A Guide to the Hot Foil Stamping Process

A Guide to the Hot Foil Stamping Process

A Guide to the Hot Foil Stamping Process

The hot foil stamping process uses pressure and heat to apply metallic foil and print to materials such as card stock, paper, and plastics. This method is used to create a range of textures such as glossy, matte, metallic, and holographic. The printing process is different from silk screening or pad printing, and it’s ideal for dark-colored printed products as there’s no ink used. It’s been around since the 19th century, and today, it’s often used to create scratch-off tickets, business cards, book covers, presentation folders, credit card signature panels, and many more products. Below, you’ll find an explanation of how the process works and how it’s used in modern industry.

How Hot Foil Stamping Works

Foil stamping uses pressure, heat, and metal foil to create designs in a range of textures and colors. It’s often called hot foil stamping because the process depends on heat to transfer images onto the product’s surface. Some refer to it as dry foil stamping, as there’s no liquid ink involved. Rather, metallic plates and dies are used along with a specialized multi-layered foil. These layers typically include:

  • Polyester carrier
  • The release layer
  • Lacquer layer
  • Image layer
  • Metal layers
  • Outer adhesive


During the hot foil stamping process, pressure and heat are applied to the metal foil. The foil’s adhesive layer is activated, and the release layer quickly melts, attaching the foil to the underlying medium.

Foil Stamping Machines

The machine used in this process is called a hot foil stamping machine. It may be connected to a computer or printer, or it may be a standalone component. The machine’s dies are often made of brass that’s been engraved or etched by hand.

How is Foil Stamping Used in Modern Industry?

Hot stamping or hot foiling is used to create a range of decorative and utilitarian products. It’s commonly used in medicine, food, and beverage packaging. Foil stamping is also used on artwork, currency, wedding invitations, greeting cards, and much more. From labels and stickers to scratch-off lottery tickets, hot foil stamping is an easy and inexpensive way to add luxurious, eye-catching effects.

Hot Foil Stamping Machine Types and How They Work

There are three types of hot foil stamping machinery, and each is used for different purposes. We’ll discuss these types below.

  • Flat-flat foil machines: The dies are attached to flat metal or honeycomb-shaped plates depending on whether they’re being used in variable or fixed positions. The foil and the medium are placed between the machinery plate and a counter-plate that’s positioned underneath. In embossed foiling applications, the counter-plate forms the design when the top and bottom plates are brought together. These machines are simple to set up and parts are widely available.
  • Round-flat hot foil stamping machines use rotating cylinders instead of flat counter-plates. Horizontal pressure is applied across the cylinder, pressing the foil into the medium and transferring the design. This type of machine is best for small jobs.
  • Round-round stamping machines work much like printing presses. Cylinders on either side of the machine rotate in opposing directions. The medium and the foil are brought between the cylinders where they’re pressed together under high heat. This type of machinery can rotate at high speeds and is often used to create intricate designs.

Hot Foil Stamping Methods

There are two foil stamping methods in use today: traditional and digital.

  • In the traditional method, the design is first etched or engraved into a metal plate called a foiling die. With pressure and heat the design is pressed into the medium. In multi-colored designs, separate foiling dies are used; embossing requires the use of special foil dies.
  • Digital hot foil stamping machines are like traditional machines as far as appearances are concerned. There’s one major difference: the way the foil is affixed to the medium. In digital stamping, graphics are printed onto media using special sticky foils. It’s like ink printing, in that it doesn’t require separate machine runs for different designs and colors.

Foil Types Used in the Stamping Process

To achieve various designs and finishes, different kinds of foils are used. Some of the most common materials used in the commercial stamping process are described in the sections below.

Metallic Foils

These foils are commonly used in the hot stamping process, and they’re preferred for the classic finish they lend to finished designs. Though they’re widely available in silver and gold colors, other shades are used.

Pigmented Foils

A pigmented foil produces a glossy or matte non-metallic finish. These foils are versatile enough to be used on paper and plastic, and they can be found in almost any color.

Pearlescent Foils

These foils add an attractive shine to any design. They’re commonly used on wedding invitations and greeting cards, and they’re available in translucent and transparent finishes. Pearlescent foils lend a classy, elegant touch to any project.

Special Foils

These foils come in various types and are used to create many different patterns on media. Special foils can be used to produce effects such as stripes, sparkles, holographs, and other custom designs. Holographic foils, with their three-dimensional designs, are particularly important. They’re often used to produce bank notes, credit cards, IDs, and other items requiring anti-counterfeiting measures.

Scratch Foil

This type of foil is intended to be easily removed with a fingernail, key, or coin. It’s often used on items such as gift cards and lottery tickets. The printing on the card or paper isn’t permanent and it’s very thin, making it the perfect temporary covering for sensitive information.

Foiling Dies

Depending on the color, type, and pattern of the foil to be used, a separate foiling die may be prepared for every design. According to their application and cost, three different types of metal are used in the creation of foiling dies.

  • Magnesium dies: This inexpensive, soft metal is easy to manipulate into various shapes. These dies are lightweight, they don’t take long to etch, and they’re quick to heat. However, they tend to wear out quickly.
  • Copper dies: Slightly more expensive than dies made of magnesium, copper dies are heavier and take longer to engrave. These dies are more rugged and can produce lasting, high-quality designs.
  • Brass dies: These dies are the sturdiest and most expensive of all hot foil stamping components. These dies are tough enough to last through thousands of production runs. Typically manufactured using CNC technology, these dies are often engraved with drill bits of varying sizes. Following the engraving process, the dies are acid etched.

Other Foil Die Types

Aside from the dies mentioned above, there are also stamping dies made of rubber and steel. These dies are built and used for certain purposes, and we’ll describe them here.

  • Single-level dies: These are often referred to as foiling dies, and they’re used quite often in foil stamping. A single-level die has one flat plate and one that stamps the design into the foil.
  • Patterned dies: These stamping dies have texturized foiling surfaces.
  • Combination dies: These foil stamping dies allow users to emboss and foil a pattern in one step.

Let us help you find the right foil stamping machine for your needs and budget.

The Advantages of the Hot Foil Stamping Process

What makes hot foil stamping such a popular part of today’s printing industry? Foil stamping can be done in a nearly endless variety of textures, colors, prints, styles, and finishes. While silver and gold are commonly used, other metallic effects and colors are often seen as well. Here are a few of the biggest benefits of hot foil stamping.

  • Helping users stand out from their competitors: Hot stamping or foil printing helps to improve the visual appeal of a company’s products. Using foil stamping techniques is an easy and cost-efficient way to get customers’ attention and drive sales. Many of the world’s most well-known brands use hot foil stamping in their product packaging designs, as it lends a feeling of high quality and luxury.
  • Great versatility: Hot foil stamping allows users to add a variety of eye-catching metallic colors to their product packaging. With greater availability of shiny, metallic colors, companies find it easier to create unique and memorable designs. With multiple top-quality options, it’s possible to create packaging that perfectly matches a company’s branding and personality.

Closing Thoughts

Direct mail, printed collateral, and other media are the foundation of a successful marketing campaign, but their appearance is changing. Today’s consumers, particularly millennials, are more discerning than ever. They’re drawn to promotional materials and product packaging that provide a tangible experience. 

People love the novelty of printed materials, and the ability to see, feel, and touch something stands out in today’s digital world. However, not all printing methods are the same; to be truly memorable, it must be intriguing. That’s where hot foil stamping comes in. 

This printing method creates a refined, elegant look that tells the consumer they’re worth the extra effort. With high-quality hot foil stamping machinery from SBL, it’s easy to create unique product packaging, business cards, scratch-off tickets, gift cards, and marketing materials for any occasion.


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