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You can get away with a finer line with printing than foil stamping. 0.5 pt would be the thinnest I would go with foil and 0.25 pt with ink although both are pushing things a bit. Foil needs to adhere to the paper so I would even go a little heavier for foil when possible. We have noticed that with some lighter fonts the serifs can look weak.

There is also another variable unique to foil stamping; the proximity of fine lines near one another. For example, if you have an intricate coat-of-arm style logo you want to stamp, you will need to be careful about some detail 'filling in' if there are a lot of fine lines and scroll work in the design. Different foil types perform differently. Specialty foils, especially matte opaques, tend to fill in more than some of the metallic mainstays.

There are a lot of variables, but the finest line we'd foil stamp is probably just a little under 1pt. Even then I'd try to talk you out of it. The finer the line, the quicker the plate wears out and the less predictable the foil area becomes. Over a long-ish press run, the sharpness and consistency of each piece could degrade noticeably. If you're concerned about keeping details sharp, and your design allows for it, I'd strongly suggest engraving over foil stamping. You can get some of the finest printed detail possible and still have access to a variety of metallic inks and effects.

Foil Samples

Foil Samples

In the images above you can see the copper foiled lines and triangle on Lois' card look sharp, but when you look at the die it's a little chewed up and the edge is not perfectly true anymore. This is not necessarily an issue on small runs. Metallic copper engraving ink would have a similar visual effect, but could be sharper and much more consistent. It's not really the best place to use foil stamping... In contrast, the illustrations and sans-serif type on the Astronaut's Guild cards, below, were a much better candidate for foil stamping.

Foil Samples

Foil Samples

Yael further asks: What do you suggest for deciding for a copper plate vs. magnesium? Any rule of thumb?

We very rarely use copper plates for foil stamping. Almost everything is magnesium. Depending on pressman technique, we've found magnesium dies can last just as long as copper. If there's a huge run, or a more complicated die (like multi-level embossing or emboss/foil combo dies) we will occasionally use brass dies, but they can be as high as five times the cost of magnesium and totally unnecessary for most projects. The one benefit of copper is that it transfers heat much better. This makes it easier for the pressman to control temperature and could help consistency on projects with large areas of foil.

Andy Brown, editor of the fabulous Print Handbook for Designers shares these two images and says, "We had the same question about how thin a hairline could be when foiled so we tried out a few weights in the Print Handbook."

Foil Samples

Foil Samples


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Armin Vit

Editor of FPO and co-founder of UnderConsideration LLC.

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Date Published

March 30, 2012


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