Caslon FoilTech table top hot foiling

There is now a glittering array of options to add a sophisticated sparkle to digital print finds Simon Eccles.

Digital embellishment was one of most notable things at drupa. Broadly speaking, the idea is to add value to print with special coatings, laminates, foils and other effects. Many of the effects are not new, but digital implementations are starting to match what has been possible with analogue technologies for decades. It’s not all new – Kodak first offered spot gloss on the NexPress in 2002, since then it has added further options and other press vendors have followed suit.

Running hot and cold

So far the metallic toners (and wide format inkjet metallics) are dull, and nothing like the mirror finish of foil or metallised board. Foiling remains the most effective way of applying a true metallic effect and solid coloured, patterned and holographic effects. There are several methods for digital foiling that all make the foil adhere to printed dry or liquid toner, or UV inkjet ink, but not to the background paper or other materials. Hot foil is applied with a heated pressure roller and selectively adheres only to printed toner (or Indigo ElectroInk). The cold foil method is used with UV ink or varnish, which remains sticky for a while even after curing and so acts as an adhesive.

The big advantage is that unlike traditional foiling there’s no need for costly dies. Thus there’s no makeready, so short runs and variable data become viable. Caslon has been selling small tabletop hot foiling systems for years. These apply hot foil that adheres only to printed toner. Its range starts with the manual feed FoilTech FT-12 for sheets up to 340mm wide. The FT-22 is the same width but can feed two different foil ribbons. Prices range from £1965 to £4360. They’ll work with on paper or a laminate overprinted with toner.

Japanese company Uchida has an embellishment system called U-Coater that on the face of it is similar to Caslon’s but actually has a different transfer principle, The U-Coater partly melts the toner surface, applies the foil and then burnishes it, which the firm claims gives the smoothest metallic finish on the market.

A manually fed U-Coat for sheets up to 320 x 600 mm costs £3500 while fully automatic versions cost £11000.


Holographic foil applied using a vivid laminator

Modified laminators

A development in recent years has been the use of more or less standard thermal laminators to apply foil, spot gloss and other effects using the heated pressure roller. Korean laminator maker GMP was a pioneer with a process it calls ‘sleeking.’ The special foil adheres to the digital image including a spot gloss to adhere to full-colour toner. You can also laminate the print, print a toner image on top and foil over that. Sleeking is available with the GMP Exceltopic-380 and Q-Topic laminators, with entry prices of £6000 and £9250 respectively. 

Vivid has a broadly similar system that works with its Matrix laminators and Boss films. Again the heated pressure rollers activate adhesive so the effect adheres to the toner. Vivid foils onto paper or over a laminated film.

Foil over UV

MGI showed a prototype JetVarnish at Drupa 2008, which is now in production in B3, B2 and B1 formats. Scodix’ UV inkjet process produces considerably raised images with models from B3 to B1. MGI also offers raised effects with the JetVarnish 3D, and iFoil, a unit to add mirror-reflective foils over the raised varnish, simulating foil blocking. Scodix has an inline hot or cold foiling unit, built for it by Compact Foilers in the UK.

Autobond offers both hot and cold foil methods. It can add a hot foil feeder unit to any of its laminators, with heat and pressure transfer to toner using standard foils. A 35 m/min 53 cm Micro laminator suitable for SRA3 sheets costs £45000, with a hot foiling unit adding £7500. Alternatively, there’s the SUV spot UV varnish. This runs inline with a laminator and uses Xaar inkjet heads to apply gloss UV varnish, usually over matt laminate. SUVs are available for B3, B2 and B1 sheet sizes and can optionally be fitted with cold foiling. Autobond managing director John Gilmore says cold foil costs a third less than hot foil, but installation costs more. A 53 cm SUV costs £135000 and cold foiling adds £15000. Gilmore says his system costs less and is significantly faster than equivalent MGI and Scodix systems.


Kurz DM-Liner

Leonhard Kurz, a big German foil manufacturer, has a couple of standalone machines with the brand name Digital Metal (DM). Its DM Liner takes sheets that have been printed with toner and applies hot foil. It costs £115000 for an SRA3 model and £144000 for B2. The larger model runs up to 2400 sheets per hour. New at drupa, DM-Liner UV Ink is a standalone inkjet that applies spot UV ink then applies foil on top. It runs at up to 3600 SRA3 sheets per hour. Price will be about £330000. I-Sub Digital uses a variation of the UV method in its DigiFoil system, designed for use with Mimaki’s UJF flatbed UV inkjets. Adhesive ink replaces one of the inks and hot foil is applied with a heated roller. A hand-held roller can be used for small quantities, but the company can also supply its DF-Pro thermal laminators. These cost £2095 for 460 mm wide (A2), £2495 for 650 mm (A1), and £6795 for 1200 mm wide model suitable for the larger JFX200 flatbed. 

Inline foiling

At drupa MGI introduced Meteor Unlimited Colours, an adaptation of its iFoil unit to run inline with any of its Meteor dry toner presses. Normally a black-only image is printed and passed though the hot foiler where the effect adheres to the toner, then the sheets are reloaded for a second full-colour pass.

Digital embellishment is becoming easier to do, providing a useful way to add further value to short run work. The choice of UV inkjet and toner-based foiling technologies, either standalone or combined with lamination, provide options regardless of your digital printing process. With a widening array of sizes and speeds there is something for everyone looking to add a little sparkle.