All that glitters is not gold – using metallics.

July 31, 2012

in Print work

From inks to foils, laminates to glitter varnishes – there are several ways that metallic finishes can be used to add sparkle to your print.

Metallic inks

Metallic inks can be used in most print processes – litho, screen, flexo.  The inks consist of microscopic metallic particles, such as aluminium particles for silver ink, suspended in a clear vehicle.  The final effect is very much defined by the substrate, for example metallics printed onto an uncoated paper lose a lot of their lustre effect as the ink soaks into the surface of the paper.  Metallic inks printed onto gloss or silk papers sit high on the surface and retain a high degree of their ‘sparkle’.  It also reduces the metallic effect when they’re printed as tints rather than solid areas,  for example a 50% tint of siver ink will tend to look more like a dull grey.   Aside from the standard PMS 877 (silver) and PMS 871 (gold) colours, Pantone supplies a wide range of metallic tinted colours from bronze’s through to lilac’s.

Currently metallic inks are not available for any digital print processes and whoever finds a solution to that problem will more likely end up making a lot of money!


Foils are applied through a process of hot foil-blocking.  The process involves making a ‘block’ from electronic artwork and then pushing the block through the foil, under heat and pressure, onto the surface of the paper; the heat and pressure leave the image area of the foil in the correct position on the paper. 

Foiling blocks are able to hold relatively fine areas of detail and in some cases even half-tone tints can be foiled.  Hot foils can be applied to almost any substrate as long as it is not adversely affected by the heat of the block.  Most papers and laminated surfaces are suitable for foil application and there are a wide range of coloured foils available.

Varnishes & laminates

Metallic effect laminates are film-based and applied in the same way clear matt or gloss laminates.  Although ‘special’ laminates tend to be expensive for small quantities, they can be less expensive than applying foil on large areas and are more suitable when trying to achieve an overall effect.   They work very well for achieving a holographic metallic finish.

Varnishes can be mixed with glitter and applied as overall or ‘spot’ areas before curing under UV lamps.  This process is used extensively in the greetings card market.

Metallic substrates

Using UV-cured inks it is possible to print direct onto foil papers and boards.  The foil-based papers come in a range of thicknesses from 150 micron to 400 micron and can be supplied in silver, gold, metallic tints, holographic and ‘etched’ finishes.  Clever use of metallic substrates, laminates and varnishes are a great way of achieving interesting effects.  For example, matt laminating onto a high gloss metallic board and then spot high gloss UV varnishing areas back onto the matt laminate gives dull and shiny contrast between the two processes, as the gloss UV brings back the gloss of the board.


Images rarely show the full benefit of metallic finishes so please don’t hesitate to contact a member of the Xcaliba team for samples or costs on any of these metallic-effect options.

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