In-line cold foiling – the fascination of metallic effects

Value-addition in commercial and packaging print

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metallic
Sample of cold foil with halftone metallic and color effects printed on a manroland Evolution 700 sheetfed press with in-line foiler. Photo PSA

We know that shiny, glittering, metallic and reflective objects and print are hugely attractive. We are often mesmerized by mirrors and shimmering diamonds, gold and silver jewellery—by light itself. There is no dearth of these shiny areas on our labels and packaging. It seems that every flexible pouch of Basmati rice must have gold bands and bold type, every tube of toothpaste must have silver, and there must be holograms on every cellphone or inkjet cartridge box for eye-catching proof of authenticity.

There was a time when the gold on Cadbury wrappers were printed in Mumbai with a letterpress technique called bronzing with the alloyed gold dust everywhere in the air near the machine. Gold on flexible packaging and cigarette cartons has long been achieved with gravure printing using metallic inks. But gold has always been difficult to print on offset presses. Earlier, we would print yellow underneath and with good gold inks, very good printers are even able to produce cigarette packs with some gold effects. With Eckart’s software plug-in for Adobe Photoshop about 20 years ago, it became possible to print half-tone metallic and gold effects. Of course, hot foil stamping has been around but this has required the production of a die which has to be outsourced and takes at least a day if not two.

Cold foil seminars

Almost a decade ago, manroland sheetfed (at the time it was just manroland) conducted several seminars around India to talk about the cold-foil process—a way of adding glitter and value to print. The basic idea was to transfer cold-foil using the offset process. An image layer created in Adobe Photoshop could contain fine type, linework and photographic halftones for an offset plant that would transfer a UV curable adhesive in the image areas. Fine lines and high resolutions could be used and the cold foil running in a ribbon on the offset press would gently transfer a solid metallic layer to the substrate. Subsequent print units could then print tints and halftones on top of the metallic foil for great effects that combined fine halftone and line printing together with high-density reflective images.

The reactions a decade ago varied from keen interest to the question of why would anyone invest in an inline foiler on one press, when one could possibly do the same thing on an offline cold-foiler and feed several multicolor sheetfed presses. However, since that date, the understanding and interest in value addition has grown. Not least because four multicolor presses have been imported from the three German press manufactures with inline foilers.

Printers are realizing that all special effects—UV coatings, embossing, die-cutting or metallic effects—are fascinating to end-users and right from photo books, paperback covers, packaging and even newspapers, they want these shiny reflective images. More than twenty digital enhancement Scodix presses have been imported to add sparkle to short-run work. All this has ignited the interest of offset printers for purchasing presses together with inline foilers and for purchasing third-party foilers that can be retrofitted on their existing multicolor presses.

Cold foil – fast and sustainable

Cold foiling is a fast inline process that works by application of a UV-curable adhesive image using a standard offset plate. The foil, usually silver, is affixed to the printed adhesive, creating an image prior to the application of printing inks. When applied inline, a major benefit is that press registration control between the applied foil, the overprinted inks and varnish is precise.

Unlike hot foil stamping, the setup is fast and no tooling or dies are required so the process is efficient for short and long runs. Any color effect can be simulated by overprinting on silver cold foil and the result is very flat without any deformation of the substrate; in fact, the texture of the substrate can be retained. Designers have the flexibility to use large, solid areas of foil with fine detail, in addition to half tones, small fonts and knockouts or reverses.

Brand owners can achieve fast time to market since no metal dies or postpress operations are needed and there is a sustainability benefit since cold foil transferred to paper and board is biodegradable and recyclable using conventional techniques. Unlike metallized polyester board laminated on paperboard (metpack), the two components do not need to be separated before recycling in separate streams.

Costing

For the past two years, we have spoken with some of the owners of inline cold foilers in the country about the applications and cost. None has anything like a watertight return on investment case. There is much discussion about the cost of the cold foil ribbons and the economies of using multiple foil ribbons and indexing or foil saving technologies which are are built into most of the foilers so that the foil ribbons of useful widths only advance when needed and for as much as needed.

For those who have invested in cold foil, and these are all packaging printers right now, the first step seems to be to engage the brand owners and print buyers in the possibilities. However, the initial enthusiasm of the brand owners does not generally extend to their willingness to pay more for what they admit are fascinating results.

One of the early adopters revealed to us that he is not in a hurry and even if his inline foiler is engaged 50% of the time, he would be content as long as his 7- or 8-color UV press is running to capacity with or without the foiler. On the other hand, when inline coaters were first introduced, printers learned that customers were not ready to pay extra for coating either. Since then coatings and especially special effect UV coatings have become an important design feature of every value-added print project.

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– Naresh Khanna (25 October 2023)

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy. Elected vice-president of the International Packaging Press Organization in May 2023.