Behind the Scenes: What is Foil Printing?

The Art of Foil Press

What is foil printing? You may have heard your friends throw this term around when discussing their Christmas card plans, or stumbled upon it for the first time when browsing our foil-pressed save the date cards. Foil printing is the process of binding foil to the surface of paper in order to create luxurious and gleaming designs. While foil-pressed products today are mostly recognized as high-end stationery, most people are not familiar with the rich and centuries-old history of foil printing practices.

Present day, foil printing has many different names and can refer to slightly different processes. At Minted, we use real metallic foils hand-pressed with a hot stamping technique onto luxe paper to create customizable stationery that is perfectly smart, stylish, and elegant.

And Ever Foil Pressed Save the Date

And Ever by AK Graphics

History of Foil Pressing Methods & Components

Foil pressing, foil printing, foil blocking, foil stamping, hot stamping, cold printing – all of these terms refer to the process of transferring specialized foil onto paper for an embellishing effect. Foil pressing methods have existed for hundreds of years, beginning with hand-set gold leaf decorating. The first known account of this is twelfth century gold leaf decorations on bible covers from Morocco. Other antiquated foil press techniques involved hand-setting gold leaves into calligraphy or letterwork on bound manuscript covers or leather book covers and foil pressing from custom-built engraved metal plates. All of these techniques were extremely labor intensive. Overall, the most common use of foil pressing was on book covers.

Books and manuscripts used to be rare commodities, as they had to be hand-copied or reproduced by tedious, page by page wood printing methods. In the fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s movable type printing press made the mass production of books possible. When this happened, the desire for foil-pressed detailing dramatically rose as well. Because of this, people began to think of more clever ways to do foil pressing in order to match the demand.

In the 1830s, Americans realized that hot stamping, a form of foil pressing, gold foil into cloth book covers was more effective than printing black ink onto cloth – ink will run, but foil will not. In the 1880s, the technique of hot stamping silver onto cloth book covers developed. This broke away from the stereotype that foil pressing primarily used gold foil. Additionally in the 1880s, Ernst Oeser invented the first modern foils for foil pressing. These foils were composed of metallic material and color instead of using real precious metals like gold and silver.

By the nineteenth century, George M. Whiley created foils made out of a thin layer of gold on polyester sheets. This is the most direct predecessor of the foils used in modern foil pressing. The use of Whiley’s foil became very popular for foil pressing in the 1950s and 1960s. Whiley also published a book called Manufacturers of Highest Quality Stamping Tools, which catalogued stamping tools and stamping foils for foil pressing. In the 1950s the use of imitation gold surpassed the use of real gold for foil pressing. Real gold was almost always too expensive, and imitation gold actually had a better look due to its durability and consistency in color.

How is Foil Pressing Done?

Present day, a wide variety of foil pressing techniques exist. Generally, the techniques can be divided into two categories: hot foil pressing and cold foil printing.

Modern foil pressing methods begin similarly to that of modern letterpressing. To begin, a design is created or uploaded onto a computer. Then, the design must be printed as a film negative. This film negative is laid on top of a metal plate that is sensitive to UV (ultraviolet) light. Next, a UV light is turned on. The film negative allows UV light to touch the exposed parts of the metal plate without affecting the other parts. After a while, the metal plate must be washed and put in a special acid bath. When this is finished, the desired design remains raised on the metal plate as the unexposed parts were etched away. This stamp-like creation is called a die, and is the specialized tool used for hot foil pressing.

Once a die is created, it is heated up inside of a hot stamping press. The desired foil is inserted between paper and the die. Foils used for modern foil pressing have a “release,” or a layer of a glue-like substance that enables the foil to stick to a “substrate,” like paper, when heated. The hot die heats up the foil and allows it to bond to a paper’s surface, resulting in the finished product.

Like letterpressing, this method can only press one sheet of foil into a piece of paper. Therefore, if a product requires more than one kind of foil, separate die with unique designs are needed for each kind of foil. Each piece of paper will go through the press once with the first die and the first foil. Then, the press must be reloaded with the next die and the next kind of foil. Then, the paper must be fed through again. This process will be repeated as many times as the number die you have.

Kinds of Die

Foiling die are an indispensable part of the hot foil pressing process. They are predominantly made from one of three materials.

  • Magnesium: Magnesium foiling die are the cheapest. Because magnesium is also the softest of the metals, magnesium foiling die don’t last for many foil pressing runs. Etching a die out of a magnesium plate can take as little as five minutes.
  • Copper: Copper foiling dies are heavier and more expensive. Therefore, they last longer than magnesium foiling dies.
  • Brass: Brass foiling dies are the heaviest and the most expensive. This long-lasting material can endure many runs, making it practical for many copies of the same foil-pressed design.

Additionally, there are three different types of foiling die.

  • Single Level Die: This is the standard foiling die used for foil pressing.
  • Patterned Die: The raised surface used to press foil on a Patterned Die has a texture, unlike the flat raised surface of a Single Level Die. Thus, when a Patterned Die is heated up and used to press foil, it will also imprint a pattern into the foil.
  • Combination Die: This die accomplished foiling and embossing (creating an elevated surface) simultaneously.

Kinds of Foil

Hundreds of years ago, real gold leaves were most popular for foil pressing. Present day, the use of real gold is exceedingly rare. There are six common kinds of foil for modern foil pressing.

  • Metallic foil: Metallic foils are aluminum or tin foils mixed with color to appear like precious metals such as gold, silver, and rose gold.
  • Pigment foil: Pigment foils come in all colors, and create a matte or gloss look as opposed to the sheen of metallic foils.
  • Pearl foil: Pearl foils are translucent and transparent, and produce pearlescent glimmers.
  • Holographic foil: Holographic foils appear silver at first, but reflect light in rainbow colors. Holographic foils were actually first used on credit cards.
  • Effects foil: Effects foils have special patterns such as stripes or polka dots.
  • Scratch off foil: Scratch off foils can be easily scratched off, hence the name. You may have seen this before on lottery tickets.

Modern Foil Pressing Technology & Techniques

Foil pressing is no longer done by hand-setting gold leaves into book covers. The hot foil pressing method using heated dies and a press would not be possible without modern technology. Today, there are three primary kinds of machines that make hot foil pressing methods possible.

  • Clamshell press: This kind of press shuts in a clamshell-like motion, capturing foil between the paper and the die as it closes.
  • Straight stamp press: This press allows the die to only move straight up and down, stamping paper and its fed through the machine.
  • Roll press: In Roll presses, the die is connected to a roller. Thus, as paper is fed through the machine, foil designs are rolled directly on. This is the fastest but most expensive of the three kinds of presses.

In addition to the variety of presses, foil pressing can now be done digitally. Digital foil stamping takes designs or images from a computer and can print them in foil directly onto pieces of paper. The biggest advantage of this is that it can print in multiple kinds of foil at a time, unlike foil pressing in a machine which requires different runs for each kind of foil. It is also much more cost effective than hot foil pressing with a machine, since printing does not require making dies.

Modern technology also gave birth to cold foil printing techniques. In cold foil printing, an adhesive sensitive to UV light is printed onto paper in the shape of the desired design. Foil is then pressed onto the paper and quickly removed, such that it only stays where the adhesive was printed. Then, the paper is exposed to UV light so that the foil bonds to the paper.

There are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cold versus hot foil pressing. Cold foil pressing is quicker and less expensive than hot foil pressing, like digital foil stamping, since die don’t have to be made. Additionally, printing can be done over cold foil-pressed products, creating endless patterns, colors, and design options. However, it is often recommended that a layer of varnish be put over cold foil-pressed products to ensure that the foil stays put. Further, hot foil pressing and embossing or debossing can be done simultaneously, while cold foil pressing and embossing or debossing must be done separately.

Why Use Foil-pressed Stationery?

From holiday cards to wedding invitations, customers seek out foil-pressed stationery for its timeless elegance as well as the visual depth it creates. But the advantages to using foil-pressed stationery don’t end with its aesthetic appeal.

Foil pressing has endless versatility since it doesn’t use any ink. This means it can be used on paper of all colors, even black. The addition of lustrous silver to a botanical design or a sparkling gold frame is an easy way to uplift a darkly colored stationery’s style.

Another benefit of foil-pressed stationery is its environmental friendliness. A 2008 study from The Foil Stamping & Embossing Association (FSEA) found that both hot foil-pressed and cold foil-pressed products are completely recyclable. Therefore, you won’t have to sacrifice beauty for alternative eco-friendly products.


Foil-Pressed Wedding Invitations

Minted foil-pressed wedding invitations are available in up to six luxe colors of metallic foil, including gold, silver, rose gold, ice blue, black, and bronze. Foil pressing can do anything from adding a fresh and subtle flare to a minimalist wedding invitation to accentuating a simple and flawless frame on a classic wedding invitation. Browse through Minted’s hundreds of foil-pressed wedding invitations today.

Lacy Meadow Ovals Foil Pressed Wedding Invitation

Lacy Meadow Ovals by Shiny Penny Studio


Foil-Pressed Save The Dates

Minted’s foil-pressed save the date cards – designed by independent artists – are perfect for announcing your wedding date. The classic tradition of sending save the date cards will get your guests excited for your big day and will captivate their artistic eyes. From vintage designs upscaled with gold foil to sparkling botanicals around your engagement photo, Minted’s foil-pressed save the dates are always luxurious and stylish.

Classic Foil Pressed Save the Date

Classical by Brooke Chandler


Foil-Pressed Holiday Cards

Capture the attention of your friends and family and get them into the holiday spirit with a foil-pressed holiday card. Make festive language pop out from a minimalist holiday card in rose, rose gold, or silver foil, or allude to the popping of sparkling champagne on New Year’s Eve with glittery gold or glittery silver foil on a New Year’s card.

Circle of Joy Foil Pressed Holiday Card

Circle of Joy by Karidy Walker


Foil-Pressed Birth Announcements

There’s no better way of announcing a new addition to your family than with a beautiful birth announcement card! Celebrate your newborn baby with a chic foil-pressed birth announcement card. Whether you go with gold, silver, or rose gold foil, an elegantly decorated foil-pressed card will express your jubilance and will highlight your baby photo.

Foil Pressed Birth Announcements

Gold Hello by Karidy Walker


Foil-Pressed Stationery

You’ll never want to stop writing letters once you try our foil-pressed stationery. Find the perfect stationery for you in Minted’s hundreds of options. Start with an understated foil-pressed monogram initial, consider a refined foil-pressed border for your writing, or go with a bold and organic marbled border stationery.

Bignet Foil Pressed Stationery

Bignet by chocomocacino


Foil-Pressed Graduation Cards

Do you know someone soon to be graduating from high school or college? If so, a foil-pressed graduation card adds a flawless celebratory flare to what would have been a regular card announcing this great milestone. Maybe you’re only looking for skinny foil-pressed lettering, or maybe you want an ornamental foil-pressed frame around your child’s graduation photo. No matter what you’re looking for, Minted’s foil-pressed graduation card collection is full of luxurious designs you’ll love.

Annos Foil Pressed Graduation Card

Annos by Jessica Williams


Foil-Pressed Wall Art

If you’re looking for a bigger and bolder way to add a flawless foil-pressed element to your home, check out our foil-pressed wall art prints. With a variety of metallic foil colors and customizable frames, foil-pressed wall art prints are perfect for adding a contemporary touch to a family photo, memorializing a handwritten family recipe, or showing state pride.

Rustic Frame Foil Pressed Photo Art

Rustic Frame by Cambria

So, what is foil printing? Foil pressing is much more than just an aesthetic and beautiful way to elevate stationery. It is a historically rich and technologically advanced process. Its existence is due to the combination of modern techniques and centuries-old craftsmanship. Not to mention, it’s environmentally friendly. For all of these reasons and with abundant options to choose from, look for your favorite foil-pressed stationery today.