Managing Foil Inventory

by Jeff Peterson, editor-in-chief, PostPress
A foil inventory system can reduce waste, avoid downtime and save time.

In the print finishing world, having a sophisticated inventory system never has been of upmost importance. Finishers, as a general rule, do not have a great deal of inventory of paper or other products because many jobs are brought in by the printer/customer and then sent back before being shipped to the end user.

One area where inventory management can be important, however, is with hot stamping foil. This has become even more critical in recent years with the growth and use of new paper stocks and coatings, which has created more foil formulations for different substrates. Creating a system that will help estimators, salespeople and operators keep track of the foil on hand can save money and production time in many cases – but, this is more easily said than done. “Managing foil inventory is a difficult task,” said Brian Bowland, Great Western Foils, Simi Valley, California. “There is no easy way to keep track of it without physically checking it on some type of consistent basis.”

Inventory software

One way to keep better track of foil inventory is to use a software system. This can be effective in managing foil, but it takes a concerted effort to track not only the number of rolls in inventory, but also the feet left on each roll. “A quality foil inventory system will know how much material is on each roll,” said Mark Porter, president of Dienamic MIS Software, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. “If the next job comes in and requires 1,500 feet, the operator will want to choose to finish off the 500-foot roll in inventory and then start another 1,000-foot roll for the balance.” Knowing that a 500-foot-long roll of the specific foil for the job is on hand potentially saves the finisher the cost of purchasing an entire master roll. The savings can be passed to the customer or help drive a higher profit margin on the job.

A foil inventory system also can force structure with the management of the foil rolls, because it can specify the exact location from which foil is taken and returned. This structure results in less time looking for foil and less waste from possibly having to repurchase it.

Utilizing a software system to help manage foil inventory can provide many benefits, including:

  • reduce waste during production;
  • help ensure sufficient quantities are available for production to avoid downtime;
  • manage batches of foil received by specific foil suppliers so if there are quality issues, they can be traced; and
  • reduce time looking for foil rolls and costs associated with purchasing foil that may be in the plant but cannot be found.

Reducing and controlling foil inventory

Another way to keep foil inventory manageable is to have policies that help the foil stamper use it in creative ways, such as producing a foil color chart for customers, using it for a finisher’s self-promotional piece or donating a foil stamping project for a nonprofit event.

Another way to keep foil inventory manageable is to have policies that help the foil stamper use it in creative ways. For example, an inventive idea would be to produce a foil color chart for customers. “Producing a foil color chart has been an excellent tool for promoting our business and minimizing the number of foil colors that we keep in stock – especially in the gold and copper range, where there seems to be an unlimited number of shades available,” said Paul Adametz, president of The Letterpress Shoppe, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We produced a large quantity of color charts several years ago and distributed them to all the printers, designers and ad agencies in the Pittsburgh region. Because of the mass distribution, my competitors regularly have to deal with their customers specifying Letterpress Shoppe foil color numbers.”

Adametz said his company controls foil inventory by specifying that quotations are based on using Letterpress Shoppe standard foil shades. “With this policy in place, we rarely have to buy a custom shade without being able to charge the customer accordingly,” Adametz explained. The Letterpress Shoppe also tries to quote “off-the-shelf” foils when customers indicate they want something a little different than what is shown on the color chart. “Our customers have access to hundreds of end rolls that we have sorted by color without paying for a custom foil purchase,” Adametz added.

Yet another idea to use leftover foil in inventory is to use it for a finisher’s self-promotional piece or for a nonprofit event where the finisher would donate the foil stamping of the project. In addition to using leftover foil, donating the foil stamping for a special invitation can provide great free publicity for the foil stamper.

Bowland said foil stampers do not need to stock very many foils in inventory, especially if they have easy access to a selection of foil through a distributor or foil manufacturer. “Every roll a foil stamper keeps in inventory hurts the company’s bottom line,” he explained. Bowland suggested keeping on hand general gold and silver foils that can work on a broad range of substrates. He also recommended that foil stamping companies stock clear foil. “With the increased popularity of spot coatings and other specialty coatings, clear hot stamping foil has gained in popularity as well,” he said. “Many of our foil stamping customers now inventory it along with gold and silver and sometimes a black and white foil, too.”

Bowland added that calculating the correct foil for the particular job also is important in controlling foil inventory (see Figure 1 on Foil Calculation Formula). This can help control the rolls left over from a particular job.


Whether a foil stamper uses a software system and/or creates specific policies to help control foil inventory, the key is that it is important to do something. Utilizing a software system of some type, as well as doing things like having a color chart with limited foil colors and controlling the foils that need to be inventoried, can go a long way toward keeping money in the bank instead of on the shelf.

PostPress would like to thank Mark Porter, Dienamic MIS Software, Inc.; Brian Bowland, Great Western Foils, Inc.; and Paul Adametz, The Letterpress Shoppe L.P., for their assistance with this article.

Foil Calculation Formula

To figure the correct foil for a particular job, three specifics are needed:

  1. Total # of impressions/sheets. Remember to count total sheets, not finished pieces. Also, be sure to not calculate from the total sheets received. Provide the needed quantity asked for by the printer or customer and do not stamp an unnecessary amount.
  2. Length of pull. Determine which direction the foil will run on the press and then measure the length of the image being foil stamped. Take the image size and, to be safe, add ½” to all sides. If the foil stamper can be involved early in the project, many times a small adjustment can help decrease the total foil usage and save the customer foil costs.
  3. Number of cut rolls needed out of a master roll (24″ or 25″ wide). Once the size of each roll has been determined, calculate how many rolls can be cut from a master.

# of impressions times the length of the pull (in inches) divided by 12 (divide by 12 to convert from inches to feet). Take this number and divide by the number of cut rolls out of a master.
This will provide the foil stamper with the footage needed in master rolls. As an example:

# of impressions: 10,000
Length of pull: 6″
Cut size: 3″ (8 rolls out of a master)
10,000 times 6 divided by 12 divided by 8 = 625

This calculates to 24″ x 625′ needed to complete the job. Since foil is commonly sold in 200′ increments, and sometimes 1,000′ masters are the minimum, one master 24″ x 800′ or 1,000′ will be needed to complete the job.