Folderprinters > Blog > Professional Grade: Hot Foil Stamping

Hot Foil Stamping

Learn about the process of this specialty printing method that elevates a designs overall look.


April 12, 2023

Ornaments that are shiny, or those that glint, or reflect a sharp contrast in sheen are naturally eye-catching. In printed graphic design, the embodiment of this concept is the process of foil stamping. As a leading national manufacturer of custom presentation folders, we see this in practice in some of thousands of projects that we complete every year. By and large, the application of foil on even the simplest of texts elevates a designs overall look.

Foil stamping is a specialty printing process that applies foils onto a paper's surface. Today, there are several types of foil stamping techniques, including digital, cold, and hot stamping. This article, however, focuses on the most traditional among them: hot foil stamping. Mainly because compared to the others, hot foil stamping best achieves the desired result in terms of luster and texture. It is also the most verstile being the only method with no limitations on the type of paper to which it can be applied.

In hot foil stamping, the application of foil is achieved with the use of metal dies, heat and pressure.

The process starts with the creation of a stamping die based on the design art. A die is a specialized tool created by carving from a block of magnesium or copper the image to be imprinted. As you can see in the picture below, the pattern is slightly raised and set as a mirror-image, that is to say, it appears in the opposite reading direction and orientation. Very similar to the concept of a rubber stamp, or more comparably (and if you're old enough to remember), the letter bars on a manual typewriter.

Images of foil stamping die
A foil stamping die made of magnesium.

Next, based on the design specifications, the appropriate foil is selected. The foil, as you might imagine, is quite similar to your everyday household aluminum foil, in that it is also a thin film that comes in rolls. While metallic is what usually comes to mind (and indeed, the most commonly used), printing foils also come in other colors, as well as finishes, i.e., gloss and matte.

Images of foil rolls in different colors
Foil rolls in different colors.

These two primary items are then placed opposite each other in a foil stamping machine. The die is set on a flat metal surface; the foil, on a spool from which it is unfurled and draped over a heated metal surface, that is directly across the die.

Images of foil stamping die
A foil stamping machine.

Once the paper is in position, the die and foil are pressed against each other, sandwiching the paper. At the moment of impact, the adhesive on the foil is heated by the hot metal plate behind it, whereupon it is melted and pressed against the paper. When the pressure is released and the two sides are separated, the foil cools and sticks to the surface of the paper, following the pattern of the die’s design. The final result is the intended design rendered in foil that reads right side up.

Foil and Die about to be pressed against each other
Die block (left) and heated foil (right) about to be pressed against each other and sandwiching paper (white sheet on left).

Image of die block and heated foil pressed against each other with paper and foil between them
Die block and heated foil pressed against each other with paper and foil between them.

Image of die block and heated foil blocks reeased from pressure and separated; freshly foiled paper
Die block and heated foil blocks reeased from pressure and separated; freshly foiled paper.

Images of unassembled folder sheet with gold foil
A flat, still unassembled folder sheet with gold foil

Closeup of foil stamped image
Closeup of foil stamped image.


While the process as described may seem simple, the execution of this process requires — just like other methods and machinery that have been around for decades — tremendous skill honed from years of experience. At Foldeprinters, our foil stamping machine operators have a combend 60 years of experience.

To be sure, foil stamping, is an add-on embellishment, thus an extra expense. However, with the right design and configuration the application of this extra customization can add character, project majesty or elegance, and sophistication thereby increasing its perceived value. So if the goal is to stand out, or for your presentation to be better received by your target audience, the return on investment can be outstanding.