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Focus On

Special Effects Printing

The print industry is being carried up market. Brendan Perring investigates how you can cash in on this trend and add a touch of class to your customers’ projects

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The covers of Computer Arts magazine are a fine example of the visual impact of well done special effects. These techniques’ ability to generate reader interaction is also highly valuable

Scratching beneath the surface

I grew up in the little African kingdom of Swaziland, and that has left me with a healthy phobia of snakes. Well spiders and carnivorous predators too, but snakes are still top of my list. So, when I walked into the Duplo Sensory Open House a few months back and was confronted with a live adult python in its technology demonstration centre, I almost passed out. Once I was some distance away and being pursued by some worried members of the marketing team, it was explained this was a bit of fun marketing to showcase the capabilities of its new Du Sense spot UV coater.

They had printed off cards with a close-up image of the very same snake and finished them with the Du Sense to create a 3D tactile effect that replicated its scales. The challenge was to touch both snake and card at the same time to see how perfectly the effect was replicated. I cannot honestly tell you I touched said snake myself, but I was assured from my co-visitors they were spookily identical to the touch.

Tactile to the touch

Indeed, the demand for special finishes and effects for print seems to be increasing, so I quizzed Andy Benson, managing director of Duplo UK, about what is driving this trend: “With the bombardment of messaging we receive in our everyday lives, the quest for our undivided attention as consumers is hotter than ever.

“Many studies have seen marketeers returning to print from electronic media for key campaigns and headline messages. In doing so, however, ‘the normal’ does not meet the brief; any effective attention-grabbing communication needs to stand out in some way. Communication style, physical format, and bold messaging are all conventional approaches used over the years to good effect. The ability to appeal to a combination of our senses through an outstanding look and an unusual touch gives us a fantastic additional option.

“This is where sensory coating from the Du Sense can make a difference, converting good quality print into a premium product that can deliver a great sensory experience and add value, for both the printer and the end-consumer.”

I then asked Benson to explain how the techniques and finishes the Du Sense offers can help to make print really pop: “The Du Sense sensory coater offers digital spot UV, which can vary on one pass between 20 to 80 microns. This creates a 3D effect that enlivens print, delivering a tactile experience to excite and engage the senses.

“The effect is created through the creation of a ‘fifth layer’, added to conventional print simply and easily. The quality of the effect can be enhanced through creativity in design; both subtlety and boldness can be equally striking, depending on the source imagery and finish selected.”

Benson also emphasises though that despite all the bells and whistles Duplo’s technology may have, the fact is that it has to tangibly help printers improve their profit margins: “Seeing is believing; in our experience by offering a standard quality piece of material alongside the same piece, which has been sensory coated, leads to some great conversations. The art of the possible, ‘what can this be applied to’, ‘can we go even higher to increase the effect?’, ‘can we do this on all of my customer facing documents?’ are just some that I’ve heard from customers reviewing the quality offered through sensory coating. Here the dreaded word price hasn’t even been mentioned… so it changes the dialogue into a potentially richer profit margin range of materials that you can produce for the communications your customers need to stand out.”

The ability to offer cutting edge effects, which can be used continually in different ways by the end consumers is also key to profit, as customer retention is secured and new market opportunities can be introduced.

Benson explains this sector has been one of steady evolution as market conditions have played towards it: “Our first step into this sector started in 2009 with our Ultracoat Flood Coater range; developed to protect print and as an environmentally-friendly solution to laminating. Over time we received feedback demonstrating a growing demand for a coater that could deliver greater precision and produce intricate embellishment.

“The product development with the Duplo Corporation in Japan was initiated and our story with digital spot UV began.  The extended development process incorporated the very latest inkjet technology, as well as taking the best feeding elements from our successful multi-finisher ranges. A massive part of the development process centred on the creation of the unique sensory coating formula which is critical to achieve the excellent results needed for such a process. This culminated in Autumn 2017 when the Du Sense was born; a lower cost of entry product in the spot UV market, offering high quality, variable height sensory coating that makes good quality print stand out from the crowd.”

In the trenches

If there is one company that understands better than any other the growth of this market segment, and the challenges of harnessing that upward trajectory in a sustainable way, it is Celloglas. It has been specialists in this area for the past 20 years, and offers the widest range of specialist print finishes available in the UK. Its high-speed coating service, done on a Heidelberg, enables it to run two finishes in one pass, something that provides numerous combinations of finishes that are truly striking.

I picked the brains of managing director Richard Gillgrass about what is driving the sector today: “I think it comes down to the polarisation of print, which we often talk about—this refers to the state of the market where people are either taking on printing themselves through the advances of digital printing or investing in specialist print.

“Research tells us that sensory and emotional connection to print makes it memorable—this is where specialist print finishing comes into its own,” says Richard Gillgrass of Celloglas


“Those who invest then require impact and strong ROI. If they’re going to spend on print it needs to work hard for them and research tells us that sensory and emotional connection to print makes it memorable—this is where specialist print finishing comes into its own. More and more brands are seeking differentiation, especially luxury brands. Specialist print finishing can help to elevate a product and our own studies have shown that the perceived value of a product can actually be increased thanks to high quality packaging.”

If they’re going to spend on print it needs to work hard for them


Gillgrass points out this is not just true for retail brands, it is also increasingly the case in publishing and Celloglas work with many publishers (this one included) that enjoy having fun with different specialist print effects to make their magazines stand out on the newsstand and offer more perceived value to the reader, in creating collectable covers.

Computer Arts does this regularly and Planet Rock is a relatively new magazine which has, since its launch, committed to creative covers and recently just invested in collectors’ item covers as its ‘gift’ to readers, rather than looking at other promotional marketing routes, as part of a celebratory edition.

Short-run luxury packaging is a key area of diversification for commercial printers. Pictured: this Louis Roederer box uses intricate and tightly registered gold foil from Celloglas


Through this activity Celloglas seeks to tackle the misconception that to spec special print finishes is hugely more expensive—it is not, its pence per copy and as this message gets out there, again demand increases.

Where to start?

Gillgrass explains, as Duplo’s Benson also pointed out, that the most powerful finishes are those that evoke a sensory response, this could be via texture or even scented print.

“We recently finished a direct mail piece which evoked the memories of holidays through applying the scent of sun cream and tropical paradise for a holiday company,” explains Gillgrass, who adds: “It’s amazing how powerful this can be in terms of the impact this has on the reader. Texture and metallics can be used to illustrate luxury and the use of these specialist print finishes on a piece of packaging can often elevate the value of the product that sits inside it.”

This Sake box is indicative of where applications and growth reside for speciality print finishing. Produced using Duplo’s Du Sense, this proof of concept was aimed at helping showcase how boutique brands could punch above their weight


Computer Arts has played with many of its techniques over the years to tease and delight readers with, for example, thermochromic heat and reveal panels, photochromic light reactive ink and glow in the dark inks. They have also utilised scented feature areas through fragrance burst print (scratch and sniff), as well as impressing readers with elegant embossing and soft touch lamination.

Gillgrass expands on this area: “Combining soft touch with foil blocking or a gloss spot UV is also an interesting combination. On the November edition, a special issue that revealed the top 50 UK design studios, a gloss spot UV was applied to highlight small areas of the design, creating contrast against the soft touch lamination that was first applied to the printed sheets. The matt look and velvety texture of the soft touch lamination also worked well with the glow in the dark ink that was applied, as this too has a matt appearance, therefore allowing the two to blend well together for a more seamless look. This elegant combination makes print pop in a subtle way, in a way that makes you want to touch and feel the print.”

Get with the programme

Ultimately the more printers understand about how to increase the impact of print for their customers, the more valued they will be to those clients. If they can understand and communicate the psychology behind certain finishes, they elevate themselves in the client’s mind. Special effects and finishes can improve the ROI of print, hence improving the performance of the piece they have produced for their client.

“Once brands start to appreciate the opportunities available to them, they will invest more in print,” says Gillgrass, who continues: “This is a win for printer profit margins as they become more integrated into the client team, they will be able to anticipate more opportunities for work, and regular upsells of additional finishes will also contribute to increase in profits for them.

“This could also lead to the brands diverting budget from other marketing channels, such as e-commerce and re-investing back into print—a huge win for the industry overall and a great win for a printer who can increase their volume.

“As brands are forced to become savvier, as they continue to seek differentiation, a printer offering a special finish vs one who does not could be the difference between winning or losing the job, as the client is looking for experts who can offer solutions.”

Kit to consider

Now, back to the matter of the hardware at your disposal on the market should you wish to attempt this type of work in-house.

Friedheim International is a key player in this regard, and Tom Baker, one of its post-press sales specialist, explains its offering: “We offer Komfi laminating machines from B3 to over-sized B1, it’s an incredibly well-built, reliable, tried and tested solution. What we can also add onto the machines is what we call an over toner foil (OTF) unit.

This means you can add metallic foils onto printed black toner, and spot UV-style foil to any colour. This is a feature on the machines that is becoming more and more popular as it allows our customers to keep in-house the shorter run foiling and spot-UV.

These spot UV patterns showcase the quality and intricacy possible using the Duplo Du Sense


“The essence of the systems we offer is that they are an easy to use and cost-effective solution. The key questions I ask customers when discussing their speciality finishing needs is, how much are you spending on outsourcing at the moment? What are your objectives and plans for winning new work in this area through new sales and upselling to current customers? What benefits will bringing it in-house have?”

Indeed, being able to offer their customers a cost-effective method to making their print projects pop and stand out on even very short runs is a very key competitive weapon to have in today’s market.

Baker concludes: “Friedheim has been a leading supplier for more than 130 years and I don’t believe you last that long in this industry without providing customers with the best machinery. Our service, technical knowledge, and support is key to backing up the customer’s investment.

“Komfi also offer a spot UV machine called the Spotmatic, it is essentially a digital inkjet printer. But instead of using ink it uses varnish. We have both B2 and B3 format machines to offer. 3D effects can be achieved through multi-pass printing prior to curing, performed by vacuum conveyor moving forwards and backwards under the inkjet heads. This process can create a very unique tactile product, with an industry leading 3mm thickness on a larger variety of substrates.”

Another key area of consideration when it comes to speciality finishes is how you can actually use stock printing technology to produce them. This is something that Ricoh is working hard to perfect and develop.

O Factoid: Overlaying or folding on gold leaf is the simplest and most ancient method of adding a speciality finish to paper, wood, or metal and is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey and the Old Testament. O


“Ricoh has decades of experience in tuning print head technology, waveforms, and ink chemistry to add value and profit margin to print. Special effects printing is a particular avenue which can help customers deliver better services,” asserts Eef de Ridder, director of commercial printing, Ricoh UK commercial and industrial printing group.

A recent addition by Ricoh in this field is the neon pink toner, developed for the fifth colour station on the Ricoh Pro C7200 series. The toner expands the colour range, enhances images, and can be used as a solid, highlight or graphic colour. Combined with other process shades, this can create a neon palette. The toner produces vibrant and eye-catching results, which can make for an engaging and effective campaign.

De Ridder continues: “This joins the highly successful neon yellow toner. Both are reflective under UV light, expanding the range of printing possibilities offered by standard CMYK, white, or clear printing. There is increasing demand for special effect enhancement capabilities for the production of magazines, direct mail, and retail. The introduction of neon toners is a result of this, and offers an easy, cost-effective way for our customers to provide a high-quality and personalised service, which will open up numerous opportunities to deliver value.”

This application of Duplo Du Sense technology is an ideal example of how special effects can make simple designs pop, adding profit and margin to a print product


Indeed, this is also the position taken by Celloglas’ Gillgrass, whose words are a perfect conclusion, and a call to arms, on an exploration of this subject: “There has always been a hunger from designers to spec creative finishes, but often their barriers are the knowledge of what’s available to them—but more are now seeking out new alternatives as their clients start to demand more differentiation. We work closely with designers and other printers, providing consultancy to them and their clients.

“Often, we produce joint presentations profiling recommended specialist finishes and provide samples. This helps the task of educating the client on opportunities available to them, and really help illustrates what a brand can achieve. Digital print helps here, being able to produce one-offs. We also run training for print teams so we can help them win more clients, which is a win-win situation all round.”


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