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By: Greg Ortmann, President, Feiereisen, Inc.

If you’re looking for a way to add an upscale or unique appearance to a project, nothing compares with decorative touches like foil stamping, embossing and debossing. These processes have the power to create a distinctive piece that conveys a perception of class, elegance or inspired originality. By enhancing the visual presentation, your materials and your message are more likely to gain audience attention.

A broad range of products for business and personal use can benefit from these decorative processes, from folding cartons, greeting cards, stationary and traditional wedding invitations, to business cards, letterhead, presentation folders, certificates, high end collateral pieces, book covers or jackets.

Decorative Finishes 101: A Brief Primer
Foil stamping involves pressing a thin layer of patterned or colored foil onto a surface, using a heated die. By applying heat and pressure, the foil is released from a synthetic backing and transferred to the material being stamped. The foils are made up of five layers: a polyester film carrier to protect the other layers, a release coat that permits the foil to be released under heat and pressure, a lacquer or color coat carrying pigment, a metal coat to provide the unique reflective quality and opacity, and an adhesive coat that bonds the foil to the intended surface.

Most often, gold and silver come to mind when people think of foils, but a wide variety of foils are available, including metallics, pearls, glossy, matte, transparent colors, patterns and grains. Different foils may perform differently because of their unique characteristics, and not all foils are suitable for every application. Individual qualities such as durability, scuff resistance, chemical resistance, adherence, brightness and opacity can greatly affect the end product. This is especially important if a project includes a foil-over-foil process. Among gold and silver foils alone, there are more than 30 types of release layers. Multiple layers of foils can produce an impressive look, but it requires careful planning to make sure all of the chosen foils are compatible with one another.

In embossing, an image or shape is pressed into a surface with a metal plate. The heat and pressure reshapes the surface area and produces a raised image on the material. Debossing uses the same process, but depresses the image area instead of raising it. Through the pressing process, the surface of the image area is smoothed. If the material has a textured surface, this produces extra contrast. No matter how it is used in a design, the resulting three-dimensional image creates a dramatic effect.

Foil stamping, embossing and debossing can be used alone, or in conjunction with one another for added impact. When used together, the process is known as foil embossing or sometimes, a registered emboss. Blind embossing and debossing indicates the pressed image is used alone, with no foil or pigment.

Foil Stamping: What to Consider
As with any finishing process, there are special points of consideration and traps to avoid. The most important factor is including the finisher early in the design process. Skilled knowledgeable professionals can advise you on selecting substrates, inks and decorative components to ensure the success of your project before you begin. Here are some guidelines to help.

  • Choose paper, or fabric for hardbound books, carefully – Although a broad range of papers can be foil stamped, in general, the thicker the better. Textured papers and fabrics may need extra pressure to attain the right effect.
  • Use wax-free inks – Many of the most common inks contain wax and can interfere with adhesives on the foil, so when applying foils over an inked area make sure the correct types of inks are used. Heavily inked areas, even if they are wax-free, also may interfere with foil adhesion. Another important related tip: never reverse out the ink area. Always consult your ink supplier for the proper ink.
  • Allow ample drying time for inks – To avoid problems, allow up to 72 hours for ink to dry before foil stamping.
  • Avoid small type – Use a minimum 8 pt. type for best results.
  • Check foil compatibility – This bears repeating. Although many foils can be overlapped, others repel one another and don’t allow for a solid bond.
  • Choose the right foil for your design – Some foils are better suited for small areas and some for large areas. Consult your finisher for advice on your specific design needs.

Embossing and Debossing:
Like foil stamping, embossing and debossing are crafts requiring expertise and knowledge of potential pitfalls. While it’s always necessary to get early input on your design from an experienced finisher, a few key rules can point you in the right direction.

  • Choose paper or material to accommodate embossing– In general, text and cover paper can handle 2.5 times the caliper of the paper, so using strong, high-quality stock is important. The heavier the paper, the greater the embossing height. Soft paper stocks with high cotton content emboss particularly well.
  • Avoid small type and thin lines, and leave adequate margins – Larger images and bold type work best. As with foil stamping, use at least an 8 pt. type and stay away from type with serifs. Rules should be at least two points thick. Allow at least .25 inches between the embossed area and the edge on sheets, and at least .5 inches on a finished piece.
  • The length of run and size of image determines the type of die – Magnesium dies are typically used for shorter runs. Longer runs, embosses with sculptured images or fine lines and foil embosses call for brass dies.
  • Color code layers for multi-level or sculptured embossing dies – By color-coding the different levels, you provide a guide for the finisher to follow.
  • Allow inks to dry – As with foil stamping, give inks up to 72 hours to dry. Also watch the depth of dies that will be used over ink. If dies are too deep, they may break the ink.

Each project has its own idiosyncrasies. With so many issues to take into account, obtaining the advice and input of a professional is a must. A good finisher can provide direction early in the planning process to help you achieve the desired vision and prevent expensive, needless problems.

Greg Ortmann is president of Feiereisen, Inc., a leading provider of post press and finishing services including die cutting, scoring and perforation, book binding and restoration, folding, gluing, board and litho mounting, film lamination and UV coating, foil stamping, embossing and more. Founded in 1933, Feiereisen has locations in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City.