I’d been oblivious to the possibilities this technology provides for creative souls – particularly for smaller budgets – but in hindsight it all made sense: “Sleeking” was pretty fab. (Though please don’t get me started on that name…)

I had seen a special, digital edition of “The Mohawk Maker Quarterly” No. 5. The words “foil stamped” might have crossed my mind at the time but I don’t think I gave it another thought.

It did not really hit me until I was talking shop with a fellow judge on our flight to HP’s Inkspiration Awards in Boise. Turns out that Mark Sarpa, CEO of StationeryHQ.com, had been exploring and pushing the proverbial Sleeking envelope for some of his online store offerings.


So what is Sleeking?
Sleeking is an on-demand foil stamping solution for short-run digital applications. To transfer the foil to paper, Sleeking uses pressure and heat that specifically bonds to HP digital ink and some toners.

No dies needed – there’s no major makeready as it is digital – which allows for some amazing special effects that are also budget friendly.

Sleeking technology can apply a simple finish, such as gloss or matte, a metalized background, such as gold or silver, or a dramatic holographic impression in spot locations or full coverage.


Sleeking from Primary Color on Vimeo.

How it Works
Sleeking is a simple 3 step process. While foil stamping is usually done at the end of the printing process, the Sleeking foil is added at the beginning. Let me explain:

Step 1: Select the area you want foiled. This can be a pattern, type, variable data (as we are talking digital), special image highlights, or a whole page.

Create a separate layer in your design file for just this purpose (like you would do with foil stamping). In most cases your printer will ask for 400% black color on this layer. You read that right! This goes beyond your usual rich black – 400% black as in 100% C, 100%M, 100% Y and 100% K. This one layer is now printed on an HP Indigo digital press as the basis for your Sleeking foil.

“We usually like the ink to be completely dry before running it through the sleeker,” explains Mark. “While we are talking digital press here and theoretically the sheet is dry and ready when it comes off the press, with a 400% ink coverage we like to let it sit for 6-8 hours to ensure it is dried through and through.”



Step 2: The sheet is now run through a GMP Foil Laminator (the Sleeking press), adding your desired foil just where the super black is printed. The heavy ink coverage is basically your receptor for the Sleeking foil.

Foil colors are limited. You have your usual suspects – gold and silver, some clear matte and gloss foils – but believe me, this is all you need.



Step 3: The foiled sheet is now run through the Indigo press again, adding your full color artwork onto the sheet.

Tip: For a pure, clean gold or silver effect, make sure to trap the area accordingly before overprinting your colors.

To go for the overall metallic dazzle effect, print over the foil. Yep, create your own shiny foil colors by printing any combination of CMY or K on top of your foil.

Now you’re beginning to see the possibilities, aren’t you?



Foil Area and Quantities
You can sleek spot or larger areas. The Sleeking foil usually runs 18.9″ wide, and as it is on a roll, you can sleek as large as your paper size allows.

And before you ask, the foil rolls are recyclable and rewindable, meaning if only a small area was used the first time around, you can run the same roll again using the remaining foil in another section.

Quantities can be as small as one all the way up to (theoretically) many thousands. Unless your foil area is variable data, though (printing a person’s name on a notebook, for example), the economical cut-off point is somewhere around 1,000 to 2,000 pieces. “There is a point when making a die and running the project as a regular foil stamping job is more economical,” Mark admits.


Paper Options
“Smoother surfaces definitely allow for the Sleeking foil to adhere best,” he adds. So far the StationeryHQ team has seen best results with coated papers, but are still testing the uncoated options. “It is a matter of getting the heat and pressure just right.”

While papers can be coated or uncoated, they have to be certified to run on Indigo presses.

“Uncoated papers work fine,” explains Jeff Truan, account manager at Nobelus (U.S. distributor for the GMP Foil Laminator). “But they require more hits of ink to work well. Each uncoated sheet has to be tested to determine the amount of ink needed and to ensure that we don’t get a ‘speckling’ effect.”

“Sleeking was not recommended on an uncoated stock but that only gave me more reason to try it,” explains Ronald Hirt, co-owner of Primary Color, the printer of the Mohawk special digital edition. “I did some R&D and found that it worked but had a slight ‘tooth’ and gritiness to it. In my opinion it looked fantastic.” And they had to experiment with receptor ink density and pressure but … where there is a great printer, there is a way 😉

As for the weight of the sheet, “Because of the stress added to the paper by running it through a digital press, then the Sleeking press and the digital press again, cover stocks – even the lighter ones – do better than text ones,” Mark advises. Theoretically you can go all the way up to 18 pt. caliper (thickness).


Insider Tip
The makeready overall only takes a few preprinted (Step 1) sheets to ensure the right pressure is applied to adhere the laminating foil onto the sheet, meaning it sticks nicely to the HP ink.

“When we are just printing gold on a white sheet, or the gold area has a lot of white space around it, the super black can create a slim black halo,” warns Mark. “We like to use 400% yellow as the underprinting color in those cases.”

And as we are talking digital printing, this means 4 clicks (digital equivalent of “hits”) of 100% yellow on a digital press.

“A foil is usually thought of as very smooth and slick,” says Ron. “So if you are using an uncoated sheet and get a more toothy result, the expected look needs to be clear up front. There are also limitations on fit as the sheet goes through two passes through the press and one on the laminator – the design needs to lend itself to this limitation.”


Where to Sleek?
I know you cannot wait to put this new technology to the test. To find the printer that matches your needs best just contact Nobelus. “We will connect you with the right persons,” elaborates Jeff. “Some printers are running all coated and some are running uncoated – there are different experience levels and geography. All this plays into who we recommend.”

So, does Sleeking sound slick to you?