- Publishing & printing
Ed #6 Embossing and Foil Stamping
Ed™ knows finishing. Ed says to finish it off. For graphic designers, printers, and their clients, winning eyeballs of readers and viewers is harder than ever. With so many messages competing for attention, projects that don’t stand out are likely to be overlooked.
That’s one reason why print professionals are pushing back the limits of what can be done with ink and paper. As Ed has discussed before, designers and printers are adding more colors and finishes and developing new printing technologies, all with the goal of creating work that really grabs its audience.
And that’s why many designers are also taking a closer look at the various finishing techniques, typically performed after the job leaves the press, that add even more impact to print productions.
In this issue, Ed looks at two of the most popular finishing techniques—embossing and foil stamping. Embossing can add a new level of interest to projects, while foil stamping can help your message come shining through. Ed will give you an overview of both techniques—and how to combine them—what to watch out for if you give them a try and how to make finishing work for you.
Why does Ed do it? Because Ed wants to help you do more. Because Ed wants you and your work to get all of the attention that you deserve. And because Ed wants to show you that Billerud should be your first choice in printing papers. We’re dedicated to helping you do your best work, and we’re right there with you from start to finish—and a helping hand from Ed.
Ed will never grow old, but some of the information in this issue is out of date.
Stamping feats. There’s more to printing than meets the eye. Embossing and other advanced finishing techniques can add a whole new dimension—and more impact.
Die a grams.
Both embossing and foil stamping rely on dies to shape—or apply foil to—the paper. Many different shapes can be embossed, including those shown here.
While Ed would never be one to question the power of ink on paper, some of the most exciting things that can happen to a print project take place away from the press. Off-press finishing techniques, including die-cutting, laminating, embossing and foil stamping, can bedazzle the eye and excite other senses. Package designers have long recognized the power of such techniques, as a walk past any cosmetics counter will show. But their value isn’t limited to pushing perfumes. Applied properly, the same enhancements can help your project make a bigger impact—and create a positive image. So maybe it’s time to schedule a stop at the finisher and take a new look at two of the most popular improvements: embossing and foil stamping.
From the time that Roman emperors first stamped a seal on official documents, raising the type or designs that appear on paper has given them a special meaning. It literally adds a whole new dimension.
Embossing starts with a metal relief die, a matching counter die and an embossing press. Paper is placed between the die and the counter, heat and pressure are applied, and the type or design is pressed into the stock. When the image is raised above the surface of the stock, it is embossed; when it is indented below the surface, it is debossed. “Blind” embossing (or debossing) means that the embossed image appears by itself, without needing to be registered, or precisely positioned, against the edge of any printed color or foil coating.
Embossing is available in a variety of shapes and depths. The raised or recessed image may be flat, dome shaped, v-shaped or beveled. Sculptured dies create softly rounded edges at various depths; multilevel dies create a number of distinct levels, separated by bevels. Depending on the die and the paper used, the depth of the embossing can range from a subtle .004 inch to a dramatic .025 inch.
Dies are made from a variety of materials using several techniques, including hand tooling, photo etching and a computer-controlled cutting machine. Brass dies, which are typically the most expensive, are used for high-volume and high-quality projects, because engravers can hand finish the material into complex, multilayered designs and because the same die can be used to make more than one million impressions. Copper dies are less expensive than brass dies but typically can make only up to 100,000 impressions. Rather than being tooled by hand or machine, copper dies are photo etched to create single-level designs. Magnesium dies, which are softer than brass or copper, can be tooled or etched, but because the material is soft, the dies do not hold up well, and typically are used only for small print runs, from 1,000 to 5,000 impressions. In projects where the same embossed design is printed a number of times on the same sheet, a master die is created and then duplicate dies, cast from resin, are used to stamp the design.
Embossing is frequently used on packaging, covers, folders and dust jackets, as well as letterheads and business cards—and it can make a strong impression.
Like the stamps and seals that are found on awards and diplomas, embossing creates a sense of authenticity or official sanction. Embossing also adds greater interest by engaging the sense of touch. Embossing creates a physical presence, a sculptural quality, that printing on its own can’t achieve. Raised forms also help to attract the eye by intensifying highlights and shadows. There’s a feeling of luxury and a look of permanence, authority and wealth.
Of course, it takes time—and money—to look expensive. Preparing an original die can be costly, and the larger and more complex the design of the die, the greater the cost will be. Then the project must be run through the stamping press, which adds another step to the production schedule and increases costs.
There are other issues, too. The most obvious concern is that the reverse side of the embossed sheet—often the inside front cover of reports or folders—will show the reverse of the embossed design. Type and images can be printed in the reversed area, but they will follow the contours of the embossing, which viewers might find distracting. It may be better to leave the reversed area blank. A more elegant solution is to cover the reverse side of the emboss by folding the paper over it in a French fold.
Embossing also calls for special attention in typesetting and design. Because embossing actually stretches the paper around the die, it is important to leave additional space around type and artwork and not place the embossed area too close to scores or folds. Typefaces with thin or delicate serifs are typically not recommended for embossing. Kerning—the space between letters—and leading should be increased. Embossed rules should be two points or more in width.
Paper is another concern. Typically, the best results are achieved with a bulky paper stock, such as 100-pound cover. A heavy stock provides the most dramatic effect, since the embossing can push deeper into the surface, and the stock can handle the pressure generated by the die. While thinner stocks can be used, the depth of the emboss needs to be limited. Embossing also tends to work best with a softer finish, like those found on uncoated papers, because softer finishes have less tendency to wrinkle or crack. What’s more, the embossed image can be burnished—or heat tinted—to a smooth, gloss surface that stands out against the uncoated sheet. Matte and dull coated papers may also be used, however, and even gloss coated paper can be used if the dies are cut with softer edges. Otherwise the hard surface of the gloss coated paper can crack beneath the pressure of the die.
Although it can be embossed quite well, recycled paper also requires special consideration. The fiber in recycled paper is often highly compressed, so stamping large areas requires more pressure than it does to stamp virgin stock. And the abrasive, fibrous nature of recycled stocks may tend to shorten the life of the die—a concern in large print runs.
Foil stamping is another off-press process that can have a big impact on the finished project. Also known as flat stamping, hot stamping, gold stamping and blocking and leafing, foil stamping uses a die, but does not produce a raised image. Instead, a foil carried by a polyester film is placed between a heated die and the paper. When the die presses against the film, the heat releases the foil coat from the carrier and binds it to the surface of the paper.
The term foil is actually somewhat misleading, because foils are not limited to shiny metallic finishes like gold, bronze, copper or silver. Intensely colored flat pigment foils resemble a thick coating of ink. Gloss pigment foils resemble an enamel paint, giving the surface the depth and sheen of an automotive finish. Pearlescent foils have a soft, translucent pearl-like glow. Clear foils create the look of a deep varnish. A wide variety of textures are available, too, including wood grains, pebble, marble and, should you ever feel the need, snakeskin.
In addition to standard foils there are a variety of holographic foils that create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. Holographic patterned foils, available in a number of stock designs or custom printed—with a corporate logo, for example—repeat geometric patterns or other designs to produce an illusion of depth and a shimmering, prismatic effect. Patterned security foils are often used on tickets and the like, because they contain special, anti-counterfeiting features. Occasionally appearing on magazine covers, three-dimensional holograms are created from inanimate objects. As the viewer’s angle of vision changes, the object appears to rotate in space. Multiplane holograms give the illusion of looking into a three-dimensional scene. Relatively rare—and expensive—stereograms capture a sequence of actions performed by live models, creating an illusion of movement as the image is tilted from side to side.
If one foil is good, two foils can be even better. Although they call for the help of an experienced finisher, foil-over-foil processes—applying one foil over another—can create dramatic contrasts of color and texture. Glittering holographic foils can be set against a dark, intense matte surface. Different colored foils can be used to set off different parts of an image, or the company’s name from the title of the publication. Glossy metallic foil rules can be used to frame a foil-highlighted image.
Of course, you don’t need to decide between embossing and foil stamping—often they’re used together. In what’s known as the “stamp and bump” process, an image is first flat stamped with a foil and then, in a second pass, the stamped area and possibly other parts of the sheet are embossed or debossed. It’s a good technique for adding more interest to corporate trademarks and designs with fine details, because the coverage can be precise.
For people who want all the bells and whistles, there is combination work, which embosses and foil stamps in a single pass through the press, using a die that includes a cutting edge to trim the foil to exactly the right dimensions.
The impact of combination work can range from subtle to extreme. A clear foil or light tint applied over a small, embossed area can add a delicate grace note to the design. A wide band of metallic foil, with sculptured embossing and a gold border with an engraved finish, can have a different effect. Foil stamping and embossing will accent a good design; they will also draw attention to a bad one.
Used by itself or in combination work, foil stamping has many of the same production considerations as embossing, beginning with the schedule and budget. While simple foil stamping is relatively inexpensive, especially given the impact it can have, the more complex techniques can be much more costly, and that’s especially true for holographic foils. Stock patterns of holographic foils are relatively reasonable, but making a custom holographic foil can be time consuming and expensive. Although two-dimensional and multiplane holograms can be produced using flat art, stereograms require a film shoot using special equipment. Until recently, true three-dimensional holograms had to be created true-to-size, either from life or from a 1:1 scale model of the object, but now some three-dimensional images can be created with the help of a computer. Depending on the complexity of the project and the type of foil used, lead times for foil stamping can range anywhere from a week to two months or more.
Like embossing, foil stamping requires special care when it comes to design. Type generally appears bolder when foiled, so don’t kern or lead too tightly, and for best results, you should avoid type smaller than 8 point, or those with fine serifs.
Foil stamping presents some unique concerns as well. Type that appears on highly reflective foils can be hard to read, and foil stamps will turn dark when faxed or copied. What’s more, it can be difficult to find a foil that is an exact match for a PMS ink color. Holographic foils can be even trickier. Designers need to consider what will appear on the reverse side of the paper, since large areas of image or color behind a hologram may detract from the holographic effect. And holograms are best viewed under a single light source, not diffused sources like fluorescent lighting.
Foil stamping also differs from embossing when it comes to choosing paper. While uncoated papers can be a good choice for embossing, they are less well suited for foil stamping, because it can be difficult to make the foil lie smoothly, and special foils must be used if a shiny effect is desired. Even so, foils are used with uncoated stock—on pocket folders, for example—because pigment and gloss foils can provide better color coverage than conventional inks, especially on dark colored or highly textured surfaces.
In most cases, the best paper to use with foil stamping is a smooth, coated stock. The foil will lie flat and adhere well. Highly reflective gloss coated papers, which reflect the greatest amount of light, will make the foils shine more brightly and accentuate any holographic effects. For combination work involving both embossing and foil stamping, a dull or matte coated paper may offer the best balance of smoothness, embossability and color reproduction.
Even with the right paper, producing a foil project can be challenging. You need to work with an experienced finisher, one who knows how to achieve the results you’re looking for. You also need to get your printer involved, especially if the job includes stamping foil over ink. Wax-free or Teflon-free inks, like those used with UV coatings (see Ed #4), should be used, because the foil does not adhere well to inks and varnishes that contain high percentages of wax, Teflon or Silicon. Special inks must also be used if you want to print on top of foil. It’s likely that you’ll also need to allow for increased drying time on press. Give your printer the information—and the time required—to plan the job right, and make sure that everyone is on the same page, for every phase of the project.
While embossing and foil stamping can yield dramatic results, they can run up time and costs and create some design hurdles as well. And there may be other ways to achieve similar effects. Metallic inks on gloss paper, highlighted with a spot coating, can almost rival the reflectance of a metallic foil. Typefaces that include printed shadows mimic the effect of embossing. Such alternative techniques may be attractive for the time and budget impaired, but they will never have the same richness, feel or impact as the real things.
Applied wisely, the right finishing techniques can enhance the quality of many print projects. But quality printing begins with premium coated papers, such as the the gloss, dull and matte papers showcased in this website. That’s because the hard, nonporous surface of coated paper holds inks, varnishes and films on the top of the paper, without letting them sink into the valleys found in the surface of uncoated stocks. The smoother the finish, the better the quality. Simple.
You can find the right kind of coated paper for practically every project, and different coated paper finishes help you achieve different effects. Gloss allows you to print highly reflective art, such as photography, with wonderful clarity and sharpness of detail, and also provides the brightest reflective light source for foil coatings. Dull combines lower light reflection with better readability and uniform print and surface smoothness. New, glare-free, easy-to-read, matte has a rich, tactile feel that can help show high-gloss spot varnishes and foils to advantage, and works well with embossing.