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Metallic FAQs

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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PaperSpecs (Palo Alto, CA), an online database specifically developed for designers and printers, offers information on papers, paper characteristics and more. Here are some questions we’re often asked about metallic inks and papers.

What are metallic inks?
Metallic inks are basically tinted varnishes with metallic particles. As the ink dries, the metallic particles rise to the surface and start to reflect light. But beware: Depending on the substrate, the shine can cause rub-off. As a rule, the smoother the surface, the less rub-off will occur.

A textured paper, for example, is an unstable surface. Just imagine two pages on the inside of a brochure that are printed with metallic inks and now rub against each other—the textured surface reacts like sandpaper.

Can I print metallic inks on uncoated paper?
It’s a given that you’ll get great results when printing metallic inks on a coated stock: a smooth surface with very little rub-off. But don’t dismiss printing metallic inks on uncoated stock. The printing requirements are only slightly different, but you can get some wonderful results.

"When printing metallic inks on an uncoated stock, run to as high a density as possible and keep the water content to a minimum," says Scott Gasch of Fey Publishing (Wisconsin Rapids, WI). Gasch should know—Fey Publishing specializes in the printing and production of swatchbooks and mill promotions, and mills are picky when it comes to showcasing what their papers can do.

As the ink dries, the metal flakes rise to the surface, increasing metallic shine up to 25 percent—especially on uncoated sheets.

How can I get the best shine on uncoated paper?
We’ve heard about printers that put a varnish under the metallic area to boost the shiny effect. But when we spoke to some experts who run metallic inks on a daily basis, none of them remembered the last time they under-printed. Dry trapping is their secret. After the sheet has dried overnight, the metallic surface shows its best side and any other inks can be run over the top.

Will printing a double hit give me better results?
Even though most print jobs show great results with one hit of metallic ink, when it comes to an increased coverage on darker colors (blues and blacks) you will get a better result with two hits. Run the first pass with light coverage and go heavy on the second one. Don’t forget, the secret is dry trapping between the print runs.

Can I run sheets with metallic inks through a laser printer?
Always ask your clients how they intend to use a printed piece. Even if letterheads and other printed pieces have dried for more than the recommended 72 hours, the heat of the laser printer can reactivate the metallic ink and easily cause streaking on the sheet as well as on the rollers. Your ink manufacturer can provide you with metallic inks that are less heat-sensitive and will run through desktop printers with no problems. You might have to special-order those inks, so allow for extra time.

What can I do to prevent metallic ink rub-off?
Metallic inks rub off equally on coated or smooth uncoated sheets. On textured uncoated sheets, the rub-off might be increased due to the previously mentioned "sandpaper effect."

As always, a varnish will protect your printed piece, but in the case of metallic inks, it also will take away some of its shine. To make up for this, you can add five to 10 percent of metallic ink to the varnish. This will look great on a larger coverage, but will dim back other colors on the sheet. Your rich black will not look as rich and handsome anymore.

In most cases, rub-off will be so minor that a varnish won’t be necessary. When it comes to uncoated textured sheets, you will have to pick what is most important to your client—zero rub-off or incredible shine.

Is there an easy way to include metallics at the prepress or electronic file stage?
Good question! If you don’t want to create your own spot-color channels, take a look at a new Photoshop plug-in for creating metallic effects on photographs or illustrations.

Ink manufacturer Wolstenholme Intl. has developed the WISE design and print tool. Based on Adobe’s Photoshop, it enhances printed images by integrating metallic inks with the four-color printing process. (The free software is available via download or on a CD for Mac and PC users at

Traditionally, most designs have incorporated metallics as the final, decorative element in a printed piece. An integrated metallic printing process, on the other hand, encourages the introduction of metallic inks much earlier into the print sequence (gold or silver normally is the first color down in the print sequence) to achieve an extremely unusual, eye-catching and high-quality metallic effect.

WISE offers three ways to add metallic effects to any image:

  1. Preset duotone curves for gold and silver additions.
  2. Use a "free range" action that looks at your chosen image and selects the equivalent gold and silver areas that will benefit most from being enhanced by a metallic ink.
  3. Enhance user-selected areas.
Metallic spot colors also are gaining popularity. These inks are made by mixing given percentages of metallic ink—generally gold or silver—with some process or other spot colors. To use multiple metallic spot colors on a page, different inks would have to be formulated and run for each color.

This integrated metallic printing process emulates metallic colors by mixing screen tints of metallic and process colors in the same way that spot colors are emulated with process tint combinations today.

Can I give any color a metallic shine?
There are many stock metallic inks, but any color can be transformed into a metallic by adding the appropriate metallic paste to it. The resulting color, however, will have a different hue from the basic color.

That’s where a new technology called MetalFx can help. Developed in Europe about two years ago, MetalFx is just now gaining ground in the US. MetalFx enables users to produce work with thousands of different metallic colors all in one pass on a five-color press. You can run multiple metallic colors that are reproducible again and again.

A base silver ink is laid down first, then cyan, magenta, yellow and black (in this specific order) are printed on top. A special color swatchbook enables users to match hundreds of metallic colors with an astonishing color match ratio.

This metallic "ink" is no more sensitive to touch than any other metallic ink. The CMYK printed over the silver base ink acts like a coating, but if the piece requires more protection, a water-based varnish provides additional durability.

Ink coverage on larger areas is smooth, shiny and shows no streaks. A second hit isn’t necessary.

As with more than 80 percent of all print jobs that use metallic inks, a coated sheet is most printers’ first choice, but the system also works well on uncoated substrates.

You’ll need a license from the inventor to run MetalFx. United States distributors include Eckart, Inx, MD-Both Industries and Pitman. (See The license includes several software applications and the color swatches to match hundreds of metallic colors on press.

KP Corp., a Seattle-based printer, recently received its license. "The results are incredible, and we keep on testing and stretching the limit," says KP Corp.’s Todd Freeman. And looking at some of the press sheets Todd sent my way, I have to agree. It is amazing to think that all this is possible with one run on a five-color press!

Metallized substrates/foiling are too expensive for my project. Are there other options?
Wolstenholme has developed a new metallic ink called Mirasheen. Based on the company’s vacuum metallized pigment technology (VMP), Mirasheen contains sharper, thinner flakes than regular metallic inks, which give it a brighter reflection to deliver a mirror-like finish.

Mirasheen opens up new design options, and when staying under 25 percent of total metallized ink coverage, it’s a genuinely cost-effective alternative to metallic substrates and foiling. This press-ready UV ink is suitable for offset, narrow web, flexo and screen processes.

Wolstenholme’s online calculator, called Inkantation, can help you determine if its ink is appropriate for your application. You can also learn where to buy Mirasheen in the United States.

Williamson finds a better way
Williamson Printing Corp. (Dallas) has been doing groundbreaking metallic work for more than a decade. In the late 1980s, the company began working on integrating process printing inline with metallic ink.

In 1992, the printer made a patent application for Williamson Integrated Metallic Systems (WIMS) and received confirmation in 1994 (Patent No. 5,370,976).

Bob Lesnieski, Williamson’s supervisor of sheetfed operations, was involved with the WIMS R&D. Several years ago, as Lesnieski was conducting a 3:00 a.m. press check, he thought there must be easier way to get paint chip samples into car brochures. What if you could do it inline, eliminating the time-consuming and costly process of tipping in sheets created and printed by a third party? Within an hour, Lesnieski and several Williamson team members put together a concept that ultimately would become Liquid Foil™.

Foil effects without foil stamping Liquid Foil™ is the Williamson trademarked name for a patented system that eliminates the need for metallized, foil-stamped papers. Specially formulated ink derived from actual foil particles enables Williamson to produce foil-like techniques—without foil stamping. Because it’s made from an actual foil, rather than aluminum, Liquid Foil™ offers greater brilliancy than metallic ink. Applications range from metallic subjects, such as cars or jewelry, to reproducing black-and-white photography with a gelatin effect.

According to Lesnieski, thanks to Liquid Foil™, jobs that might have required days working with outside vendors now can be done in-house, generally within six to eight hours, for one-tenth the cost.

"We’re getting calls from all over the country, wondering how we produce the Liquid Foil™ look," adds Bruce Potter, head of Williamson’s in-house ink department. "It offers more brilliance because [the ink] is not absorbed by the paper stock—that’s what gets people excited."

Liquid Foil™ can be applied with a relief (flexo) plate or standard litho plate. The relief plate option is best for jobs that require large solid areas of Liquid Foil™. A standard litho plate can apply it as a solid or halftone. Liquid Foil™ can be printed inline with four-color process inks and is well suited to critical registration jobs. Both the relief and litho applications can use conventional or UV printing.

The in-house advantage
Another recent Williamson introduction, Liquid Emboss™, uses ink rather than metal dies to emboss paper. It’s a UV vehicle that works like thermography rather than more costly offline embossing. Lesnieski says Liquid Foil™ and Emboss™ provide competitive advantages. "We can produce mass quantities fast and save time by keeping it inline, whereas other printers will have to send out silkscreening and embossing to a third party that can do only 2,000 to 3,000 an hour. Keeping it in-house and inline also reduces spoilage, because the paper stock is being handled less."

Lesnieski credits Jerry and Jesse Williamson, CEO and COO respectively, with fostering a strong tradition of innovation. "In working for Jerry and Jesse, you come up with an idea, present it, and they say, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ We probably pursue a thousand ideas a year."

Sabine Lenz is the founder of PaperSpecs, Inc., an online paper database and "all-in-one swatchbook." Contact her via