Foil Application

October 11, 2010

Foil suppliers, as they keep up with converting technology, offer versatile products that give labels an elegant, luxurious look.

Foil Application

Foil suppliers, as they keep up with converting technology, offer versatile products that give labels an elegant, luxurious look.

For centuries, the manufacture and application of what’s come to be known as foil was practiced in diverse cultures around the world. Before it became “foil” it was fine gold leaf, and using it as a decoration was a tedious process – it involved the repeated hammering of a small gold nugget onto a thin sheet of a substrate.

Infinity Foils offers converters foils in a wide range of colors and shades.
Converters today are thankful that the process has evolved. In the early 1900s, less costly metals began being substituted for gold. The emergence of the plastics industry was also a breakthrough, as it was realized that films could be used as a carrier for these metals with some considerable advantages over traditional paper. And then, during the 1960s, vacuum metalizing was developed, a technique for putting aluminum on plastic films. This meant that gleaming, metallic effects could be achieved with a layer of metal less than one micron thick, and at a much lower cost than the traditional process. It was also discovered that by adding a colored lacquer, the aluminum could be made to look like gold, and many other effects could also be achieved, paving the way for the pearlescent and holographic foils we see today.

The advent of hot stamping was another major milestone in foil’s evolution. It was discovered that by simply applying heat and pressure to the reverse of the film, by using a metal stamping die, the foil would transfer onto the substrate. As foils began to become available in long rolls, press manufacturers saw the opportunity to automate machinery to facilitate foil application. They learned that if they sync the substrate and foil feeds, and apply heat and pressure, it became possible to achieve high running speeds, which, in turn, lead to lower costs.

Today, foil is a mainstay in many label shops, but it’s no longer limited to the hot stamping process. Cold foil has emerged as an attractive alternative, as it’s a great fit for flexo printing. The cold foil application process uses a standard printing plate to apply the adhesive onto a substrate, and the adhesive is then used to transfer the foil.

And there certainly is a place for both hot and cold.

J. Michael Rivera, VP of sales at Amagic Holographics, and author of Cold Foil For Dummies, points out that since cold foil utilizes standard photopolymer plates to apply the adhesive, ithas become the favorite process among flexographic printers. “The foil is applied inline while the label is being printed and it is not that complicated to apply the foil first before printing the labels. All flexographic press manufacturers now offer a cold foil unit for either a new press or as a retrofit to an existing press,” Rivera says.

Regardless of the product market, the fight for the consumer’s attention among competitors is fierce. And the “bling” that foil provides – whether it’s hot or cold – goes a long way toward adding value to a variety of products.

Jim Hutchison, president of Infinity Foils, Lenexa, KS, USA, a hot stamping foil supplier, says that the most recognized and traditional rotary press applications of decorative hot stamping foils include wine and spirits, and personal care, cosmetics and perfume labeling. “Hot stamping foils offer intrinsic value and luxurious appeal,” he says, yet points out that it’s no longer just wine and luxury goods that are turning to foil. “Recently we’ve also seen extensive use of hot stamping rotary foils on applications such as diet and vitamin labels, gift and return address labels, as well as hang tags,” he says.

Given the present economy and competitive market place – for all products – customers are looking for ways to further enhance and promote their lines. Adds Hutchison, “Stamping foil is providing the needed solution as it decorates and enhances the products and packaging labels while also improving the ‘pick-up’ value of the product and strengthening brand awareness and its market impact.”

“Many products are a good fit for foils,” emphasizes Amagic’s Rivera. “In fact, one of the major foil users in the industry is Procter & Gamble. They apply foils on their labels for various products, from dishwash detergent to shampoos. Foils have proven to be an effective decorative tool in providing shelf attention. And many on-the-shelf products have been able to gain market share when foils are used on the labels.”

A cold foil sample from Univacco
Adding value and overprinting

Lynn Wei, marketing manager for Univacco Technology, Matou Town Tainan County, Taiwan, says that it’s all about added value, and it’s the main reason why brand owners do not shy away from what’s a relatively high-priced material. “For consumer products especially, the eye-catching brand images for packaging and labels that foil provides allows for market domination,” Wei says. “Both hot and cold foil have various visual effects when applied on different substrates. Generally, foil manufacturers have now developed foils for a wide-range of printing materials.”

Univacco has foils for an array of papers including printed, plain, coated, UV varnished, embossed, rough surface, dry, PET/OPP-laminated, PP synthetic, PVC sticker, PE/PP labels, PVC labels, PE/PP/PVC board and acrylic. “Often,brand owners lean to certain substrates that suit their graphic design, brand personality or product function,” Wei says. “For example, luxury wine labels may go to rough surface paper for an elegant image and feel; and foil’s durability and anti-scratch attributes are also important features. On the other hand, a shampoo label may choose plastic material for its water-resistance, also a major concern with stamping foil.”

Univacco prides itself on being able to provide foils for any application technique or product, Wei says. “Our foil products feature fine definition, solid area coverage, halftone effect performance, excellent over-printability and UV glue applicability (cold foil), and can be applied on high speed rotary machines, narrow web presses and sheetfed offset presses (cold foil) to complete short-run or long-run jobs. Univacco’s CF4.6, a narrow web cold foil printing product, has gained positive feedback from label converters worldwide. Working well with nearly 98 percent of inks and cold foil glues in current markets, CF4.6’s high gloss and over-printability can appear on most printing substrates perfectly in an inline cold foiling process, which means costs and time may be saved for converters.

Wei notes that perhaps converters used to feel limited in terms of substrates that foil could adhere to. “However, today this is not the case,” she says. “Univacco’s cold foil collection has been tested out, and has proven that optimal printing performance can be effortelessly achieved on rough surface paper or dry stock. Yet, hot stamping foil could benecessary for most wine label converters that expect more functions of foil to help shorten the printing process. And over-printable hot stamping foil requirements have emerged, and our in-house R&D team has recently designed one special hot stamping foil which would meet these overprinting demands.”

Finding the right foil
Infinity’s Jim Hutchison says that although foil does come in a variety of different types, colors/shades and formulations, determining the right foil is quite simple. “When selecting a hot stamping foil for an application, one must first decide upon the ‘type’ of foil to be utilized. The rotary industry typically chooses metallic or holographic foils. However, there are other types of stamping foils to consider,but the rotary industry has yet to fully embrace those such as pigment and even ‘tint’ foils, which are used to elegantly highlight and enhance designs.

“After selecting a hot stamping foil, a color/shade should be chosen. In the case of holographic foils, one would need to consider both a pattern and color or shade. Typically, most applications utilize golds or silvers; however, stamping foils are available in a myriad of colors or shades,” Hutchison says.

Printers working in tandem with their foil supplier is an important part of the selection process, Hutchison says. “Finally, the printer works with the foil supplier to determine the appropriate foil formulation that will best suit the application. Stamping foils are specially formulated to accomplish certain production requirements including high speed applications, overprinting with inks, fine definition or solid definition – as the design dictates – and adhesion to the label’s substrate.”

Infinity Foils offers a range of rotary stamping foils, and Hutchison says its most popular rotary foil is the MOR grade, which was recently featured at Labelexpo. MOR, which stands for Metallic Overprint Rotary, provides “excellent performance for high speed applications on rotary presses on a variety of paper substrates,” he says. “It is used extensively for wine label applications, as it readily accepts an overprint of ink or varnish which is quite common with wine label applications. Our rotary customers also enjoy the consistent, high speed performance and excellent adhesion properties that the MOR grade provides.”

Brushed foil
Brushfoil, a division of Interfilm Holdings, Guilford, CT, USA, uses a proprietary technology to give substrates a finish with the look of stainless steel. “Most label applications using brushed films are either to be applied to a metallic object so that it is a good fit, or on labels that will be around or surrounded by metallic objects so that it won’t stand out. A brushed silver label will also be chosen because it projects value and elegance,” says Jim Parker, manager of Brushfoil.

Brushfoil adds a touch of elegance to this shampoo bottle.
Brushfoil offers a lot of decorating options for converters working with film, Parker says. “By varying the type of film used and the depth, length and direction of the brushed lines, this finish can take on a number of appealing looks. A standard brushed, a ‘bright’ brushed, and patterned finishes such as crisscross and diamond are available from Brushfoil. We are the first to offer these patterns in a mechanical brushed finish, providing the direct benefit of a textured finish that not only can be seen, but felt.”

In addition to brushing the film, Brushfoil also gives its customers the option of having the film prepared with its proprietary topcoat, which Parker says has been found to achieve early dyne levels of 50 and higher. “Although many of the films on the market today are supplied with chemical or corona treatments that are quite capable of handling many common ink systems, our superior coating allows printers to use an endless variety of paper.”

In a recent development, Brushfoil has leveraged its experience with brushed films to deliver the same distinctive appearance on the surface of paperstocks. The new paper product, as with film, is being offered in rolls and sheets in a wide range of metallic colors and patterns. “While the exact method used to achieve a brushed metal effect on paper is a proprietary innovation, it is no secret that the paper line significantly expands the range of applications in which the appearance of brushed metal can be successfully produced. Using brushed paper, designers and printers have the ability to achieve brushed metal finishes with or without lamination and where thinner or non-board applications are demanded,” says Parker. “As with the line of films, Brushfoil papers perform beautifully when printed using UV and other ink systems. And custom orders and variable roll width requirements are easily accommodated.”

In a rut?
“Hot stamping today is in a rut,” says Mike Dolan, technical sales, Nakai International, a Japanese foil supplier with headquarters in Holbrook, NY, USA. Dolan stresses that the damper the current economy has put on converters’ budgets has them looking for ways to cut costs, and that often includes hot stamping foils. And the emergence of UV technology has also had an impact, he says.

“So many packaging designers have been looking for ways to lesson costs and have gone away from foil, and are turning to things like metalized inks,” he says. “Also, UV technology has gone nuts, and thus UV coatings have come to become so popular. So several companies, Nakai included, have developed foils that can be hot stamped over UV coatings.”

Dolan points out that Nakai’s most popular line for the label industry is its AM line. “It’s pretty remarkable stuff,” he says, noting that it’s widely used in the high-end cosmetics market, but also on top of metalized film and paperboard.”

“We’re trying to keep up with certain technologies, and we’re constantly on the run,” Dolan adds. “We’re lucky, because we’ve developed the Holy Grail, our AM foil. But our time is runing out.”