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Specialty Finishes - Designing Eye-Catching Labels

This blog examines some of the cutting edge technology available in the label industry today.

Hot Foil stamping and embossing create richly textured labels that add perceived value to products.  These processes are often used on specialty foods, wine and high-end retail packaging to denote an exceptional level of quality.

Hot foil stamping is a dry printing process in which color pigments or metallic foil is transferred from a continuous roll to the label using heat and pressure.  Hot stamping and holographic foils are made up of several layers.  These include a polyester carrier, a release layer, a number of lacquer, image and metal layers, and an outer adhesive-sizing layer.  During the hot foil stamping, a heated die forces the foil against the substrate, which is supported by a counter-plate or counter-cylinder.  A combination of this pressure and the activation of the adhesive allows the foil to attach itself to the substrate, a process that is aided by the melting of the release layer.  The dies used in hot foil stamping are predominantly made from brass and are produced by etching or by engraving.

Hot Foil Stamping

The foils can be a solid color, metallic (gold, silver or copper), refractive or holographic.  The process is used on a wide range of products to create decorative finishes and anti-counterfeiting measures.  In the packaging industry the applications include food, pharmacy, tobacco, and luxury goods packaging, as well as labels for products such as wine and spirits.  Beyond packaging, hot foil stamping is extensively used on banknotes, greetings cards and throughout commercial print.

Cold Foil is a fast growing technology that allows printers to apply foil onto a substrate.  Cold foil transfer is a process in which aluminum, transported on a metalized polyester carrier, is applied on a label substrate without the use of heat.  Adhesive is first printed on the substrate,; the metalized coating of the polyester carrier is then transferred only to the areas where the adhesive has been applied.

This inline process is a new technology that allows manufacturers to apply metallic foil and print over it at press speed.  This gives the ability to lay down foil and print over it to produce brilliant metallic effects with an infinite spectrum of colors.  With the huge advances in foils, label manufacturers can print fine lines, reverse outs, half tones and full tones, all in accurate register.

Cast & Cure is a decorative coating process that integrates “casting” and “curing” techniques to create holographic, ultra high gloss, or matte finishes on select areas of a printed piece and is suitable for a wide variety of substrates.  The process lays down the UV coating and then applies a specialty film that incorporates a micro-embossed holographic pattern within the film.  With the film lying over the coated sheet, the coating is cured and the film is stripped away, leaving the holographic pattern on the sheet.  The film is reusable for multiple applications.


Cast & Cure is an ideal application for the decorative print market and can be incorporated with anti-counterfeiting features for brand security applications.  Options in design are endless and the process can support a myriad of end-use markets, including cosmetics, wine labeling, health & beauty packaging, among many others.

Topics: Specialty Lamination Hot Foil Cast & Cure cold foil

Varnish vs. Lamination: Purpose Driven Protection

The purpose of a coating is to protect the printed piece from dirt, smudges, fingerprints, scratching, etc.  Coating also provides scuff resistance.  It can also improve the visual appeal of the piece by providing a glossier and smoother finish.  The right coating can help protect the printed piece or add a creative dimension.  The results will usually look best on coated paper because the hard, nonporous surface of coated paper holds the coating on the top of the paper rather than absorb it. 

Varnishing is the process of applying a transparent layer of silicon over the top of a printed area. 

It is applied to a specific area of design - such as logos in order to highlight it or to the entire surface of a printed item.  The result is a glossy or matte luxurious appearance.

Aqueous Varnish, also known as water-based varnish, is among the most commonly used coatings available today.  Available in gloss or matte finish, this varnish does a good job protecting inks against abrasion and rub resistance.  It also resists yellowing, which is common with unprotected labels that have been in storage for a while.  Because they seal the ink from the air, aqueous varnishes can help prevent metallic inks from tarnishing.  Specially formulated aqueous coatings can be written on with a number two pencil or overprinted using a laser jet printer.  These are generally considered to be one of the most sustainable coating options available today because the formulas are nontoxic in the pressroom, and treated paper can be recycled in standard municipal systems without emitting harmful byproducts.  The cleanup process does not require toxic cleaning detergents, nor does it necessitate high temperatures (e.g. added energy) for drying.

Ultraviolet Varnish offers more protection than aqueous coatings.  UV varnishes are applied in line and then exposed to ultraviolet light to polymerize and harden the coating, with zero emissions.  When UV is used on deep, rich colors, like blues and rich blacks, the result is an almost wet appearance.  This can be highly effective with image-rich projects.  The stunning shine it creates is why it is so popular for certain designs and products.  UV varnishes can either be applied across the entire page or on a spot basis.  The coatings are available in a gloss or matte and have a wide variety of specialty finishes, including glitter, tints and even different scents.  UV coatings should be used in conjunction with UV inks to help reduce the potential for drying and surface problems.

Specialty Varnishes can enhance labels with a variety of different effects.  Soft-Touch is a tactile aqueous coating that is very pleasing to the sense of touch and exhibits an ultra-matte appearance.  The combination of these two effects is visually stunning and brings new dimensions to label appearance.  There are a wide variety of different specialty varnishes available today. Find more here.

Varnish on press

Laminating is the process of applying a film of plastic on the surface of labels. 

When plastic coating is added to any item it becomes tear-proof and waterproof, since the laminating film encapsulates the item completely by bonding it to both sides.

Polypropylene lamination is the most popular and least expensive laminate available today.  It is available in gloss, satin and matte finishes.  Polypropylene provides a softer finish than other laminates, which makes it the best choice for projects that will be prone to scratching.  It's possible to write on polypropylene films using dry erase and other types of markers.  Polypropylene is a good bet when you are looking for increased strength and good protection at a reasonable cost.

Polyester Lamination is the most durable of all laminates, polyester offers the greatest strength and abrasion resistance, at a cost that is usually higher than polypropylene.  Polyester provides a hard coating that is extremely resistant to scuffing and tearing, in gloss, satin or matte finishes.   This lamination is heat resistant and will not become brittle with age because it contains no plasticizers.

Specialty Lamination - Besides clear laminating films, there are a variety of specialty films that can be laminated.  Metallized films in gold and silver as well as other colors are available, and holographic films are now becoming more popular in many patterns.  Most often, these films are then over-printed or even foil stamped once they are applied.  There also are iridescent films that have unique color shifting abilities and are translucent, so they can be applied over printed graphics.

The key in choosing the right coating is to work closely with your printer.  Discuss the effect you're after and the level of protection you need to provide.  Then consider how to best apply your budget to reach those objectives.

Topics: Lamination UV Varnish Ultra Violet Varnish Specialty Lamination label protection Varnish
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