The eyes have it: MGI’s JETvarnish 3DS can add variable texture to images at up to 3000 sheets an hour


Print enhancement and embellishment are great ways to exploit the visual and tactile qualities of print to create impact and add value. Michael Walker gets to grips with some.

Although smartphones, tablet and computer displays continue to offer ever-higher resolution, brighter colours and stronger contrast, they lack something that print has. Everything is shown on the same screen, at the same size, with the same “finish”. There are no metallics, no fluorescents, no textures, no feel.

It’s by exploiting these physical properties that commercial print is starting to turn the tide against the flood of digital media, and that’s what print enhancement and embellishment are all about. By adding properties unique to print, we add novelty, attract attention and imbue a sense of quality that digital media cannot replicate.

It starts with the stock and in the press. Enhanced print includes printing on non-standard stocks and using expanded ink sets for creative and “spot varnish” effects. Embellishment starts with the printed sheet and adds lamination, foiling and other treatments that make the finished product stand out further.

Inks and substrates shine

Many of the cut-sheet digital press vendors support fifth-colour options which include white and clear. White ink or toner can be used creatively on coloured stocks, both to print “reverse out” type and graphics, or laid underneath standard four-colour images to provide both correct colour rendering and additional lift for the images. Printing white on metallised substrates can look very impressive, for example, and there is software such as Color Logic’s that allows for metallic colour mixing with CMYK plus white to achieve predictable metallic colours. This originated in the wide-format world but is starting to appear in cut-sheet commercial digital presses too.

Depending on the colour and surface properties of the substrate, multiple hits of white might be needed. This adds to production time and consumables usage but can add a value uplift for the customer – and hence margin for the printer – that’s considerably bigger than the actual additional costs.

Additional primary ink colours – orange, violet and green are the most common – are mostly used to match brand colours but they do provide some creative flexibility too particularly when printed solid. A more recent addition has been support for fluorescent inks; HP introduced fluorescent pink last year for its Indigo commercial presses, and Heidelberg has a neon yellow option for the Versafire CV. In addition to the visual punch they deliver under normal viewing conditions, both fluorescent inks also glow under UV light, adding interesting possibilities for PoS and décor.

Clear and present dimension

Clear toners or inks add another set of possibilities. As well as the ability to apply a “digital” spot varnish that can vary with each sheet in the same way that the CMYK content does, some digital presses that support clear options, including Xerox and HP Indigo models, for example, offer multiple-pass options that enable layers of clear toner to be built up to produce a raised relief effect. Sometimes referred to as dimensional printing, this adds both a visual and a tactile difference to print that lends itself to creative exploitation.

There are also machines that take the dimensional printing process considerably further and can be used to treat either digital or offset print.

MGI, which is part-owned by Konica Minolta, and distributed through them in the UK, has the JETvarnish 3DS, which uses inkjet technology to add a UV-cured clear varnish at rates up to 3000 sheets per hour at 30-micron thickness on sheets up to the SRA3 “long sheet” variants (up to about 10000 mm length) offered by several press vendors. The varnish thickness can be varied between 15 and 100 microns to build up tactile effects in addition to more conventional spot treatments. Registration of the varnish layer with the underlying print is maintained via an automatic registration camera.


Touchable texture: Scodix Sense allows creative combinations of clear 3D varnish and foiling effects

Even thicker layers – up to 250 microns – can be built up using digital enhancement presses from Scodix. Driven by the company’s Sense software, a variety of heavily textured effects such as basketball surface, crocodile skin and orange peel can be added to print. Stepped layering allows curved profile shapes to be built up, enabling droplets or lens effects that accentuate colours or graphics below them to be added.

The Scodix S series digital enhancement presses support B3+ and B2+ sheet sizes and include a stacker option. Higher productivity options include the Ultra series, aimed at commercial printers and folding carton converters. These support VDP (variable data print) capability driven by barcode, so that the enhancement to each piece can be dictated by its content.

The Scodix Sense software, which drives both enhancement press ranges, supports a range of enhancement options in addition to the texture and spot varnish functions: the company says these provide equivalents for conventional lamination, embossing and hot foiling such that work need not be sent out for separate finishing operations, plus metallic colours (without special inks) and glitter, which requires a separate hardware unit.

Foiled again

Foiling is another way of adding distinction and implied worth to print products. Conventional analogue methods require time-consuming setup often involving the creation of custom dies, which makes them both too slow and too expensive for short run digital print.

There are some fully “digital” alternatives that do away with the set-up requirements and can even provide every-page-different options that VDP generates. Scodix offers the Foil Station, a foiling unit that runs in line with its high-end Ultra Pro enhancement press. MGI has something similar for its JETvarnish 3DS unit, in the shape of the iFoil S, an inline unit that can create digitally-made embossed foil without the need for dies. The iFoil S also enables embossing and debossing, the application of two colour foils in one pass and variable data foiling on hot foil stamping and/or spot UV coating.

Kurz’s “digital metal” foiling uses the company’s DM-Liner inkjet technology introduced at drupa 2016 to add metallic foils onto paper or plastic substrates either before or after digital printing. The combination of under- and over-printed, clear and foiled areas can be varied to achieve a range of colourful metal tint effects. A precise registration system allows for the foiling to be registered accurately with colour print for use in personalised applications. There are also options for adding foil to liquid or dry toner digital print at up to B2 sheet size.

For those who don’t anticipate variable foiling playing a major part in their finished output but would like to be able to provide some capabilities of this kind, there are various more manual options with lower entry costs, based on laminator technology. These include “foil over toner” techniques in which a foiling mask is digitally printed in solid black and the foil is applied so that it adheres to the solid areas only. These treatments can often be combined with other lamination types such as matt, soft-touch or gloss or may also be run through a digital press again after the foiling stage to add standard CMYK colour elements.

A number of effects of this kind are possible with Foliant’s multi-functional Imprinting Units, available from Intelligent Finishing Systems, which retrofits to the Vega, Mercury and Taurus B3 and B2 laminators. Foil colours include gold, silver, red and green, plus a clear gloss for spot varnish. Similar capabilities are offered by the Komfi range of thermal laminating machines from Friedheim.

A repertoire of 12 different foil and laminating treatments of this type is possible with the Matrix laminator from Vivid. These include “cracked ice” and glitter holographic foil effects, spot-UV and gold or copper foil and an over-printable silver foil. Intec’s Color Flare offers very similar possibilities and allows both laminates and metallic foils to be loaded simultaneously. Intec says its foil flaring assembly smoothes the foil to produce a mirror finish.

Depending which digital press and finishing equipment you already have, you might be able to get started with some of these print enhancement ideas right away at little extra cost. If not, you could dip your toe into some of the cheaper lamination-based options to gain experience and test the market for embellished digital print before deciding to pitch in with a more serious investment. However you do it, differentiating your print can only help differentiate your business.

Sleek operator

Eazyprint is particularly proud of the effects it produces with its GMP Qtopic-380 POD laminator, which has the ability to “sleek” and foil direct from the box, and features a built in re-winder to enable holographic images and foils to be applied without any special skills or tools.

Last year the company won a Digital Printer award for its Targeted Marketing Box, which used the Qtopic to do all of the foiling and spot UV effects on personalised box sets of promotional playing cards for customer Carynx, which wanted to promote its luxury wine coolers to companies such as Fortnum & Mason and Sunseeker Yachts.

‘They rang up wanting someone who could do foiling, but wanting it more bespoke,’ recalls Daniel Pretot, production manager at the family-run firm, which acquired its Qtopic – the first to hit the UK – two years ago and has pioneered its finishing/embellishing technology ever since.


Bespoke personalised “foiling” with GMP’s Qtopic-380 laminator adds the finishing touch

For a promotional Christmas campaign, Eazyprint sent around 150 stylish “chocolate boxes” to customers. These featured foiling, sleeking (GMP’s term for the process that enables a wide range of holographic, gloss spot, matt and metallic effects to be layered onto digital print without the need for lamination first) and spot UV, along with the recipient’s name, which ‘went down really well’.

Personalisation is ‘massively important’, maintains Mr Pretot, to achieve a better response rate; ‘if you can personalise things it grabs people’s attention.’

Producing the variety of eye-catching finishes that Eazyprint applies to business cards, boxes, marketing tools and the like isn’t the primary function of the Qtopic laminator, but that could well change. ‘I don’t think two years ago anyone really knew what it was or what it could do,’ says Mr Pretot.

Read the full April issue online here