By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
A spin on lamination, sleeking is a finishing method that incorporates a special foil or film that bonds to digitally printed output through thermal heat. It is ideal for short-run applications.
“Embellishment technology has seen increased, widespread adoption among print providers in recent years, and the reasons are clear. While print runs may be declining in length, print consumers are spending more on the printing and demanding high-quality finishes and embellishments. Keen print providers are moving fast to fulfill this need and are differentiating themselves from the competition by providing more than just print on paper,” agrees Jon Congdon, product consultant, Skandacor.
Dragan Nikolic, business development manager, Nobelus, shares that modern lamination and digital foiling allow print providers to serve this increased demand for brand differentiation by offering a variety of value-add surface effects with profitable personalization services.
“Sleeking is typically a three-step process for on-demand foil stamping without the need for traditional die plates, which are expensive and time consuming to create,” says John Dembia, manager, product marketing, industrial print products, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A, Inc.
Sleeking is a short-run digital variable data foil finishing application used for enhancing print with personalization. Nikolic explains that the process allows print providers to add print enhancement and embellishment using various colors of foils such as gold, silver, rose gold, and red. This type of finishing is often is used on event tickets, greeting cards, invitations, and gaming tickets.
“Sleeking uses a combination of heat and pressure to adhere foil directly to a specific area of a print designated by what is sometimes referred to as a mask file, created as a separate layer in the design file,” explains Dembia.
This method of foil finishing may involve a three- or four-step process. Nikolic explains that the three-step method is used to foil directly onto substrate, while the four-step is for foiling onto printable laminates.
Sleeking is able to add a variety of optical effects with one machine, in house. On its website, foil, laminate, and laminator provider GMP says this specialty finishing method enables users to bond foil films with leading digital inks. Sleeking often comes with a low entry cost and allows users to easily create on demand digital print finishing.
Skandacor refers to its sleeking technology as SLEEKpro, which is the application of embellishments to a digitally printed piece using films and foils with special formulations that adhere to toner and spot polymer under heat and pressure.
This digital method of foil finishing can be used as an alternative to foil stamping, which is a more traditional method for adding embellishments to printed output. Foil stamping is the application of heat activated foil to paper via a stamping die.
There are advantages and disadvantages of each embellishment process, the biggest being the variable printing capabilities that it provides. “The biggest advantage of sleeking versus foil stamping is that sleeking can be variable. Applying foil to names, numbers, dates, and variable print is a ground-breaking application,” shares Nikolic.
Congdon says traditional hot foil stamping can still be used with excellent success and is preferable to sleeking in a few situations. Its greatest advantage is the versatility of the equipment it is run on, often in conjunction with die cutting and emboss/deboss in one hit. “For long production runs of stamping static images, the economies of scale come into play making it more economical, especially on pieces that require no printing.”
The three-step process involves black toner from the mask file being applied to the substrate. Dembia says this is the foundation for the foil. In step two, as the foil passes through the sleeking unit, it adheres to the black toner. Finally, in step three, CMYK toner from the art frile is applied to the sheet and over the foil base.
Foil stamping typically processes longer runs more efficiently. However, it requires the use of a die, which is an added expense and may increase the turnaround time, suggests Nikolic.
Dembia agrees, adding that in traditional foil stamping, the process is simple where a thin layer of foil is placed between the die plate and the substrates. “With pressure, the foil is pressed into the substrate surface and is permanently bonded to the shape of the design in the die plate.”
In addition to the cost of the die, foil stamping doesn’t enable variable output. Congdon also suggests it requires mechanically minded operators to run the equipment, which can be hard to come by.
Digital foil stamping is another process for foil finishing as an alternative to traditional foil stamping.
“Digital foil stamping offers a similar end result to traditional foil stamping, however, like sleeking it does not require an expensive die plate to be created,” says Dembia.
He adds that sleeking nor digital foil stamping do not require expensive die plates to be created. “Print providers that have done the work in house with traditional analog methods should find that these digital solutions can greatly reduce materials and labor costs while also greatly reducing production times. This should significantly improve short-run job flexibility in support of overall increased business productivity.”
Sleeking requires the use of a digital, toner-based press and a thermal laminator that can exceed 120 degrees Celsius and has a motorized rewind or take-up mandrel.
Nikolic says the process is more compatible with smoother paper stocks—coated or uncoated, versus toothy substrates because the copy must make full contact with the foil on the laminator, and therefore must be as smooth on the surface as possible.
Sheet size options vary but since sleeking is a digital application, Nikolic points out that 13×19-inch and smaller formats are most common. Nobelus equipment also accommodates the B2 digital presses in the market.
Sleeking foil comes in a myriad of options, from traditional silver, gold, and other metallics; to clear, matte, black, white, and holographic effects, even custom Pantones for projects that demand very specific branding, shares Nikolic.
“In our experience, SLEEKpro works well with most toner-based printers, and also has been successful with digital ink toners as well. SLEEKpro foils are specifically developed for the process, and traditional hot stamping foils will not work. The paper used with SLEEKpro must be smooth, with a tight uniform surface. We’ve found more consistent and predictable results with coated stocks, although some uncoated produce great results. Typically, a heavier cover weight paper is preferable to ensure a good finish with the foil,” notes Congdon.
Dembia says variables to consider are monthly volumes. “A small desktop solution is perfect for small shops with short-run requirements. The acquisition costs of these types of products are significantly less. However, these types of products require more labor because the operator is required to do multiple passes of the substrate to achieve the desired effects,” he explains.
Depending on the substrate and ink/toner being applied to the substrate, prior to foiling an operator may have to adjust the temperature values of the machine to get proper adhesion of the foil to the substrate, adds Dembia.
When considering bringing sleeking capabilities in house, it is critical to understand that most sleeking laminators are not to be used as a one-trick-pony. “It is not a sleeker, it is a laminator with the ability to do sleeking. When we look at it from that perspective, it is easier to consider all the possibilities and opportunities for new business and solving more problems for print buyers,” stresses Nikolic.
He estimates that modern laminators with sleeking capability may range anywhere from just under $20,000 and can exceed $100,000 depending on the sheet size, volume, speed requirements, and budget. “Nobelus has something for everyone regardless of whether a print provider is just getting into value-add or is upgrading to serve the eminent profitable growth modern lamination delivers.”
Congdon says SLEEKpro can be performed on most simplex thermal laminators that are equipped with a take-up rewinder. The company developed an entry-level machine that costs approximately $18,000.
Sleeking solutions allow print providers to bring enhanced finishing services in house and offer more flexibility, customization, and personalization. “They will have the ability to differentiate their services, grow into new markets, and ultimately gain profits. Studies have shown that print buyers are willing to pay more for this type of output and now they can be created more affordably,” says Dembia.
Just in Time Foiling
Sleeking techniques provide an option for short-run foil finishing. For applications that don’t require the run lengths necessary to justify traditional foil stamping methods, this lamination method for foil effects is a good alternative.
Mar2020, DPS Magazine