • Tendency to curl

Practical Applications

According to Steve Skalski, General Manager/Vice President of Graphic Converting’s trading card operations in Carlsbad, CA, both foil and foil board are utilized in the production of the trading cards, although not equally. The trading card operation relies much more heavily on foil than foil board for several reasons.

Skalski feels that nothing ‘pops’ an image off a page better than knocking out the foil and printing directly onto the white paper. Many try to mirror this effect with foil board by overprinting with 1-2 hits of opaque white and then overprinting. "This helps," admits Skalski, "but the print quality just isn’t the same. In addition, you’ve got the extra press pass." Skalski points out that some alleviate the extra pass by putting down the opaque white in the same pass as the rest of the ink (wet trapping) but cautions that you really have to be careful. And in the end, the result is not nearly as effective as applying the opaque white on a separate pass and allowing it to dry (dry trapping).

Long lead-times to obtain the foil board is another reason foil is preferred. To combat the lead-time issue, Graphic Converting keeps a stock of sheets on hand that are foil stamped in blocks. Skalski explains that the pre-engineered sheets not only save time, but are more cost effective on shorter runs and allow for greater flexibility in color range and patterns. The high cost of foil board (especially on shorter runs) can be another deterrent. Although many factors play a part in determining cost comparisons between foil and foil board, the following example offered by Skalski is interesting to note. For full coverage on 25,000 sheets, sized 27" x 40" the costs are:

Foil board: 71¢/sheet (foil board, press makeready, opaque white ink cost, run cost)

Foil: 68¢/sheet (paper, flat dies, foil makeready, foil, run cost)

The range of colors and patterns is much greater with foil than with foil board. In the trading card industry, they need flexibility, while still keeping in mind cost, quality, production time, and material lead time, all of which factor into Graphic Converting’s decision to use foil more often than foil board.

Skalski points out that one main advantage with foil board is the avoidance of shim lines. Artwork can either be situated around shim lines or shimless foil board can be used. Graphic Converting gets around shim line problems with a registration unit on their press that reads the shim line and automatically advances the foil to avoid the shim line. Although effective, this procedure is not the most efficient use of the foil.

Unifoil Corp. offers a non-laminated, metalized sheet (paper or board) line that includes UniLustre®, Holographic UniLustre®, and Registered Holographic UniLustre®. The line is much brighter than traditionally laminated foil boards, more environmentally friendly, has a more printable surface, and does not have a tendency to curl because only one layer is transferred to the sheet. In addition, the Registered Holographic UniLustre® runs much quicker through the printing press because each sheet is optically registered and has eye marks on the side guides.

Diamond Packaging of Rochester, NY, utilizes foil, foil board, and a combination of the two in its packaging operation primarily in markets such as men’s personal care, dental hygiene, and photography and looks ahead to growth in toys, video games, cosmetics, and greeting cards. Again, factors such as length of run, size of the area to be stamped, availability of material for turnaround, customer’s visual desire, and cost all play a part in the decision to use foil or foil board. According to Finishing Manager David Ziemba, "We have requirements to overprint foil for some of our customers. This poses some limitation because not all foil is conducive to being printed on. The challenge is to find a foil that works with our UV printing process." Ziemba continued that lead-time and cost are also contributing factors that can impact the company’s decision to stamp instead of using foil board.

However, Ziemba stresses the importance of offering both processes to its customers. "Because we utilize both processes at Diamond Packaging," observes Ziemba, "we can be more flexible and better service our customers’ needs. Having both foil board and foil stamping options to offer allows us to be more competitive in today’s packaging marketplace."

Can Foil and Foil Board Coexist?

Although some might argue that foil board is taking market share from foil stamping, those on the supply side view the rapid growth of foil board in a different light. According to Stewart Glazer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Crown Roll Leaf, the real positive result of the growth of foil board is that it has exposed new markets to the importance of value-added services. Joe Funicelli, President and CEO of Unifoil Corp., also has seen new markets emerge. In particular, markets such as personal care (toothpaste, shaving cream, and blister-packed toothbrushes), sports (golf ball boxes), and party supplies (paper plates) are all gaining shelf presence through the glitz and glitter of foil board. In addition, Funicelli sites several examples where end products such as the Prescriptives line have combined Registered Holographic UniLustre® foil board, foil stamping, and printing to create unique, eye-catching cartons.

As end users in these new markets continue to invest money on added value, they will seek other decorative processes to maintain their competitive edge. Foil stamping, etching, embossing, debossing, and coating are all finishing services that can, and do, coexist with foil board. As foil board grows, so too will the opportunities for the finishing industry.

In sum, for long run applications requiring full foil coverage, foil board (laminates) would be the most likely, and most cost effective, choice. For medium to short run applications requiring moderate to light coverage or multiple passes (foil stamping and/or embossing), foil stamping would probably be the process of choice. Even though the applications for each seem to be well-defined and clear cut, a lot of middle ground exists where the two can meet. No matter which process you choose, providing the best value at the desired cost should be the biggest deciding factor.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Steve Skalski with Graphic Converting, Inc. and Paul Laskey from API Foils for their contributions to this article.