Foil blocking is the process of applying a metallic or pigment foil to a surface using a combination of heat and pressure. Normally the surface will be paper or card, but it can be an alternative material such as leather.
Foil blocking can be known by various other names, including ‘foiling’, ‘foil printing’, ‘foil stamping’, ‘letterpress foiling’ or colour prefixed versions such as ‘gold foil printing’ or ‘rose gold foil blocking’. So why so many names?
The ‘foil printing’ and ‘letterpress foiling’ terms probably come from the machines that a lot of foil blocking is produced on; namely converted letterpress printing presses. This is where product names such as ‘Letterpress Wedding Invitations‘ come from. These presses such as the Heidelberg Platen are used by very few people for printing nowadays. Litho printing became the mainstream printing process in the 1960/70s. However they are still widely used within the foil blocking industry. The presses have their inking systems removed, and replaced with electronic foil pulls.
Any variation with ‘blocking’ or ‘stamping’ comes from the ‘block’ that is used in the foiling process. Made from magnesium, copper or brass, the block has the image/text that is to be foil blocked engraved or chemically etched into it. The image is ‘stamped’ on to the paper by heating the block and pressing foil on to the paper with the block.
Colour prefixed derivatives probably come from the fact that people don’t realise that there is a huge range of foil colour available. Silver and gold colours are just the tip of the iceberg. Leading foil companies such as Kurz and FoilCo have a huge range available, at varying costs. There are literally hundreds including metallic, pigment, matt, gloss, holographic and brushed.
Embossing and debossing can be added to the foiling process to add a dimension to the design. Foil embossing is the process of foil blocking and pushing the image up from behind the sheet to produce a raised image. Debossing produces the opposite effect, with a sunken image. Debossing helps replicate letterpress printing which was known for its slightly indented finish.