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Archive for the ‘Foiling’ Category

Custom Printing: Novel Digital Foiling Options

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

When it rains, it pours. And when this truism pertains to commercial printing, I’m intrigued. More digital embellishment options mean OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are focusing on post-press finishing equipment. And this portends an expansion of digital commercial printing in general.

It’s like the transition from the early plastic, copier-like digital presses to the huge, digital laser and inkjet presses built on heavy-metal frames by OEMs that used to only manufacture offset presses.

So I was pleased to read an article about “Sleeking.”

Sleeking is a digital finishing process, or more specifically a digital embellishment process, that uses pressure and heat to bond foil (from a roll) onto heavy-coverage digitally-printed ink laid down by an HP Indigo press. (An HP Indigo is a digital laser custom printing press that uses toner particles suspended in liquid ink.) Sleeking allows you to lay down the foil digitally, then run the substrate back through the Indigo a second time to print either adjacent to the foil or even on the foil.

Here’s Some Context

It used to be the case that a metallic finish had to be applied using a metal die. The process was called hot foil stamping. You would pay maybe $300 to $500 for a die that would yield one static image (the same on all copies). This would add to the manufacturing time as well as the cost and would require subcontracting this portion of the job to a specialist. Then your printer would use the metal die along with heat and pressure to punch out the foil from a roll and adhere it to the substrate. (For instance, you might do this to foil stamp a book title on a hardcover print book cover.)

Or, you could do cold-foil stamping (a more modern process that does not require metal dies). Cold foil stamping involves first printing a UV-curable (hardened by ultraviolet light) adhesive on the substrate using a printing plate. This UV light makes the adhesive tacky. Then, a roll of metallic film is applied to the tacky adhesive. Foil adheres to the sticky image areas, and the scrap form the non-image areas will stay on the liner sheet (the roll). The benefit, for the most part, compared to hot foil stamping, is that a metallic effect is achievable without a metal stamping die. The process also allows for detail, such as screen gradations, small type (down to about 5 pt. type), and thin rules. You can also laminate or otherwise coat cold-foil stamped material. (If you’re interested in the process, you may want to research the Scodix process or Vivid3D, which seem to be very similar to cold foiling.)

The New Process

With “Sleeking,” you first lay down a heavy coating of liquid HP Indigo ink (I mean really heavy: 400 percent, or four clicks on a digital press) on the substrate. (To put this in context, your offset printer might request no more than 280 percent “total area coverage” among the four process inks—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—for an offset printed job.)

This is the base that will accept the foil (which comes on a roll). In fact, some (powdered) toners can even be used in place of HP digital ink. (Since this is a new process, experts are still testing toners, hot roller pressure, substrates—coated and uncoated—and the actual amount of liquid toner coverage needed prior to adding the foil.)

The foil can be laid down as a spot application or a flood application (the whole sheet). This process is even good for variable data. (For instance, you could lay down 400 percent Indigo digital ink for an invitation, changing the name of the addressee on each printed sheet prior to the Sleeking process.)

Once you have applied the base 400 percent pass of Indigo ink (from a separate layer in your InDesign file), and have allowed the job to dry (some printers like to take six to eight hours for this part of the job to ensure total drying), you can feed the press sheets into the Sleeker and apply the foil from a roll.

Heat and pressure adhere the foil to the (dry) 400 percent coverage of Indigo ink, but the non-image areas do not remove the foil from the donor sheet. (A GMP Foil Laminator performs this step.) This is actually an economical process, since you can rewind the foil roll and use it again (as long as you’re using other parts of the sheet from which no metallic film has been taken for the Sleeking process).

To me this sounds a bit like the cold foiling process.

Sleeking will allow you to apply spot foil or flood the whole sheet. It can be a simple, clear gloss or matte finish or a metallic gold or silver, or it can even be a holographic image of type, a graphic pattern, or variable data.

The third step is like the first. After printing the base 400 percent toner and then Sleeking the job on the GMP Foil Laminator, you can bring the press sheet back to the Indigo digital press for another pass. You can print the rest of the job next to the foil (think “trapping,” in which the foil and remaining ink do not touch), or you can even print the HP Indigo Ink over the foil. This approach yields colorful metallic results that far exceed the original gold and silver foil of the Sleeking process.

Some Considerations

Paper choice is very important for this process, and experts are already busy testing press sheets. Coated paper seems to work better than uncoated (to ensure adequate adhering of the foil to the dry HP Indigo ink). Papers must have been approved for use on an HP Indigo press, whether they are coated or uncoated, to ensure success.

Variables to consider include how much total ink coverage to print prior to Sleeking, and how much heat and pressure to apply. Some printers experimenting with the process use more than one hit of ink (called a click on a digital press) in a particular location. Uncoated paper seems to complicate the process, sometimes causing speckling, but some printers like the fact that the uncoated paper has texture, and they don’t mind the “grittiness.” (I found a good article on the subject that you might want to read, called “So What Is Sleeking?” by Jeff Truan, published on 5/3/18, on www.nobelusuniversity.com.)

If you think this is a multi-run process, you’re right, and this can be a consideration when choosing paper. After all, you’re printing four hits of HP Indigo ink on a press sheet, then adding foil in a Sleeker, then going back to the HP Indigo and printing the whole sheet again. That can be hard on a press sheet. Therefore, it may be wise to use cover stock rather than text stock for the job (perhaps use Sleeking on a poster, business card, book cover, or a self-mailing marketing piece). The process as noted in Jeff Truan’s article can accept up to 18 point board, which should hold up well.

Trapping can also be an issue, according to “So What Is Sleeking?” by Jeff Truan. More specifically, printers who create foiled areas surrounded by white can sometimes see a black halo around the foil, where the preprinting extends slightly beyond the foiling. In these cases, commercial printing vendors experimenting with the process have replaced the 400 percent black underprinting with 400 percent yellow Indigo ink, which seems to solve the problem.

Akin to trapping, register can also be problematic. Aligning foils and inks perfectly when you’re printing a press sheet once on an HP Indigo digital press, then adding foil on a GMP Foil Laminator, and then printing again on the HP Indigo leaves room for error in precise fit (alignment, register). Therefore, it’s wise to keep this in mind and design wisely for the process.

The Takeaway

What can you, as a designer, print buyer, or printer learn from this process (which is actually more than a couple of years old by now)?

  1. Anything that catches the eye will be more likely to capture the imagination of the viewer or reader. This is particularly true when you think of all the images we see every day, including all the marketing mail in the mailbox, all the product packaging, and all the signage.
  2. Foil stamping used to involve making a metal die, which increased the overall cost of the job as well as the production time needed. If your job press run is less than 1,000 to 2,000 copies, this new foiling process might be right for you. However, for longer runs, making the die the traditional way may still yield a lower cost per unit.
  3. Between hot-foil stamping, cold foil stamping (and similar technologies such as Scodix, Vivid3D, and Sleeking), it’s clear that manufacturers are addressing the need for digital finishing options to pair with digital custom printing options (particularly to avoid bottlenecks). All of these developments in digital finishing show that digital printing is being taken very seriously.
  4. Sleeking, or Scodix, or Vivid3D, which might be right for your job, has the distinct benefit of allowing you to vary the foil image for each individual product you print.

And this kind of personalization can go a long way in speaking directly to your customers.

Custom Printing: Embossing, Debossing, and Foil Stamping

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Since the dawn of time humans have sought to embellish things. This is evidenced by everything from the floor mosaics in Rome to the illuminated manuscripts hand-copied by monks.

So it was no surprise to me when an associate of mine asked about embossing, debossing, and foil stamping as methods for decorating print books, certificates, and the like. Therefore, I went to school on the subject, and this is what I found.

Paper Embossing and Debossing

Paper embossing and its close cousin paper debossing involve pressing flat sheets of paper between two components of a die to either raise an image above the surface of the paper or lower it below the surface.

In either case, an engraver prepares a metal die for the top of the paper and a corresponding die for the bottom of the paper. These dies fit exactly into one another. That is, recesses in one half of the die correspond to raised areas in the other, whether these are strokes of letterforms (for text) or line artwork. When a special press is used (with one half of the die apparatus above, and one half below the press sheet), the force of the printing press against the dies (plus additional applied heat) causes the paper trapped between the dies to rise above the surface of the paper or fall below the surface of the paper (embossing or debossing, respectively).

It is the skill of the engraver who makes the dies and the quality of the fibers within the flat sheet of paper that allow the image to rise or fall without tearing the paper. Because of this, it is important to choose typefaces (and type sizes) as well as thicknesses of rule lines that are wide enough to not cut the paper and to be readable after the embossing or debossing process. (It pays to consult your custom printing supplier on this.)

There are several options for embossing and debossing. The first is the “blind emboss,” which involves only the raising or lowering of the image on the paper (and not printing or foiling anything). This creates a subtle, sophisticated effect. You may have seen the results of blind embossing on a notarized document or even a “This book is the property of…” stamp inside a print book you have borrowed. (You can get such personal embossing stamps online for your own library with your own name on the die. If you look closely, you will see the two interlocking elements of the die.)

The second option is the “registered emboss.” That is, for such an embossing or debossing process, you raise or lower the image in exact alignment with a corresponding printed or foil stamped image (more about that later). If the effect is created with ink and embossing dies, the process is called “color registered embossing.” If metal foil is used with embossing dies, the process is called “combination stamping.” In either case, the goal is to have the embossed or debossed image in precise register with the inked or foil-stamped image.

Another thing to consider is the order of these separate processes. First you print the image(s) on the press sheet. Then you emboss the press sheet on a separate press. If you think about it, this makes sense, since the pressure of offset commercial printing would crush the delicate embossed or debossed image(s). So anything you need to do other than the embossing or debossing step has to come first. This includes varnishing and laminating as well as custom printing.

Correspondingly, the press used for the stamping process is more like a letterpress than an offset press. That is, the two pieces of the press come together vertically, up-and-down, to press the image into the paper fibers (in contrast to the rotary nature of offset commercial printing). Names of presses to look for online to see this process in action include Kluge, Heidelberg, and Kingsley.

Regarding the dies used in embossing and debossing, the metals for their fabrication include zinc, magnesium, copper, and brass. For the following reasons, embossing and debossing can be very expensive:

  1. Die-making is a specialized skill. A limited number of vendors can make dies. This also adds to the time needed for their fabrication.
  2. Embossing and debossing are processes separate from the printing component of your job, and they are done on presses that not all printers may have. This also adds to the cost and the turn-around time.

To go back to the combination emboss noted above, which both foil stamps and embosses an image, this process accomplishes both goals at the same time using the same die apparatus. This die is sculpted, usually made of brass, constructed to maintain tight register between the embossed image and the foil-stamped image, and made to also trim away the waste foil (any non-image area not needed for the registered embossing). Again, you pay for this ingenuity.

Foil Stamping

I think a description of foil stamping at this point will make the whole procedure of combination stamping easier to visualize.

For metallicized foil stamping, a roll of foil is used that has a liner (the base layer of the sheet, also called a release layer), the adherent (glue) layer, and a layer of chrome or aluminum. The metallic layer can be made to “simulate” gold, silver, copper, and bronze. In addition to metallics, printers that offer foil stamping can use colored foil that is not metallic but that has a gloss or matte finish as well as the pigment. They can also use holographic foils. (You may see that these have been used on some paper money or, perhaps, on your driver’s license as well.)

Using the same or similar presses to those used for debossing and embossing, the foil stamping process applies heat and pressure to attach the adhesive foil to the substrate (for example, a diploma with a foil-burst seal of achievement). At the same time, the die cuts away any scrap (anything that’s not the image area).

So when you want to bring together the die-based processes of embossing/debossing and foil stamping, you can create elegant effects using these combination sculpted dies.

Uses for Foil Stamping and Embossing/Debossing

Embossing/debossing and foil stamping, either by themselves or together, can be used to adorn paper or leather. Therefore, they’re especially useful for specialized art books. But if you look closely, you’ll also find these techniques used in a lot of functional printing (industrial printing) as well. For instance, hot stamping is often used to mark or embellish plastic pieces of televisions, kitchen appliances, and audio equipment. You can also see foil stamping on cosmetics and cosmetics packaging, as well as RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags. As noted before, you’ll also find them on some paper money and identification cards (like driver’s licenses) and other security-printed items.

What You Can Learn from This Discussion

Think about ways you can use either embossing/debossing or foil stamping (together or separately). Keep your eyes open, and you will see these techniques more and more. Walk through a department store and check out the cosmetics counters. Look at print book dust jackets in book stores. You’ll see foil stamped bursts on some of the dust jackets. All of this will give you ideas for using these adorning techniques.

If you want to apply any of these techniques to your own work, approach your commercial printing supplier early in the process. Discuss both costs and scheduling. Add extra time to your production schedule. In particular, ask about what fonts and type sizes will work the best as well as how thick to make your rule lines (for underlining or boxes). Be safe. Ask for printed samples to make sure you and your printer envision the same results.

Stay abreast of emerging digital adornment (or enhancement) technology. You may want to Google “Scodix Based Printing.” It is increasingly possible to build up surfaces, textures, and colors (including metallic colors) digitally (kind of like 3D printing) to simulate the look of both embossing and foiling. Personally, I find this exceptionally exciting, since it makes die-making (and the related costs and extended schedules) obsolete.

Custom Printing: New Foiling Machine for Precise Imprints

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

A friend and colleague recently sent me a press release from Roland DGA describing new laser foiling equipment. The article, entitled “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” published on 3/23/18 in various online publications, describes the machine, which uses metallic and holographic foils to imprint small items including pens, cell-phone covers, cosmetic cases, and even paper (such as corporate letterhead) with logos, text, and graphics.

Roland DGA notes that this foil press is ideal for short runs. In addition, due to its focused laser it can not only decorate products with much smaller legible type and graphic detail than prior technologies, but it can also avoid potentially melting plastics, a problem that occurred with prior hotter lasers. This makes it ideal for polycarbonates, ABS, and acrylic.

The press release, “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” goes on to note that available materials include gold and silver (as well as other) metallic foils and holographic foils, which can be used to produce striking, detailed, and precise effects.

The software that runs the DGSHAPE LD-80 provides a broad range of fonts, adjustable font sizes, and the capability to incorporate vector art (such as logos) into the product decoration.

Since the machine has a small footprint and since it runs on standard electrical current, it can fit easily to an existing commercial printing workflow, and it can even be transported to an event site for immediate personalization of promotional items.

Furthermore, the press release describes the safety features of the DGSHAPE LD-80, which has been specifically designed in such a manner that no laser light is visible during operation, and laser foiling will stop immediately if the covering hood is opened.

Why This Is Important

This is not just another press release. It reflects certain trends within digital commercial printing and finishing:

  1. For a long time the focus was entirely on digital custom printing, starting with laser printers (electrophotography) and then inkjet presses. These improved significantly over the years, but there was little attention given to finishing operations (such as trimming and folding equipment). Now I’m beginning to see more of a focus on incorporating the digital printing workflow into the rest of the pressroom by addressing finishing capabilities (which also include hot foil technology, such as the DGSHAPE LD-80).
  2. Prior to laser foiling, custom-made steel dies were used to cut foil and apply it with heat (to book covers or other objects). The dies were expensive and time consuming to create. Laser cutting and laser foiling (in this case) sidestep the need to make these metal dies, thus saving money and time.
  3. In the past, commercial printing on pens and cosmetic cases would have been done with custom screen printing technology (and, perhaps, pad printing technology). Based on the consistency of the ink used, and my understanding of these processes, this would not have allowed for the kind of precision (the small type, for instance) made available by this new DGSHAPE LD-80. In addition, the kind of holographic and metallicized foils the press release describes would most probably not have been options for either custom screen printing or pad printing. Now, vendors can personalize items with small type and detailed line work.
  4. “Swag” sells a brand. Little trinkets like pens emblazoned with a company’s logo are the gift that keeps on giving. Every time a prospective customer picks up the pen on his or her desk to write a note, the name of the company is right there. It’s an advertisement that she or he sees again and again, reinforcing the brand message.
  5. Based on photos I’ve seen of the DGSHAPE, this foiling machine looks a bit like a 3D printer, and based on the kinds of items it decorates (also based on the photos), the technology seems to be akin to “direct to shape” custom printing. This is important because it allows users to place an image on an irregular surface (a cylinder, in the case of the pen and the cosmetics case in the website photos). In prior generations of digital technology (digital printing, for instance), printing on an irregular surface often entailed first printing a flat label and then affixing this to the irregular surface. Printing (or in this case foiling) directly on a curved surface is a step forward. It simplifies the decorating process, reducing the number of operations needed. In the case of the DGSHAPE LD-80, it does this while improving the detail in imaging.
  6. Based on my online research, the DGSHAPE Corporation is a spin-off of the Roland DG Corporation. Based on the logo, logo colors, and the name, there seems to be a direct connection to the Manroland AG company that manufactures sheetfed and web-fed offset presses, as well as newspaper presses. (In fact, I just found another website linking the two logos and company names.) Therefore, DGSHAPE has a company history of manufacturing durable printing and finishing equipment. It is not a newcomer to the commercial printing world. Therefore, I would expect an exceptional build quality in the equipment as well as an ability to integrate this foiling machinery into existing commercial printing workflows.
  7. At the moment, there seem to be two major kinds of foil decorating equipment in existence. I have read about the original “hot foil stamping” process done with steel dies. (The new DGSHAPE laser-based option that cuts and affixes foil to a substrate appears to be a digital version of this approach.) I have also read about “cold foiling” equipment that applies foil to precisely placed adhesive (and then tears away unused foiling film). But beyond hot and cold foiling technology, I have also read about equipment that builds up layers of synthetic foiling material. (Scodix decorating equipment would fit in this category.) Scodix seems more akin to 3D custom printing (also known as additive manufacturing), in which polymer materials are built up in layers. However, in contrast to Scodix, the DGSHAPE process seems more akin to actual hot foil stamping applied to book covers and similar products. It just seems to be laser-based (digital) and appropriate for a wider range of substrates (paper, plastic pens, plastic cosmetic items, etc.).

I think all of this bodes well for the future of digital finishing in general, and digital foiling in particular.

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