Foil Stamping, The Good, The Bad, & The Shiny

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There are few things more satisfying than watching a piece of foil stamped stationary catch the light and running your hand over the impression its left. One of those things is successfully running said stationary through the press and having it come out perfect. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, an easy thing to accomplish. In fact this process has been frustrating printers since Ernest Oeser filed for the first hot stamping patent in 1892, and it’s fair to say some time before that. It is also fair to say that the process hasn’t changed too much since then either.

The hot foil stamping process itself is relatively simple, foil is pressed onto paper using a heated magnesium block. Pretty straight forward, but like most things the devil is in the details and in this case he is constantly playing tricks on the printer. In a perfect world the press can be set up, turned on and left to consistently pump out eye catching works of art. However in this perfect world foil stamping does not exist. In order to get that perfect stamp there are an extraordinary number of factors that all need to line up. The humidity of the air, the depth of impression, the amount of time the plate is in contact with the foil, and the temperature of the plate all play crucial roles in getting the final product to turn out right. Did I mention that these all change foil to foil and paper to paper? 

In Order to get a better feel for the foil stamping process I sat down with The Laughing Owl’s foil Guru, Eric while he ran a job through one of the Owl’s antique Heidelberg Windmill presses. The main thing I found out from this is that no two foil jobs are the same. There aren’t so much rules of thumb, but set up methods instead. Each job must be dialed in just right and carefully watched over, sometimes needing to be recalibrated throughout the job. He filled me in on some things that he watches out for and that can effect the stamp. Some of which are: If the design is patchy and the coverage isn’t full, chances are the plate temperature is off. If the impression depth is not even, makeready may be needed to even things out. If the alignment is off, well that could be anything from the plate expanding due to heat or the paper not feeding correctly. Sometimes the motion from the paper being auto fed into the press can knock things out of alignment which means that particular job may need to have each piece hand fed. There are a seemingly endless list of things that can effect foil stamping so much so that Eric said, “It almost makes you superstitious”.

All potential and imminent obstacles aside, finishing a well done foil job is a very rewarding thing. It is a skill that takes a very long time and a lot of trial and error to be any good at. Even longer to claim to master. All time and effort well spent because crafting any stationary  that is as visually pleasing as a well done foil project is a rare thing. Luckily this is something Eric and The Laughing Owl team are extremely good at and do often. The Laughing Owl may ship beautiful foil stamped works all over the world and those works are shared and treasured by many, but the satisfaction of putting the finishing touches on an ornate foil invitation is what the Owl’s hoot about and is all their own.