How Does Foil Printing Work?


Foil Printing works by transferring pigmented foil onto a flat surface such as paper, card, labels and stickers. This is what gives foil wedding invitations their metallic design elements. It is also used for gold foil business cards to bring attention to the lettering and logos.

Hot Foiling, Cold Foiling And Digital Foiling


These 3 printing techniques have different ways of transferring metallic elements, which affect the amount of shine and texture. Foil printing has evolved from a slow manufacturing process to the latest digital equipment that is capable of fast foil printing with more customisation options than ever before. Let's take a look at the 3 different foil printing techniques, how they work and why they were invented.

Gold Embellished Stationery

Foil printing was inspired by gold book covers from the middle ages. This is when monks handcrafted sacred texts and debossed the leather covers, before adding gold leaf. They were highly treasured and protected because books were scarce. In fact, during these times, most people were illiterate, and books rarely had a cover. By 1840, most books had a book cover and gold embellishments and illustrations became more common.

Hands Holding Metal Stamping Plates

Hot Foil Printing Method

In the 20th century hot stamping was invented using metallic paper. This involves a hot die that is used as a foil machine to stamp it into card. A metal stamping plate needs to be manufactured for each design. This means if a company wants to print business cards for its employees, there is a setup charge for each individual employee name.

With this technique, you can see the rough contours of the paper, so the light does not reflect as much as the other methods below. This also means that the foiled areas can be inconsistent, sometimes it can look patchy when the colour doesn't get into the grooves in the paper.

Cold Foiling Printing Process

This method was invented to eliminate the need for the costly metal stamp making process. It is therefore a little faster and cheaper because it doesn’t require the plates to be manufactured for each design.

Instead, this process simply sticks the foil onto card or paper. This also works on thinner materials because it does not need to emboss the surface area. It is sometimes claimed to be more environmentally friendly because there is no heat and no need to manufacture plates for each design. However, it still uses similar materials with the addition of glue.

Digital Foil Printing Process

Digital foiling is a faster process where the artwork is sent from a computer to the printer where it is printed in layers. It does not require a stamping plate to be manufactured. It is a dry process and does not use solvents. Another advantage is that it can print more intricate details than hot foil stamping methods. 

The difference between hot stamping and digital foiling

The example above shows the difference between the hot stamping method and digital foiling. The one in the middle is a hot stamping technique where the plate cannot achieve fine details. The digital foil printing technique with the white background shows more intricate details, including tiny lettering. 

We offer the largest range of foil colours and paper types. Plus our foiling method is compatible with more finishes than other methods, making it ideal for foil flyers, brochures, business cards and even custom printed playing cards.

How Foil Printing Is Done

#1 Design the elements you want to be foiled in 100% black. Everything that is black and not sealed off with a laminate layer will get foiled.

#2 Select the size and thickness of paper that you would like to use and decide if you are using coloured paper or plain paper.

#3 If you are not using coloured paper, the first layer would be the background colour that is printed onto the plain paper.

 #4 This is then sealed with a layer of soft touch laminate. It’s a protective finish with a matt effect and a soft, velvety texture. It is optional on the coloured paper and depends if you want a soft, velvety feel to your product.

 #5 The design is printed on top of the laminate or ontop of the coloured paper. It is printed in 100% black.

 #6 As it goes into the machine, the rollers move the paper over from one end and rolls the finished product out the back. When the paper or card is under heat and pressure the reactive foil layer adheres to the black toner.

 #7 The black areas that are not covered with the laminate are completely foiled.


Custom Foil Printing

We offer the largest range of foil colours including coloured foil, metallic and holographic foil. We also have more paper types than any other aluminium foil printing company. This means that our products such as our custom foil printed cards have over 300 combinations that you can choose from. However, with our digital foiling technique, you have unlimited freedom in colour combinations.

Digital foiling is a great way to make your business card stand out and give a good first impression of a premium brand to prospective customers. 

Thanks to our range of equipment, we can also print custom products such as foil stickers, folders, bookmarks, tags and bag toppers.

Tips For Custom Foil Printing

• We recommend soft touch lamination with most paper types because foil comes out best on a smooth surface. You can still recycle our products that are laminated. Simply put them in the recycling bin with the rest of your paper and card waste.

• If you print onto coloured paper, we insist on using laminate, otherwise it’s too fluffy for it to print at it’s best.

• See our guide on how to provide your artwork for foil print