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Beyond Hot Foil Stamping: Metallic Effect Options


There are more metallic design options than ever due to continual industry innovations to meet market demands for impact, speed, efficiency, and sustainability. For high-end products, hot foils and metallic substrates are still the top choice for characteristics like performance, compatibility, brilliant reflectivity, dimensionality, and robustness. For quick-turnaround projects, cold foils and UV film casting are increasingly popular because they require no upfront tooling and can be applied on press. The options can be used independently or layered— high-end applications often combine several different decorative print finishes on a single sheet.

Material Choices

Hot Foil SwatchesFOILS: Hot and Cold foils are applied to add a reflective quality to a surface. They can be used alone or in conjunction with inks and with one another. While hot foil stamping is most often applied pre- or post-press, cold foil is typically applied in line with printing. While some hot foils are formulated to address heavy coverage, they are typically used for small areas, although fine and moderate coverage can be applied successfully. Cold foils are best suited for heavy coverage or large areas.

SUBSTRATES: Laminates or Transfer Metallized substrates have a reflective surface. With these printable products, the metallic surface can be maintained overall or can be muted selectively with inks for aesthetic effect. Laminations, which are compound structures, offer the benefits of durability and some barrier properties. Metallized substrates, which are monostructures, convert and print similar to paper.

Transfer Metallized Tobacco PackagingMetallized Films, also with a brilliant surface, are used to protect and extend shelf life. OPP film, the least expensive, is a moisture barrier. PET film is an oxygen barrier. OPA film has both oxygen and moisture barrier properties and is the most expensive.

UV Casting Films (also known as Cast & Cure) can be used to apply decorative effects on press, adding a holographic quality to printed work.

Degrees of Brilliance (in order, low to high)

  1. Metallic inks are a subtle, non-reflective alternative. 
  2. Cold foiling can be very reflective but does not tend to have a mirror-like finish. 
  3. Transfer metallized substrates can be highly reflective, though not quite mirrorlike. 
  4. Foil laminate substrates and metallized films are highly reflective and mirrorlike. 
  5. Hot foils tend to be highly reflective and mirrorlike.

Surface Options

A variety of finishes, colors, patterns, and levels of sheen offer a range of potential brand implications. Any can be customized for further differentiation.

Embossed Hot Foil StampingMetallic foils and substrates, available in a wide array of colors and finishes, are a popular choice due to superior opacity and reflectivity.

Seamless Rainbow DiffractionHolographic (Diffraction) products diffract light across the color spectrum in various patterns that create the illusion of a third dimension. Holographic effects are often used to further differentiate products as well as to help deter product counterfeiting and piracy.

Clear foil and UV casting each impart a transparent effect similar to a thick varnish and are available in stock and custom diffraction patterns.


ITW’s origination technologies coupled with our film embossing and paper and paperboard lamination capabilities provide a one-stop solution for all of your holographic needs.

All of the following ITW products are customizable:

Gold LaminateReadyPrint™: Foil Laminate Papers, Paperboards, and Films

EcoShine™: Transfer Metallized Papers and Paperboards

EcoCast™: Holographic UV Casting Films

Hot Foils: in a range of grades to meet any production challenge. 

Cold Foils: high-performing options to meet any production challenge. 

At ITW Foils, Making Brands Shine™ is our business. How can we help you?

Use Natural Attraction to Your Advantage in Brand Packaging Design


As consumers, we tend to equate certain design elements and surfaces in packaging with quality product. Embossed foil stamping, gorgeous substrates, and high-end materials have proven appeal in crowded retail environments. Basically, packaging that seems expensive often equates to higher quality and price expectations from consumers. 

But is there more to it than conditioned responses?

UV Casting on Print PromotionWhy do we get a little charge when we see light reflected on the surface of something? Maybe the attraction is purely physical. Babies love to see and touch shiny objects, perhaps due to the high contrast they provide for developing eyesight. Even many animals are mesmerized by shine—some actually collect and hoard shiny objects like pebbles and pieces of metal. Perhaps there is a survival instinct that equates shiny with unspoiled and fresh.

Then again, maybe it goes deeper. Surfaces that shine arouse a natural emotional response. Shiny stimuli trigger the limbic area of the brain, which controls our moods and motivation.

We seem to have instinctual programming to prefer shiny objects to more lackluster counterparts. In Shiny Objects Marketing, David A. LaBonte cites a study in which researchers showed volunteers an identical picture of water depicted on four different surface finishes: matte, glossy, sandy and sparkling. The water depicted on a sparkling finish was selected as the best in terms of quality, with the glossy coming in second.

On a more mystical level, perhaps it’s because shiny objects reflect light and can even appear to emanate light, like the sun. In some cultures, reflective objects have even been considered magical because they capture our likenesses.

Whatever the reasons, there’s no denying the pure magnetism and allure of reflectivity and shine. So how can your brand packaging capitalize on that? 

It depends. Glitz alone won’t deliver without market strategy and brand objectives. To succeed, packaging should provide visual cues that associate it with its market category, provide clear communication, and reinforce brand impressions, but above all it must stand apart from the competition.

Creative Packaging utilizing custom hologramIt is helpful to understand all the different foil paper materials and processes available in order to leverage the possibilities wisely. It makes sense to select decorative effects based on a product’s market category and the competition. For example, in the wine market, hot stamping foil accents alone may do the job nicely with an elegantly understated look, while in the technology and gaming markets, the flashier the better. Holographic paper boards, custom holograms, metallic labels and diffractions foils provide limitelss intriguing possibilities. With luxury consumer goods such as chocolates, spirits, or fragrances, intricate designs utilizing cold foil or on metallic laminates offer a sophisticated premium feel. When considering design choices, brand positioning should be central. Metallic effects can reinforce the brand personality and what it is about the brand that prompts the “buy” response in a target group.

That all said, if you understand the ground rules, don’t be afraid to break some. When it comes to brand differentiation, there is great value in the unexpected. Because consumers cannot process the huge number of messages they are bombarded with, choosing an uncharacteristic decorative effect to set your brand apart within its product category can be surprisingly effective. An unexpected metallic effect can make a bold statement.

For many designers, specifying and designing with metallic effects can be intimidating. This Guide to Designing With Metallic Effects provides information to help empower creatives with logistical considerations as well as inspiration while encouraging open collaboration with printers about all of the exciting possibilities.

If you are ready to make a truly provocative statement, ITW Foils custom holography team is here to assist you with the ability to rapidly produce custom holographic imagery that registers to your artwork—imbuing it with striking and impactful dimensionality. High quality proofs that simulate finished product with overlays on real holographic substrate take the guesswork out of the process and ensure brand consistency with predictably stunning results. With ITW Foils’ simple, quick and accurate proofing system, designers have greater creative latitude and brand-owners have tools for concept proof and focus group testing. 

So go ahead and fearlessly use foils, films and foil paperboards for some natural advantage in that retail jungle.

Case Study: Custom Hologram Tree Frog Calendar Design and Production


Wall calendars are a standard year-end promotional strategy for companies that sell substrates. Designing a calendar that will command precious wall real estate is the challenge. For 2013, I had the task of creating a calendar for ITW Foils to showcase their innovative custom holography capabilities, and would like to share that process.

Custom Holography: Concept Stage

Our design team knew we wanted a natural theme because the calendar would be printed on ITW Foils' recyclable metallic substrate—EcoShine™. With ITW Foils' holographic origination team, we developed a number of hologram concepts. Some concepts were subtle with heavy white coverage in varying opacities. Some utilized a largely non-diffracting surface area, with select areas of holography. The versatility of surface options in holography offers an endless range of decorative effects.

Here is one concept's holographic proof with opaque white and print overlay:

One Concept

Final Design Process

The design ultimately chosen allowed the holographic substrate to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of impact. We used an image of a tree frog and created three main layers in Photoshop, as follows:

LayersFroggy resized 600

  1. Hologram Reference 

    The bottom layer of the image file was the hologram reference. We decided to pull all the fine detail from the frog image into this layer because we really wanted to showcase the substrate and the impact of the hologram.

  2. Opaque Whites 

    The middle layer was the opaque whites which would ultimately be applied underneath the color inks on press. These can be used minimally and selectively, for more transparency. Conversely, they can be applied with heavy coverage and multiple hits on press for opacity which blocks out the reflective surface. In this case, we used whites lightly—primarily as the backdrop for legible type in the calendar dates, as well as behind the logo to maintain strict brand color. We also used striations of white in various opacities in the background to add variety to the highly reflective surface. 

  3. Overprint Layer

    Bright, saturated colors and PMS colors can provide a sumptuous effect on holographic surfaces. For the top layer, the color ink layer, we manipulated the image to remove all of its fine detail and to simplify the form into highly saturated fields of pure color. This design strategy allowed the printing to complement the detailed holography without any interference or muddiness. 

Froggy Calendar Final
Here is a group of finished calendars.

No Guesswork with ITW Foils' Proofing ProcessFroggyProof resized 600

ITW Foils' holographic origination and proofing system made this process smooth and fun. Holographic proofs with color overlays and opaque whites gave our design team and the client an accurate depiction of the final product, eliminating any guesswork. In less than two-weeks' time we were able to land on the final design and begin the production process.

ITW Foils' holographic origination experts work with brands to strategize design solutions that will maximize shelf-impact while also maintaining brand integrity. Find out how ITW Foils can help your brand shine.


Design Process for Custom Registered Holographic Packaging


In the previous article, we covered the broad range of creative packaging design possiblities with custom holography. In this post, I'd like to demystify the process with a brief walk-through. 

To start off, let's define "custom origination". It is the creation of a unique holographic treatment, typically incorporated into print, label, display or packaging. In this case, we are referring to a custom registered origination in which the light-refracting surface of a metallized paperboard is designed to correlate specifically to printed artwork. Note that holography can register to the entire print layer or can be used selectively to enhance areas of an image.
Here are the basic steps involved:

  1. Concept or Brief to Lab: 
    At this first stage, a brief description of project is provided to the origination lab along with any associated files and existing packaging if relevant. The design experts will review to assess current packaging and requirements that customers have for end product.
  2. Consultation:
    Meeting to define project objectives is followed by a collaborative design process between ITW Foils’ holographics lab and the client/designer.
  3. Holographic Concepts:
    The ITW Foils' origination team will provide a relatively quick method of visualizing various holographic concepts. A PDF overlay includes layers that can be turned on and off, indicating how holographic substrate, opaque whites and overprinting will interact. A virtual animated proof diplays the packaging rotating in space to demonstrate the light refracting qualities of the origination.
  4. Proofing:
    Once a holography concept is approved, accurate proofing is essential for brand consistency and predictable results. So for designers, one of the most essential attributes of ITW Foils' origination process is the ability to see realistic holographic proofs with overlays of printing and opaque whites. These overlays are also valuable for focus-group testing concepts.
  5. Customer approval, overprint art to printer
    Once the hlographic concepts are approved, the overprint art, along with opaque white layer (if necessary) is typically sent to the printer. 
  6. Origination lab works with print vendor
    ITW Foils' origination lab will work with the print vendor from this point on to ensure they have the holographic substrate with the layout they need to produce optimal results. After that, the holographic shim is manufactured and the substrate is delivered to the printer.
  7. Plate, Print and Convert
    To ensure optimal registration results, some printers double check press layout against substrate for proper match before heading to press. 

Did you know? Most metallized materials are capable of custom holographic finishes. Hot foilscold foilsReadyPrint™ foil laminate substratesEcoShine™ transfer metallized substrates, and EcoCast™ UV casting films are all available in diffraction patterns and custom holographic options.

Brands can now incorporate holography into product packaging quickly and cost effectively. ITW Foils offers a patented technology, iScan™that eliminates the time and expense constraints associated with traditional dot matrix holographic methods, offering large hologram formats that can be embossed onto film, paper and board.

Benefits to printers and designers include: 

  • fast and accurate proofing which offers greater value, customer satisfaction and market opportunities
  • Ease of sourcing; ITW’s origination technologies coupled with our film embossing and paper/paperboard lamination capability provides a one-stop solution for all of your holographic needs
Long popular in the packaging industry for a wide variety of flexible packaging and labels, the applications for holography are becoming more diversified than ever as familiarity increases. Whether as stock diffraction patterns, smooth rainbow, or custom holography with embedded security features, holography is growing in popularity for its flexibility, function, and appeal. With premium printability and substrates that remain true to register, ITW Foils is the ideal partner to help your brand shine with custom-registered holography.


Entice Customers with Custom Holographic Packaging


Grab consumers, and they’ll grab you. Mass-market brands in categories such as toothpaste and gum routinely utilize holographic packaging for shelf impact because it has proven to boost both sales and market share.puffsstar4 resized 600

Not just for gum—holography is highly versatile, from glitzy and glamorous to subtle and sophisticated, with a wider range of evocative possibilities than traditionally thought. While grab-and-go products often use stock diffraction patterns to gain shelf-pop advantage in oversaturated retail environments, certain high-end markets like fragrances and spirits use holography in unexpected and subtle ways to express elegance and luxury, and technology and gaming markets use custom holography for a solidly innovative brand position. Savvy brand managers recognize the influence of custom holography in successful product launches and holiday editions also.Custom Holographic Packaging

Custom-registered holography is also a fine treatment for sustainable packaging—available for alternative metallic substrates such as ITW Foils "Eco-Shine™" transfer-metallized substrate.

"Custom origination" is the creation of these one-of-a-kind holographic treatments. The process involves an active collaboration between designers and holography engineers to create original holography that registers to printing. This unique treatment delivers excellent brand value with more differentiating power than stock diffraction patterns. The proofing process, which I'll describe more next time, removes guesswork and increases client satisfaction with more predictable results.

Originations can combine pattern, image, and branding elements. They can be overprinted with inks and/or coatings to produce unique and striking combinations. Added to branding potential is the possibility of including anticounterfeit and security features to packaging. While there are infinite design possibilities that employ different holography characteristics, there are two basic types of originations. Custom diffraction patterns are repeats that can include logos, security images, or any decorative surface motif or effect. Custom-registered holographic images are designed to register to and enhance an overprinting layer, imbuing it with striking and impactful dimensionality and a unified look.

customholo2Stay tuned for Part 2 where I describe the fun and exciting process of holographic origination. Meanwhile, check out our webinar, "Custom Holography Simplified": Brilliant New Possibilities for Designers, Brands and Printers where you'll learn to incorporate custom holographic images and patterns into print, label, display and packaging to improve shelf impact, positioning, authenticity and security. Design, brand and technical experts will demonstrate the origination process including concept, file prep, proofing and delivery with actual packaging examples, diagrams and video. Market-specific applications will be discussed with a review of customizable materials: hot foils, cold foils, laminate substrates, transfer metallized substrates and UV casting. Benefits to designers, brand-owners and printers will be addressed:

  • Affordable and fast design-to-production process
  • Accurate proofing for brand consistency and predictably stunning results
  • Proven success in market introductions


By Christine Takacs on behalf of ITW Foils: a global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of technically superior foils, films and laminates. Their parent company is Illinois Tool Works, based in Chicago, Illinois. Through 850 decentralized businesses and operations spanning more than 50 countries, the ITW companies to provide a “Total Systems Approach” to their customers’ decorating needs. ITW Foils is a partner who understands the needs of designers and brand owners, presenting them with the resources and tools they need for Making Brands ShineSM.

Top Five Considerations for Choosing Between Cold Foils and Hot Foils


Print and packaging design professionals often wonder about the advantages of cold foil over hot foils. Cold foil is not a replacement for hot foil but instead an opportunity to expand the use of foil into more markets and applications. While hot foil is stamped into a surface using heat and pressure, cold foil is transferred onto a surface as a flat application. This differentiation results in unique characteristics and performance attributes. Following are five considerations that may help decide:

  1. Schedule and budget: Cold foiling is typically faster than hot stamping. Cold foil is applied on press, prior to inks. Because there are no dies, tooling time and costs are reduced. Dependent on layout logistics, cold foiling can be less expensive—but not always.
    Cold Foils Example
  2. Coverage: If the foiled image is positioned only on a small area of a sheet, hot foil stamping may be most cost-effective because foil is indexed in the hot foil process. For moderate- to full-coverage, cold foils are generally ideal.
  3. Production Challenges: The cold foil process is not as effective on dry, porous or dark stocks. On these, the hot stamping process excels in performance, opacity, and brightness.For embossing, hot foils must be employed—the cold foil process is a flat application only and cannot be embossed concurrent with application.Hot Foil Example
  4. Visual characteristics: While the brilliance of hot foils is unsurpassed, significant strides have been made with respect to the reflectivity of cold foil and today it takes a discerning eye to notice the true visual differences. One other nuance is the subtle dimensionality of hot foils which imparts a premium feel vs. the total flatness of cold foils.  
  5. Color: For the broadest range of metallic color on one application, cold foil is ideal as it can be overprinted with any color for an infinite spectrum of possibilities. Hot foils can be applied in numerous brilliant shades and some can actually be overprinted as well- but not as quickly and efficiently as cold foils. 

There are some markets previously inaccessible to metallic treatments that can now shine with cold foil. While some applications may decidedly favor hot over cold foil, others might even benefit from a sophisticated pairing of both finishes. 

Making Brands Shine: ITW Foils offers both hot foils and cold foils in various grades to meet even the most challenging production requirements with ease and polish.


Why Metallic Effects Should be in Your Design Toolbox


I'll admit it—I like shiny things. Shimmering, reflective surfaces beguile and tempt me. As an art director and artist, I have a passion for unique and beautiful surfaces—the juxtaposition of a brilliant, rich metallic atop a matte texture, intricate foil embossing, the subtle and shifting spectral highlights of holographic diffractions—better yet, if the decoration is an effective extension of brand strategy. I know I'm not alone—in fact our brains are hard-wired for the lure of shine. Yet, despite the powerful magnetic appeal of shine, metallic effects remain an underused resource.

These days, budget is the biggest concern. Until recently, we were limited to hot foil stamping and metallic substrates to achieve the look of distinction. Afraid that clients would balk at the cost, we experimented with less expensive options, such as using faux metallic gradients or overly-subtle metallic inks. But now with inline cold foils and holographic effects that can be applied on press, suddenly shine is within reach. In reality, it always was—many brand owners realize a sizable return on investment by employing metallic effects. It’s proven that consumers have a psychological and physiological bias towards reflective packaging. The unmistakable quality of a gorgeously embossed hot foil stamp on a wine label sells more bottles than a wine critic's best review. The cool light diffractions of a holographic toothpaste package demand attention and conjure up bright teeth and fresh breath in consumer's heads.

Uncertainty about environmental impact may cause some resistance as well. Despite the fact that most metallic options are recyclable, repulpable, de-inkable, compostable, there are still some lingering myths and misunderstandings. These perceptions are clearly beginning to shift. Case in point, just the other day I was shopping at natural food market and noticed a number of metallic effects on packaging in the bath & body section. Designers and consumers are coming around to the fact that packaging does not have to look like Kraft paper to be sustainably sourced, produced and disposed of.

Design GuideFinally, the production logistics of using metallic effects can be intimidating. There's not a lot of information out there for designers, so we often feel like we are at the mercy of our print and finishing vendors. That is why I was so excited when ITW Foils asked me to help them produce "Designed to Shine" A Comprehensive Guide to Metallic Effects. The aim of the guide is to help designers gain the confidence to use metallic effects efficiently and effectively. It has been a lot of fun to produce— In the process, I had the opportunity to design with hot foils, cold foils, foil laminate substrates, transfer metallized substrates, UV casting and custom holography. It's like a designer's candy shop.Design Guide Hot Foils Spread

Designers are obligated to be mindful of schedules, budgets, sustainability and marketing strategy. Most of all, though, we need that ineffable creative spark to create truly differentiating work. Metallic effects are a strategically effective and fun addition to any designer's creative toolbox—more affordable and accessible than ever for those who are willing to try something different to distinguish themselves and their clients from their competitors.

This is the first in a series of design talks—join me, Christine Takacs, and guests as we voyage deeper into this intriguing sparkly universe with education, inspiration and strategy in the coming months. We also look forward to hearing about your shining design moments.

Christine Takacs, Creative Director for Rapt Creative has enjoyed designing print and packaging for local and international clients for nearly 20 years.

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