How does foil printing work?

Foil printing works by transferring a pigmented, usually metallic foil from a film onto a base material using either heat, UV-light or glue.

Sounds complicated? It does not have to be. We are here to break down this method for you. Below, you can find tips on preparing your artwork for printing, which materials to use and the different methods of foil printing. Ready to dive in?

How to set up artwork for foil printing 

Creating artwork for foil printing is not vastly different to setting up your artwork for standard sticker printing. The key is white layers.

White layers tell us where you want the foil to appear and where the clear base should shine through. Setting up white layers is not difficult, but it can be challenging if you have no design experience.

In that case, do not worry. You can just let us know where you want the foil when you place your order. We will then action that for you and send you a digital design proof that shows these layers before printing.

What paper is best for foil printing?

You can use any paper or sticker material for foil printing.

However, we do find that you get the best effects when printing on clear materials, as it highlights the foiled sections and gives your design a classy, premium look.

On top of that, printing foil on white or coloured materials is simply not the fastest, most cost-effective option. If you want a gold or silver effect on white material, we recommend choosing our mirror silver or mirror gold stickers and printing white ink onto them. This is a great way to mimic foil printing; much more affordable and gives you a similar effect.

If you do want to foil print your stickers, simply remember that the thermal transfer method only works on smooth, glossy surfaces. But more on that below.

Foil printing methods: An overview

There is not one way to foil print. In fact, there are four! Let's take a look at them. 

If you are after a more general approach, have a look at our introduction to what foil printing is.

Hot Foil Printing Method

Hot foiling, or hot foil stamping, uses a heated pre-made ’die’ (a custom-shaped metal plate) that stamps down onto the media, cutting out your desired shape.

The pressure this creates, along with the heat from the metal die, activates the glue on the underside of the foil. This allows us to transfer the foil layer from its film to the surface of the print media, aka your base.

Cold Foil Printing Method

Cold foiling is very similar to hot foiling, minus the heat (duh). It also uses a custom-shaped die to create your shape but mostly works with foils that come with a UV-cured adhesive.

After stamping out your shape, the foil travels through UV light. This cures the glue and ensures that your foil adheres to the surface of the print media.

Hot and cold foiling are great options for high-quantity runs. It is a rapid process that can be low-cost. The expensive part is shaping and setting up the custom die.

This is where digital foiling and thermal transfer come in. Both are digital processes that do not require dies.

Digital Foil Printing Method

Digital foiling involves a digital inkjet print head that prints a thin layer of transparent adhesive onto the print media. We then roll the foil against the surface of your base. The foil sticks to the areas that have been coated in glue.

The adhesive used is often UV-cured. Hence, this method is usually combined with a UV light station that instantly dries the adhesive and allows the foil to stick to the print media.

Thermal Transfer Method

Thermal transfer is the odd one out. It also uses a digital print head but includes thousands of tiny heating nodules.

Your base and foil pass under the thermal print head at the same speed. But the thermal head heats up in the place you want the foil to stick. Through the added heat, the foil transfers onto your base. The result is a printed image, instantly cured.

What is the difference between screen printing and foil printing?

To sum this nerdy article up, let's look at what differentiates screen printing from foil printing.

The main difference between screen printing and foil printing lies in how your design is applied to the media.

Screen printing uses liquid ink. This ink is applied wet through a thin mesh. We call that mesh a screen.

Foiling, on the other hand, uses a pre-made foil and pigment layer that is then transferred to the media. Generally, this involves using heat and pressure.

Screen printing is perfect for CMYK inks. However, you can not get a chrome or metallic finish for your inks because of the way the ink is applied. To achieve a high-shine finish, the ink would need to be ‘polished’ to ensure all the metal fragments are pointing in the same direction (similar to a magnet).

In conclusion, foil printing is an effective and eye-catching way to create custom stickers for your business. Whether you want a high-shine finish or just need something more affordable than traditional foiling methods, several options are available.

Hot and cold foiling use dies while digital foiling and thermal transfer can be done without them. Screen printing, on the other hand, uses liquid ink that cannot achieve a chrome or metallic finish like foil does.

If you want to try out any of these techniques for your personalised artwork needs, contact us today! We’ll help get your project off the ground with our expertise in all things print media related.

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