How does foil stamping work?

Foil stamping is the application of metallic and special effect foils to paper or card. The process involves using an etched metal die (also called a block or plate) manufactured from either magnesium, brass or copper, which is heated to the required temperature and stamped into the paper or card stock. The foil sits between the die and the card; when it's heated, the die makes contact with the foil and heat actives the adhesive on the back, which along with the force of the stamping, adheres it to the paper or card stock with a slight indentation/deboss.

How the hot foil stamping process works from start to finish.

foil stamping process

Artwork and foil die etching

Every hot foil stamping job begins with the artwork. For best results, the artwork should be created as a vector image which is scalable to any size without loss of resolution. Vectors files create the highest quality lines and edges when it comes to etching the die. Producing dies from pixel-based files can result in jagged edges on your foil dies. This is particularly important with smaller items such as, Foil Stamped Laminated Business Cards, as the fonts and artwork details tend to be smaller. Dies can be etched from magnesium, brass or copper. For short run work that is not too detailed, magnesium dies are ideal as they are the most cost effective. They will wear down over time, so they're not suitable for longer runs. When fine detail is required or for longer runs, the die will be etched from brass. Brass is more expensive, but it is also hard wearing and can withstand more foil stamping impressions. Copper is also suited to long run foil stamping jobs and is also perfect for high detail stamping dies where thin, complex or small fonts are present. Neither magnesium nor brass dies can produce this level of detail. Copper is also the most expensive material and is the least environmentally friendly of the three materials used for foil stamping dies.

hot stamping foils

Selecting your foil colour/chosen special effect

There are hundreds and hundreds of foils to choose from, available in different grades. The grade of the foil provides guidance to its suitability of different substrates and different types of artwork. For example, easy release foils are designed for larger solid areas where good coverage is needed. Hard release foils are designed for smaller text and intricate designs. There are also grades designed for use on uncoated boards, laminates, plastics and a variety of other materials. It’s not recommended to create designs with large solid areas and fine text. At AHC, we stock 18 house foils which we are familiar with, and know how they perform on different substrates with different designs. Any custom foils ordered in will require testing on your chosen substrate. This is something to keep in mind if you want to use a specific foil colour such as, one of the foil colours available from Foilco or Kurz. There are metallic, gloss, matt, patterned, fluorescent, pearlescent, brushed, holographic and many other special effect foils to choose from. One of our most popular foil finishes is our range of Holographic Business Cards .

gold deboss hot foil stamping
Selection of your chosen paper/card.

One of the great things about hot stamping foils is that they are opaque. This means you can use them on any coloured card stock. Light metallic colours and even white foils can be used on black card with excellent opacity. This makes the foil stamping process incredibly versatile. Some of the most popular card stocks for foil stamping are GF Smith’s Colorplan, Vanguard by James Cropper, Senses and Gmund. Foil stamping is also ideal on top of laminate finishes such as, matt or soft touch. The laminate gives the foil a little extra ‘pop’, making it more luxurious and shinier. It is also a fantastic way to combine full colour images and designs via digital printing, with foil stamping. This is one of the reasons our Foil Stamped Laminated Business Cards are our most popular product with small businesses. A popular request we get with foil stamping jobs is to get that much sought after deboss/indentation in the card stock. This works best with uncoated coloured stocks. Debossing too much on card that has been laminated can pull at the edges around the lamination resulting in a poor-quality finish. Therefore, we always advise clients that debossing on laminated cards is done our technicians' discretion. They will work to prioritise the quality of finish over the depth of debossing.

hot foil machine
The hot foil stamping process

Once you have selected your foil colour(s) and paper/card stock for your order, we order in your stamping die from our etchers. Once the die arrives and your job is ready, the die is loaded into the press and heated to the required temperature. Our technician',s then fine tune the makeready, stamping pressure and temperature to achieve the highest quality stamping finish. Once your job is finished, it's moved to our finishing department where it will either be guillotined, die cut, duplexed or edge gilded.

By now, you should be well versed in how hot foil stamping works. The process is ideal for stationery such as letterheads, compliment slips, note cards and business cards, as well as, invitations, presentation folders, greeting cards, swing tags and many other products. There are a lot of options when it comes to foil stamping such as, double etching dies, so there is a pattern within the foil area, combining foiling with embossing using fluted dies, blind embossing and debossing and more. If you have a foil stamping project you'd like discuss with us, please reach out to our friendly team, we’ll be glad to discuss it with you and provide suggestions for the best quality finish.