Foil blocking and digital foiling for graphic design explained

If you’re like me, you can’t resist a bit of bling, and few things sparkle more than hot foil blocking and digital foiling.

foil blocking and digital foiling explained

Both traditional foil blocking and digital foiling are excellent ways to really make your designs stand out. But what’s the difference between the two techniques? Both methods will give you beautiful, shiny foil but how they are achieved differs greatly. Read on to find out more…

Let’s start with traditional foil blocking

Traditional foil blocking, or hot foil stamping, involves applying metallic foil to your designs using heated plates or die. The creation of the die tends to be the most expensive part of this process. That said, the die can last a lifetime so can be used again and again. As a result of the heated plates and the pressure applied the foiled elements are slightly embossed and textured. This process works best on thicker, uncoated paper and can be used on designs that feature intricate details. The overall effect is luxurious and premium, hence why it’s often seen on exclusive invitations or cloth-bound hardbacks.

Check out this Wikipedia entry for more detailed information

A custom made die is created from your artwork before being attached to the stamping machine. The die is heated and pressure is applied in a downward motion to stamp the pre-glued foil onto the pre-printed media. The combination of heat and pressure adheres the foil to the media and gives it a slightly embossed and textured appearance.
A custom made die is created from your artwork before being attached to the stamping machine. The die is heated and pressure is applied in a downward motion to stamp the pre-glued foil onto the pre-printed media. The combination of heat and pressure adheres the foil to the media and gives it a slightly embossed and textured appearance.

How is digital foiling different to foil blocking?

Unlike traditional foil blocking, digital foiling doesn’t require the creation of any expensive plates. The design is printed directly from a separate artwork file that should show the areas to be foiled in solid black. The foiled areas are created when the foil fuses with the heated black toner. The paper used for digital foiling should be perfectly smooth and is often laminated first to ensure adhesion. This results in a flatter finish without any embossing so works best with bold designs and larger areas of foiling. Overall, hot foil blocking is superior but digital foiling is a great option for short runs or single prints. With no expensive upfront costs, it is significantly cheaper.

Click here to read how I added digital foiling to a single-run piece of artwork.

Samples of digital foiling capabilities from one of my favourite printers Purely Digital Ltd
Samples of digital foiling capabilities from one of my favourite printers Purely Digital Ltd

Foils are available in more than just gold

You may be surprised to find out that it’s not just gold and silver available for foiling. As the popularity of foiling grows and processes evolve and improve there are many choices open to you. Finishes include metallics such as gold, silver, rose gold, holographic, pearlescent, and clear gloss, as well as matte options.

TOP TIP: Which ever method you opt for you will need a crisp black and white image to indicate the foiled areas.

So get creative and start thinking of ways you can add a bit of bling to your next design.

Signature of Maria Atton, graphic design and presentation specialist

hot foil blocking colour options