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Going for the Gold: Pro Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Digital Embellishment Production

“Porous” does not mean “impossible.” There are several methods to build a layer of varnish on unsuitable stocks. See how it was done.

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Taktiful’s Kevin Abergel talks to three experienced digital embellishment producers about how they get the best results from different papers, laminates, and foils and how they feed that knowledge back to their customers.

The embellishment of print is a creative art that traces its origins back 500 years to Erhard Ratdolt, who first used gold for printing a gloriously spectacular full page of dedication in a number of copies of his editio princeps of Euclid.

Fast forward to today’s digital processes, the use of computer graphics for design and new digital technologies using various toners, inks, and varnishes for production, has only added to the explosive creative potential.

It would be a mistake, though, to assume that the creativity begins and ends with a designer with a graphics app. The choices of substrates, surface effects, textures, and foil types are just as important.

Ideally, experience at the production end will feed back into the creative process, so that designers, materials specifiers, and operators can work together to get the best out of what is still a new set of processes.

We asked three very experienced digital embellishment producers about how they work to get the best from different papers, laminates and foils and how they feed that knowledge back to their customers.

Matt Redbear is a designer and digital embellishment press operator at Blue Ocean Press in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which handles general, commercial, and large-format printing.

Ken Huizenga has 35 years’ experience as a production manager and was one of the first to invest in digital embellishment technologies.

Chris Mejia currently offers consultancy services to Scodix users in North America and has worked as a designer, demonstrator, and field engineer for various digital embellishment users and manufacturers throughout his career.

Working with Substrates

While digital embellishment systems have recommended settings for the different surfaces of common substrates, usually papers, there will always be variations that require tweaking and experimentation. Likewise, designers have a knack for finding something different that’s never been done before, while the operators must have a matching genius for getting these to work.

“I divide stocks up into three different categories,” Redbear said. “There are the ones that absolutely do work. There are the ones that absolutely do not work. And then there are the ones that can be made to work and they have special situations, special production requirements, to be able to use them.

“Obviously what’s going to work best is going to be a smooth coated stock. It’s going to give you smooth even results if you want to mirror-finish. When laying down inkjet varnish, the smoother the stock, the smoother your results.”

If you believe the instruction manuals, uncoated papers won't work with UV varnish, as they absorb it too quickly. However, Redbear and Mejia both have pro tips for working with uncoated without pre-coating or laminating to cover the surface.

“You have to create a barrier, which may be done through laying down your toner first. You have a particular advantage when using a toner press that has fusing oil, as the oil itself can create an additional barrier on top of the toner. You can use a clear toner as an underlay, or you can use pretty much any color of toner, preferably one that hits more than 60% of the maximum. The denser it is, the better the reduction in absorption you'll have.”

Mejia has found it is actually possible to print UV varnish directly onto uncoated, even without a print layer.

“I’ve tried it using the main mask, but set to 25% of thickness. It’s still going into the surface, but it will cure fast enough to make a foundation, then you can apply the full varnish as a second pass. I’ve been 80% successful with this even on type down to 14–15-point depending on the design. Sometimes it takes three passes so you really need to watch your curling.”

Redbear says he’s worked on a surprising variety of stocks that aren’t obviously suitable for UV varnish or foiling.

“I’ve used offset stocks and I’ve used things like Blazer digital satin. I’ve used Royal Sundance Felt, which you would think would never work with the polymer overlay. Cougar Digital will work for small areas: if you’re using larger areas, you’re going to run into problems. I've used offset parchment, which isn’t supposed to work, and offset laid can also be made to work.

“There are others that just simply cannot work. Anything that has a heavily embossed or hatched surface, like linens. They do make a digital linen, but it will pick up the texture if you're laying foil.”

Other problem materials, he says, include “glittery types of papers that almost have a gritty or sandpaper-like surface. There’s nothing you can do to make that work. And then there are the super-porous felt types of paper or cork surfaces that simply will not work.”

Huizenga agrees that smooth surfaces work best.

“If you’re going to have a stock that maybe isn’t the smoothest sheet, then maybe you are not going to want to do some of the fine details, but if you want to flood coat with your embellishment press...

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