As the economy strengthens, many consumers have shifted their buying habits from more budget conscious purchases to premium products. A high quality product must have the packaging to match, so brand owners are turning to value added finishing techniques to satisfy that need. Although there are various ways to suggest a product’s quality, foil is a straightforward way to make any product stand out. However, as with any embellishments, there are challenges that need to be taken into consideration before diving into the process.
What Goes Around Comes Back Around
Mike Lanzarotta, regional account manager at Strongsville, Ohio-based Oak Printing, has noticed a direct correlation between the strength of the economy and the use of foil.
“It goes in cycles,” he says. “When the economy is tight, foil stamping goes out the window, but when the economy is good, it seems we have customers who are willing to make the extra investment to put the bells and whistles on the labels.”
In addition to economic influences, April Lytle, marketing coordinator at Kurz Transfer Products, says the desire for quality products among the younger spectrum of consumers has increased the demand for foil.
“What’s exciting is that the millennials, and even the generation behind them, are showing interest in premium products,” she says. “They are trending toward premium snacks, versus meals, for example. They’re not afraid to spend a little extra money to get that premium experience and of course foil has a unique position in that market and can help create that premium look.”
Jim Helms, president of Oak Printing, points out that there is typically brand owner demand for metallic packaging, with the preference fluctuating between metallized substrates and the use of foil stamping. Right now, many paint manufacturers are using foil stamping in conjunction with high gloss UV coatings, specifically for their premium paint brands. The paint industry is one of Oak Printing’s two largest markets.
Another large market Oak serves is the craft beer industry, in which Helms is seeing more foil stamping being used on specialty items rather than year-round brews. However, the craft beer industry is using foil in an opposite fashion to the premium paint brands. Many craft beers are using uncoated paper’s soft matte look paired with bright foil, Helms says.
“[Craft brewers are] recognizing the power of it,” he says. “It’s been a big thing in wine labels for many years, along with embossing and other higher end decorating techniques, but a bottle of beer goes for a lot lower price than a bottle of wine does.”
Technology has also had an influence on foil trends. Cold foil stamping has become a popular alternative to hot foil stamping, one of the reasons being that it is less expensive than hot foil stamping because it does not require dies.
“You don’t have quite the color options that hot stamping has,” Lytle explains. “However, with cold foiling, it’s more over printable, so the color spectrum is nearly endless and the effects that you can create are amazing. It has made an impact on the industry.”
Jim Hutchison, president of Infinity Foils, an Overland Park, Kan.-based supplier of hot and cold stamping foils, notes that overprinting on foil has become increasingly popular due to the implementation of cold foil. Printing ink over the foil can be done in-line, and the process gives the finished product a distinct shine and metallic effect. Hutchison points out that bright silver foil works the best with this process because it keeps the color the most true, however, other foil shades can be used.
Also based in Overland Park, Kan., Ross Hutchison, VP of sales, North America, Universal Engraving, goes on to explain that foil stamping can be a dramatic or subtle enhancement depending on the image, area of the foil stamp or the shade of the foil. Different effects can be achieved with various combinations, such as foil stamping over ink; the use of holographic patterns or colors; foil stamping over other foil to create a contrasting look; or an emboss or deboss die could be used in conjunction with foil to add a tactile feel.
While the foiling process can affect the final appearance, the type of foil being used also plays a role. Lytle describes Spatial FX, a foil developed by Kurz. When applied to packaging, it looks like a highly embossed, dimensional image, however it is completely flat. Lytle also points to Kurz’s Polar Light foil, a foil that changes color depending on the angle it’s held, as well foil options that give the appearance of velvet, frost, raindrops or reptile skin.
Fun and Games Until…
Foil can provide many benefits, however there are challenges in implementing it, especially when dealing with certain substrates.
“There is a difference between coated and uncoated substrates,” Helms says. “That boils down to nailing down the correct temperatures and the materials.”
Or, as Lanzarotta points out, there are some differences between the use of satin or matte sheens with foil, which tend to be harder to use because they react to each material differently.
Lytle cites plastic packaging, such as a plastic jar, as one of the more challenging applications to work with when applying foil.
“It’s amazing the chemical changes you have to make just to get the decoration to stick on something and then have it last through bleach testing and more,” she says.
In the label segment, Lanzarotta suggests working with the manufacturer first to test the substrate to make sure the foil will adhere to the selected stock. He explains that there is a difference between paint and beer labels because paint labels can run in the stamping machinery much more easily because of the larger size and heavier stock. With beer labels, the speed of the machine has to be adjusted.
“If you could almost imagine toilet paper, something that thin, it doesn’t have the body to keep its shape,” he says. “A bigger sheet is more stable. That’s where the difficulty comes in, with the lighter stock, trying to register each sheet is tough. We have to run the equipment slower due to the lighter stock.”
Another challenge with foil is keeping it in registration. Helms explains that paint labels tend to be easier to work with than beer labels due to the sheer size difference.
“Beer labels are, say, 10% of the size of a paint label,” he says. “There are challenges around registration. Paint labels are more forgiving. … We don’t see too much foil on neck labels because of the extremely small size. You can’t get the accuracy.”
But Lanzarotta describes a specific example in which Oak Printing recently used foil on the body and neck labels of a craft beer. The label, designed for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Founders Brewing’s seasonal KBS Stout, involved a thin white rule surrounding a copper foil stamp.
“If we misregistered at all it would stick out like a sore thumb,” he explains. “We removed the white rule, that way we still have our tolerances. We know it’s going to move a little bit, but it won’t show to the customers.”
Before testing though, it’s important to understand your audience and what the product is trying to sell, Jim Hutchison explains. Foil is meant to enhance a product while adding inherent value, but to maximize its benefit, it should be well thought out. He also suggests determining what shade of foil should be used and how it will complement the paper or print that will be used for the final product. Whether or not ink is going to be used on top of the foil or underneath it will affect the manufacturing process of the job, including the selection of the right foil.
Having an understanding of substrates and coatings prior to developing packaging is also important. Foils have different formulations depending on whether it was developed for tight releases (such as fine line) or broad releases (such as for an area with a large image). It’s also crucial to determine stock thickness and density compared with the fine line and reverse-out proficiencies of the foil to prevent the foil from filling in sections of the packaging that aren’t meant to have foil, according to Jim Hutchison.
Planning for challenges in foil application should start at the design stage.
“My advice to designers when they’re designing packaging is to have a very good relationship with their printer so they can have an open dialogue to design something that looks good but also works,” Lytle says.
And although it completely depends on the package, Lytle says that keeping an open dialogue with the designer in the beginning stages can have other benefits.
“When you’re designing for foil, it has to be incorporated in the very beginning because it is a whole new level of technical design,” she says. “A lot of designers are super creative and it takes a lot of compromise in the finesse of perfection to make sure what you’re designing to be stamped will be perfect or will be easy when you work with the printer.”
Lanzarotta echoes that sentiment by stating that Oak Printing works with designers to show them the reality of working with foil and what the cost implications will be.
“When you’re working on paint labels in particular,” Helms says, “you need to restrict the acreage that’s involved. If it’s a large label and you have foil elements that are top to bottom, left to right, and you’re using a lot of materials, it can become cost prohibitive. Get together with the manufacturer early in the design stage … to lay out the foil design carefully.”