What Is Hot Foil Printing?

hot foil print

Add Some Glamour to Your Artwork with Foil Stamping

Foil printing is a technique that goes back years, but modern technology makes it a more versatile and cost effective tool than ever.

Hot foil printing, sometimes known as foil stamping, is one of those techniques that we all encounter every day. Yet it is something that few of us know much about when it comes to the tools and techniques involved.

There is a real art to traditional hot foil printing, and the craftsmanship and heritage behind it are factors that the best hot foil printers are truly passionate about. Here, we will take a look at the history of the artform, and how it has evolved with developing technology over the years.

Gold leaf calligraphy

Some of the earliest manuscripts in existence used gold leaf as a way of decorating the intricate calligraphy found on the binding and covers. The earliest processes were not dissimilar to the art of gilding, in which thin layers of gold were coated onto everyday items such as picture frames, artwork and furniture.

With the advent of commercial printing using presses in the 17th century, gold leaf was still used to make the most expensive leather bound books look even more impressive. The gold was added using a type of embossing process that left a raised ridge on the cover that you can feel with your finger. Many of these kinds of books have survived to this day, and change hands for large sums of money between collectors.

Luxury book publishers still use these techniques today – The Easton Press uses 22kt gold on their leather covers.

Goodbye to gold, hello to foil

With a very few exceptions, you will not find gold leaf being used in the foiling process today. Typically, the foil is made from aluminium or tin, and can have a colour layer added. So if you really want that “gold leaf” look, it can be achieved without you needing to take out a second mortgage.

Cheaper materials mean that foiling is an option for more than expensive leather bound books. You will see it on business cards, wedding invitations, packaging, stationery and in numerous other places.

Manufacture process

Foiling machines come in two types. A manual hot foil stamping machine is typically used for low volume, specialist jobs with a relatively small production run. Alternatively, there are pneumatic machines, which are used for higher volume commercial jobs.

In both cases, the actual foiling process is more or less the same. The first stage is to etch the design onto a metal die. This die is then heated, and the foil is positioned in between the die and the surface of whatever material is being stamped, be it a piece of paper, the leather for a wallet or something else. When the die is applied, the foil becomes bonded to the surface, and the effect is complete.

Style and luxury for a perfect finish

The materials might have changed and the machinery has certainly become more cutting edge, but at its heart, the metallic embossed effect of hot foil printing is still very similar to that of the gold leaf calligraphy of yesteryear. It adds a sense of class and sophistication to any design, and in the 21st century is more practical and affordable than ever.