DIY cards with copper foil | How About Orange

September 26, 2012

DIY cards with copper foil

Recently I ordered some laser toner reactive foil. It's metallic foil that will adhere to the toner on laser prints when it's heated and pressed. Or maybe it's not truly foil. I showed this experiment to my packaging-engineer husband who told me it was probably "metalized film" and blah blah blah "metal vapor deposition" blah blah, but "don't quote me on that." No problem; I didn't understand a word he said anyhow.

For best results, you're supposed to print a black and white laser image, then run the print and the foil through a hot laminator. But I don't have a laminator. The Designer Co-op suggested it's possible to use a household iron— an irresistibly tantalizing thought.

So I printed some designs I made, then practiced ironing on the foil. After some dismal early results, I gradually got the hang of it. I managed to produce one absolutely perfect transfer, and several towards the end were acceptable too, with only a couple small specks where the foil didn't adhere. I'm pretending these are vintage seals with an intentionally distressed look. It's a style choice. (Designers are taught in school to rationalize everything.)

Here's part of my trash pile:

The process that worked best:

I laser printed my designs in black onto cardstock using my home printer.

I laid a piece of corrugated cardboard on my dining table, and then a smooth piece of chipboard on top of that. Don't use an ironing board; it's too squishy. You'll need a hard surface like a table or floor, especially one that you would be very sad to ruin. It adds to the excitement.

I placed the laser print on top of the chipboard, printed side up, then covered the printed area with a piece of foil cut slightly larger than the design. The shiny side faces up.

After experimenting, the best setting for my iron was #2 for nylon. A too-hot iron will cause the foil to shrivel up like a piece of peeled sunburn. See that chunk on the right in the picture above? Bad. No color will stick to the paper. I found that a lower setting worked better. Make sure the iron's steam is turned off, too.

Starting at one edge, move the iron steadily across the foil at a moderately slow speed, pressing really hard. Make just one pass.

Then peel the foil sheet off. Hopefully the metal has stuck to the print nicely.

I'd added some vertical lines as a background in the design above, but decided I liked the seal better by itself.

Here's a transfer that's not too bad. You can see just a few black specks where the foil didn't stick. Click to view images larger.

I used metallic copper foil available from Decal Pro FX— one of the individual flat packs at the bottom of the page. An 8"x15' piece of foil is $8.95.

If you don't have design software, no worries. Even simple text printed in an interesting typeface would look cool in foil. It's lots of fun!


Update: I've discovered foil sticks better to coated paper than uncoated. And even better than an iron, I found a laser printer works pretty well to adhere the foil. See this post!

66 comments:

Brendajos said...

So in the picture where you are peeling away the foil, do those lines just shake off, or was that another finished object that isn't shown? that is a stupid cool project!

Jessica Jones said...

Oh, that's a different design. I printed a couple variations using the seal design.

Jessica Jones said...

Good question, by the way. I've updated the post to clarify that.

EM-K said...

This is legendary! Thanks for sharing!

A Charmed Life said...

Did you try to iron on a dishtowel placed upon your design? That way you can use a hotter iron without burning/shrinking the foil.

Best, Maja

Jessica Jones said...

I did try it with a sheet of paper over the design and a hotter iron—a dish towel wouldn't be smooth enough, I don't think—but the best results were obtained without any cover over the design. The goal is to get the iron to the right temperature. Hotter isn't necessarily better, I found.

A Charmed Life said...

I'm very intrigued if I can buy those foils in Germany. I learned that they are used for model making originally.

Your designs turned our really nicely :)

Josh said...

Love that you posted this. I think I saw the same tutorial you did possibly that was on pinterest. I too ordered the foil and have some shiny gold, copper (love it), red, and satin silver to play with.

I went the laminator route since i have an abundance of office depot rewards and figured, why not by a laminator?

I have only tried one thing since i only had one laser printed scrap sitting around and work has been crazy busy. The print i used was kind of spotty on it's own since i had run some 120 DTC though the laser printer, it didn't like it. The foil adhered good and was only spotty because the print was spotty. I need to lay down some heavy toner and see how it does.

annie dee said...

You are clearly blessed with an abundance of patience that the sadly I am not. These are beautiful (stylized or perfect) but I'll leave further attempts in your more than capable hands! :0)

Jessica Jones said...

Yeah, I was determined to make my investment work. :) Josh, you're gonna have fun!

Grandma G said...

That was quite an experiment! I'm glad you ended up with some lovely results!

Mum

Theresa said...

great results & designs visiting from DearCreatives.com

Elizabeth Caldwell said...

I totally used to use this foil method for mock-ups at my old job! Wow - you just brought back tons of memories. My art director hated it because she said the chemicals released when we ironed the foil with the wand were harmful. O_O It was an ancient wand too that used to shut off and we would have to bang it on the table to get it to work again. LOL. Anyhoo - the cards look great considering. That foil IS very tricky and tough to use. The print has to be FRESH from the printer. The fresher the print, the better the adhesion. Just FYI. =)

Jessica Jones said...

Nice tip, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Memories for me too when I was a graphic design student back in the late 80s and early 90s. The machine used for heating the foils onto the design was called an omnicrom. Blast from the past!

Emily | The Graphic Hedgehog said...

Neat-o! I'd love to try this for Christmas cards, if it's not too time-intensive. Two questions: 1, how "stuck on" is the foil after application (does it rub off) and 2, do you think it would work on colored cardstock?

PS your blog is my favorite for graphic design. So helpful & fun.

Jessica Jones said...

At my university in the late 90s, we didn't get to use stuff like this. I missed out! Just the name "omnicrom" pleases me. Also, the fact that there's something called a magnetron in my microwave oven makes me happy.

Jessica Jones said...

Emily, it's super stuck-on. This stuff won't rub or flake off. It definitely works on colored cardstock. I ran black cardstock through my laser printer to make some black cards. I figured the same amount of toner was on there, even if I couldn't see it very well, and it worked great.

Probably the smoother your cardstock, the better, so that both the toner and the foil will stick well.

It takes less than a minute to iron the foil on, so you can produce these lightning fast. Plan on some rejects, since not every print will be great, but you should end up with a bunch of keepers.

Andrea B said...

Oh wow! GORGEOUS! I'm going to have to try this. :)

Petit Design Co. said...

beautiful! the wheels in my head are spinning!

Arrie Bee said...

I placed the laser print on top of the cardboard, printed side up

Might want to change that to "cardstock" for people like me who only skim the description and are easily confused in the instructions.

Thanks for this tutorial!

The Hope Seeds said...

Nice tutorials! Thank you for inspiring all of us!

Kimberley said...

Hi, this looks great. Would it not work properly with an Inkjet printer? We don't have a laser printer but I'd love to try this.

Thanks!

Jessica Jones said...

Arrie Bee, I meant that I placed my laser printout on top of my stacked cardboard on the table (corrugated and chipboard). Just changed the post to read "chipboard" to make it more precise. Hope that helps!

Kimberley, an inkjet printer won't work since it's a different printing process. Sorry!

Emily said...

Beautiful!

Anne-Marie said...

Love this idea! It will make for a fun and easy project. :)

Kamilla Vinther said...

This looks great! I have to try it!

Kamilla Vinther said...

This looks great! I have to try it!

Lizzy said...

Will this work with regular tin foil or will it only work with the specific type of foil that you bought?

Cool project!

Jessica Jones said...

Regular tin foil won't work. You need the special coating that's on the back of this foil, which reacts to the plastic in toner when heat and pressure are applied.

Joe, Christina, & Rocky said...

We use this stuff for certificates at work, its so fun! We've found that if you run it back through the laser printer as a blank print on card stock (I usually set up a layer of big white block) your fuser will heat the foil enough to adhere it to the toner! You just have to make sure you use repositionable tape to tape off the edges of the foil. I had no patience for the iron :-)

Blooms And Bugs said...

Wow! thats something new to me. Your tutorial is excellent, I have to try this. This may make some really cool greeting cards for Diwali.

Lulu said...

I can not wait to try this. Now I'm not going to be able to sleep. So many possibilities! Thank you.

nikkipolani said...

What a nostalgic post this is for me -- reminded me of the old Color Tag transfer system. Came with its own little heating element.

Akiyo Pham said...

these look so awesome! i can't wait to try this. :) the one with the dark cardstock looks amazing!

penny candy handmade said...

I, too, used Omnicrom color and foil sheets in college for comps, ahem, 20+ years ago, before there were desktop color printers. I still have some sheets stashed away for a rainy day! I can't believe they still make this stuff!

We used to print the image on the laser printer, then attach the foil sheet to the print using drafting tape, then run it back through the laser printer on manual feed (by telling the printer to print a blank page). So we used the heat of the laser printer in lieu of a laminator. The ironing method is better, though, for precision...

And what a cool idea to laser print on black paper before doing the foil!

Lynda said...

Wow! Brings back memories. I have a kit in the basement somewhere that I used to use to do mockups. Now you've got me interested in pulling it out and playing with it again. It had a heat thing that came with it. The foil was in strips. Anyway, now something else to add to my list. Thanks!!

Josh Morey said...

I wanted to come back with some thoughts and results. This is using a laminator and not an iron.

I am still experimenting but right now my prints are coming out almost tiger striped. Like my ink coverage is uneven and it isn’t adhering as well. I did make the prints at around 1:00 and didn’t run them with the foil until 6, so maybe it really does need a fresh print. My printer is at work and my laminator is at home right now… I also did a double pass through the laminator, which didn’t change anything. So I will be trying to figure out what my problem is.

I was running mine on 80# and 100# french paper cover that I had a sampler pack of.

Carrier sheets
I used a piece of thin chipboard with one of mine, and i also ran one with just the paper and no carrier sheet. They came out the same. So if your paper is thick enough. No carrier needed (hopefully the heat through the backside is not causing my adhesion problems). I also just cut out the foil big enough to cover my image and used painters tap to tape it to the paper flat and ran it. no folding over the edge, less waste, etc.

First try
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/24423939/foiledagain/photo.JPG

Double pass on the camera . it actually held the halftone nicely, the adhesion problems make the halftone look bad. Also the gold on the green just was a bad choice. i thought it would look good, it was super hard to see.
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/24423939/foiledagain/image_1.jpeg

muiji said...

I did it with clothing iron before too but it didn't go so well. I hate seeing those black toner showing up the foil... it's never been so perfect with an iron instead of a laminator.

Judy @ Cute & Useful said...

Reading the comment of the person who has had varying results, strangely, the type of laser printer you use might affect it.

An artist friend of mine does beautiful work transferring laser-printed artwork to polymer clay. He tried many laser printers and found one that consistently produces the best results. It doesn't seem to matter how long passes in between the printout and the transfer (we've worked together with printouts many months old), it only matters that it's the right laser printer.

www.cuteanduseful.com

Michi said...

We love this result, great tutorial, thanks for sharing!

Stephanie said...

Great idea! I wonder if a craft iron or quilter's iron might work too?

Jessica Jones said...

I'm not sure what a craft or quilter's iron is, or how it differs from a regular sewing iron like I used.

I asked the manufacturer about running the foil back through the laser printer like Joe, Christina, etc. said. It sounds like it's pretty tough to pull off.

"Due to the static charges in all laser printers, it's VERY difficult to prevent wrinkles. This is why we stretch the foil over the paper when using the iron.

Calibrating the iron is really necessary to prevent the "mess of wrinkles" as you're generally getting too hot without enough pressure when you see that. Pressure is KING when using these foils (which is why the Laminator works so well as it applies hundreds of PSI as it passes through)."

The manufacturer suggests stretching the foil tightly over the image and taping it down before ironing, which I still need to try.

Jessica Jones said...

Josh, my guess is that the problem isn't with your toner, but that the foil is wrinkling and somehow needs to be stretched more taut when it goes through the laminator.

There is also this tip about modifying a laminator to slow it down. The manufacturer wrote me in an earlier email:

"The laminator technique of fusing the foils is a slam-dunk perfect way to transfer these foils. GBC H-220 is the lowest price unit - no other brands!!! Search on the web for "GBC H-220 Laminator". You should be able to find a really good price online. If you go that route, you need to make one very simple mod to it. Only takes 5 minutes to do (it slows down the rollers). See: http://www.pulsarprofx.com/special/H-220

Josh said...

I had talked to him about the laminator as well. I had purchased the 320 because I wanted to be able to go bigger then letter size.

unfortunately you can't modify the 320 in the same way. I took most of it apart 20 min after it was delivered and it just can't be done. i debated exchanging it for the 220, but i still wanted the ability to do bigger sheets. So I am trying to figure that out still.

Jessica Jones said...

I really hope it works out and you get it down to a science! I'm going to play with my iron some more before I venture into laminator land. But I may join you there.

Johanna said...

These are so neat! I pinned this on my never-ending to-make list. :)

Josh said...

exchanging my laminator for a replacement to see if it helps. It is definetly the laminator though. still tiger striping, and now I have a roller mark.

I put similar items through in 2 different orientations, so i can rule out my toner since it was consistent with the direction of it going through the laminator.

Hoping a replacement will fix it. I really want this to work. I had BIG plans. I am going to try the iron at some point but for one idea it requires little areas but all over a larger area, which would be horrible to iron it all.

might have to go back to a wintergreen oil transfer for now. or i could just output through the laser on nicer paper, but it still looks so cheap.

Jessica Jones said...

Josh, sorry to hear about your troubles! I'm dying to see what your project is once you've got it perfected!

Yelle said...

Absolutely great DIY! So gorgeous and chic!

Autumn said...

"You'll need a hard surface like a table or floor, especially one that you would be very sad to ruin. It adds to the excitement." I've never laughed out loud at a tutorial before. Hoo boy.

.tif said...

The original tutorial linked to shows re-heating the toner with a heat gun or a hair dryer. If you're laser printer isn't in your home, you may be able to warm the toner back up again before trying to apply the foil with a hair dryer when you get home before attempting the foil+iron or using the foil+laminator. Just a thought!

slightly confused said...

Hi, how did you transfer to the dark paper? I'm really itching to try this, but I thought it had to be printed with black ink...any help is appreciated!

Jessica Jones said...

I just put black paper in my printer and printed black on it. You can just barely see the printing enough to position the foil on top and then iron it on. The foil will stick to just the black toner.

Kaelie said...

!

LaLaLaura said...

I'm really excited to try this!

... but I'm also so frustrated that the shipping from that place to Canada costs more than the product itself. Anyone know where to get the foil in Canada?

Noelle said...

I'm really digging this! I'm doing my wedding invitations myself so this could be something extra to think of! Thanks for the tutorial!!

BOND Girl said...

I've tried this method however I get specks of foil on the nonprinted (white) parts of the paper too. It leaves behind a residue of foil color

what am I doing wrong?

Jessica Jones said...

That's weird! Are you sure there's no toner residue on the paper that the foil is sticking to? It should stick to paper by itself, without toner to cling to. Have you tried different paper?

Also note I've updated this post with a couple tips at the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm having the same problem. Did you figure out what you were doing wrong?

yoonhwa said...

Hi! I randomly found this blog post that I don't believe credits your original post. Do you know about this?

http://jenkrebs.blogspot.com/2012/09/diy-cards-with-copper-foil.html

Jessica Jones said...

I didn't know! Thanks! I'll follow up.

Anonymous said...

Can you comment on the type of paper or brand of paper you have used? Also can you comment on the printer and or print settings used on all your successful runs? Thanks and cool stuff!

Jessica Jones said...

I don't have the labels from the cardstock I used, but the best ones were dull/matte coated text or cover weight. My printer is a Brother BW laser printer. I didn't use any special print settings; just hit "print" from Adobe Illustrator and out it came.

Kendra said...

I bought the sample pack you linked to (it might have been in the second post about using the printer a second time instead of the iron). Anyways, have you tried out all of the foils in the sample pack? I'm interested in the silvery one that is supposed to go under your printing. I'm slightly confused how to make that one work and would love any tips you have.

Thanks,
Kendra @ Simply {Darr}ling
www.simplydarrling.com

Jessica Jones said...

Hey Kendra,

I've used the colors and "normal" ones but haven't tried that.

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