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Digital foiling, AKA sleeking, has taken off in recent years as a cost-effective alternative to traditional foil stamping. In this post we’ll discuss how digital foiling works, some design tips on how to use it, and how it compares to traditional methods.

What is foiling?

Digital foiling or foil stamping creates an area of metallic colour such as gold, silver, red, or even holographic, for an extra embellishment on a logo or specific detail. This is a process you will have seen used on anything from business cards, swing tags and greeting cards, to wedding invitations, presentation folders, book covers and more! It is a surefire way to give your printed product an extra boost of luxury. It can certainly improve the look and feel of your printed piece, and give it that extra perceived value.

printing services melbourne wedding menu translucent vellum foil
Digitally foiled menus

The human eye is naturally drawn to a bit of sparkle, so if you need a little extra something to make your product packaging or business card really stand out, you can’t go past foil.

traditional foiling methods

With traditional foiling, first you need to create what’s called a ‘die’. This is a piece of metal with a custom design. The foil typically comes on a roll, the die is locked into the chase on the printing press, and the raised part of the die presses the foil into the paper. This can be either a cold or hot foil stamp. Once you have your custom die created you can use it over and over again for up to 100,000 impressions!

Aside from having a beautiful, luxe addition to your print project, there are some benefits specific to foil stamping. Number one is that you can get a nice, tactile indentation or impression into the paper. The fibre and texture of the paper can also be impressed in the foil area, giving it extra detail rather than being completely smooth.

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Foil stamp on an uncoated sticker

So what are the downsides? Cost and time. Much like any custom product, having a metal die created is not cheap. The process itself also comes with set up costs. And, as registration is super important when working across different processes, your print job needs to be printed offset. It’s for these reasons that traditional foil stamping is not economical at all for small quantities.

digital foiling

Digital foiling is a relatively new method that’s been doing the rounds in the craft sphere! You may have seen little desktop machines where someone draws on a piece of paper with a special pen, feeds it through the machine with a foil sheet placed over the design. When the sheet is peeled off, the foil only remains on the drawn-on area.

The foil and heat react to the drawing which results in the foil only sticking to that area! It’s actually quite similar to how offset printing works, in a way. We use this method using printed toner, no hand-drawing here. The process is also called reactive foil, fuser foil, or sleeking.

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Digitally foiled sticker, and foil stamped invitation

What this means is that no custom die needs to be made. There is also less set up required. This is great news if you have a short run, such as 80 wedding invitations, or multiple kinds, such as different designs of greeting cards. You can even use it for variable data, such as name tags!

It makes it much more cost-effective and approachable to get that super luxe look without the super luxe price tag.

digital foiling limitations

Like any process, there are some limitations to digital foiling. One is the surface of the paper it’s adhered to. Soft touch laminate, also known as velvet laminate, is far and away the best surface to use with digital foiling. We have also had success with a number of other uncoated paper stocks, such as recycled and textured papers! However, it doesn’t quite work perfectly with everything, so it’s always best to check with us first.

Another limitation is with design. If using the soft touch laminate surface, you can put your digital foil anywhere you want! Even all over the whole print area if you really wanted to. The laminate will protect your print from the foil sticking to it. However, due to the registration constraints with digital printing, a perfect fit is difficult to achieve. It’s best to incorporate clear space into your design. If using an uncoated stock, there cannot be any print area under the foil area at all.

printing services melbourne greeting card digital foil
Keep your foil and print area separate on uncoated papers

One last thing to consider is the level of detail in your design. Digital foiling works wonderfully with large, bold areas of foil, without extra cost. Traditional foil stamping can get finer detail, down to 1pt line, but the bigger the die, the bigger the cost.

Supplying artwork

You can supply your artwork for digital foil the same way as you would for a foil stamp. Usually, you would have your foil on a separate layer to the print, and set it to a spot colour. Or, you could supply it on separate file, in black. As always if you’re not sure about how to supply your artwork for print, feel free to ask us for help!


At MJ Printing we can offer both digital foil and foil stamping. We can recommend the best one to use based on your design and budget. Get in touch for a quote!