In-line cold foiling – the fascination of metallic effects

In-line cold foiling – the fascination of metallic effects

We know that shiny, glittering, metallic and reflective objects and print are hugely attractive. We are often mesmerized by mirrors and shimmering diamonds, gold and silver jewellery—by light itself. There is no dearth of these shiny areas on our labels and packaging. It seems that every flexible pouch of Basmati rice must have gold bands and bold type, every tube of toothpaste must have silver, and there must be holograms on every cellphone or inkjet cartridge box for eye-catching proof of authenticity.

There was a time when the gold on Cadbury wrappers were printed in Mumbai with a letterpress technique called bronzing with the alloyed gold dust everywhere in the air near the machine. Gold on flexible packaging and cigarette cartons has long been achieved with gravure printing using metallic inks. But gold has always been difficult to print on offset presses. Earlier, we would print yellow underneath and with good gold inks, very good printers are even able to produce cigarette packs with some gold effects. With Eckart’s software plug-in for Adobe Photoshop about 20 years ago, it became possible to print half-tone metallic and gold effects. Of course, hot foil stamping has been around but this has required the production of a die which has to be outsourced and takes at least a day if not two.


Sample of cold foil with halftone metallic and color effects printed on a manroland Evolution 700 sheetfed press with in-line foiler. Photo IPP

Cold foil seminars
Almost a decade ago, manroland sheetfed (at the time it was just manroland) conducted several seminars around India to talk about the cold-foil process—a way of adding glitter and value to print. The basic idea was to transfer cold-foil using the offset process. An image layer created in Adobe Photoshop could contain fine type, linework and photographic halftones for an offset plant that would transfer a UV curable adhesive in the image areas. Fine lines and high resolutions could be used and the cold foil running in a ribbon on the offset press would gently transfer a solid metallic layer to the substrate. Subsequent print units could then print tints and halftones on top of the metallic foil for great effects that combined fine halftone and line printing together with high-density reflective images.

The reactions a decade ago varied from keen interest to the question of why would anyone invest in an inline foiler on one press, when one could possibly do the same thing on an offline cold-foiler and feed several multicolor sheetfed presses. However, since that date, the understanding and interest in value addition has grown. Not least because four multicolor presses have been imported from the three German press manufactures with inline foilers.

Printers are realizing that all special effects—UV coatings, embossing, die-cutting or metallic effects—are fascinating to end-users and right from photo books, paperback covers, packaging and even newspapers, they want these shiny reflective images. More than twenty digital enhancement Scodix presses have been imported to add sparkle to short-run work. All this has ignited the interest of offset printers for purchasing presses together with inline foilers and for purchasing third-party foilers that can be retrofitted on their existing multicolor presses.

Cold foil – fast and sustainable
Cold foiling is a fast inline process that works by application of a UV-curable adhesive image using a standard offset plate. The foil, usually silver, is affixed to the printed adhesive, creating an image prior to the application of printing inks. When applied inline, a major benefit is that press registration control between the applied foil, the overprinted inks and varnish is precise.

Unlike hot foil stamping, the setup is fast and no tooling or dies are required so the process is efficient for short and long runs. Any color effect can be simulated by overprinting on silver cold foil and the result is very flat without any deformation of the substrate; in fact, the texture of the substrate can be retained. Designers have the flexibility to use large, solid areas of foil with fine detail, in addition to half tones, small fonts and knockouts or reverses.

Brand owners can achieve fast time to market since no metal dies or postpress operations are needed and there is a sustainability benefit since cold foil transferred to paper and board is biodegradable and recyclable using conventional techniques. Unlike metallized polyester board laminated on paperboard (metpack), the two components do not need to be separated before recycling in separate streams.

For the past two years, we have spoken with some of the owners of inline cold foilers in the country about the applications and cost. None has anything like a watertight return on investment case. There is much discussion about the cost of the cold foil ribbons and the economies of using multiple foil ribbons and indexing or foil saving technologies which are are built into most of the foilers so that the foil ribbons of useful widths only advance when needed and for as much as needed.

For those who have invested in cold foil, and these are all packaging printers right now, the first step seems to be to engage the brand owners and print buyers in the possibilities. However, the initial enthusiasm of the brand owners does not generally extend to their willingness to pay more for what they admit are fascinating results.

One of the early adopters revealed to us that he is not in a hurry and even if his inline foiler is engaged 50% of the time, he would be content as long as his 7- or 8-color UV press is running to capacity with or without the foiler. On the other hand, when inline coaters were first introduced, printers learned that customers were not ready to pay extra for coating either. Since then coatings and especially special effect UV coatings have become an important design feature of every value-added print project.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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