Metallic Finishes and Bindery Challenges

by: Jeff Peterson

Although metalized finishes have been an eye-catching advantage for packaging and direct mail for many years, there has been a surge on the demand for foil in recent months. “Bling,” as many refer to it, is in. You can see it in clothing, point-of-purchase displays and much more.

Metallic Finishes

Creating a metallic finish on printed products now can be accomplished in several ways, becoming more easily accessible for designers and printers wanting to add shine and shimmer to a variety of printed materials. The application, finished size, coverage and quantity all are important factors to consider in determining the best method to use.

Laminated Paper or Board
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 augmented with foil. Although this typically means an additional press run to apply the foil, the cost savings realized by 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. As with film-laminated board, hot foil stamping provides a high “mirror-like” 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, rather than being left behind 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 inline with large format sheet-fed offset printing presses. This technology utilizes a tacky adhesive that is applied typically in the first station of a sheet-fed 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 the potential cost savings realized by utilizing a less expensive paper or board versus a pre-laminated product. In addition, cold foil 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. The foil can be applied and then printed inline in one pass, saving the cost of multiple press set-ups. 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 (similar to hot foil stamping), and the plastic film is not applied to the substrate.

However, as with any process, there are drawbacks to using cold foil. First, there may be a decrease in the run speeds of the press when adding cold foil, which is not desirable when producing 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.

Challenges in the Bindery

With any type of metallic decorating on paper, challenges can arise once it reaches the bindery. “The number one challenge with a metallic decorated sheet is keeping it from scratching as it goes through a folder, diecutter or other piece of bindery equipment,” stated Matt Seidl, sales manager at Seidl’s Bindery. “We recommend coating the sheet after the foil is applied, whenever possible, to help prevent this.” Seidl also recommends having employees use white cloth gloves when handling metallic decorated stocks to limit scratches and finger prints. He also suggests shrink wrapping the final product if possible.

Gary Markovits, president of E&M Bindery & Finishing, also understands the precautions that need to be taken to decrease the chances of scratch or rub marks. “Careful preparation and handling is of upmost importance on our end when we know that the product includes foil,” stated Markovits. He specifically recommends using rubber folder rollers to minimize surface abrasions on foil stamped and embossed applications.

When cutting printed material decorated with foil, caution is necessary from the very beginning. “Wet trapping the inks on a laminated sheet can be one of the biggest challenges when cutting,” stated Bob Windler, president of Diecrafters, Inc. “Coating or laminating a stock that may have foil and ink is always a good idea to protect the sheet, but it is very important to make sure the inks are properly dried first. Trapping wet ink will cause all types of problems with scoring or cutting the sheet.”

When Guillotine cutting a foil-decorated sheet is necessary, Seidl recommends that the operator checks to be sure the cutting knives are sharpened and not dull. “We also use magnetic pads for the cutter press to prevent applying excessive pressure to sensitive stocks,” Seidl explained.

Markovits also pointed out that when working with book covers, it is best to avoid applying foil that bleeds into the book’s trim areas. “Guillotine cutting can cause foil stamping to flake along the trimmed edges,” explains Markovits. Similarly, diecutting a metallic decorated sheet usually is preferred over Guillotine cutting to eliminate the possibility of a jagged, marked edge. Markovits mentioned another hazard associated with cutting. “It also breaks the seal of the foil stamped area, which can allow moisture to get between the foil and the cover surface,” he said. “This can lead to bubbling, lifting and other problems.”

“There are a vast number of variables that can cause challenges when working with metallic decorated products,” stated Windler. “This is an area where an outside bindery or finisher may have an advantage over an in-plant operation, because there are often operators with specific specialties and experience who can share ideas to ensure a quality finished product is achieved.”