Digital Embossing Is Here!
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker, PSDA
Part of the value of being a print distributor is being able to offer solutions to even the most difficult marketing challenges. Historically, one of these challenges has been short-run embossing. The cost of dies and press set-up has made short runs and prototyping cost-prohibitive in most cases.
A relatively new process called Scodix provides the first true digital alternative to traditional embossing by using layered UV inks. Other “digital embossing” processes (such as those offered by HP and Kodak) use clear inks with a maximum height of 50 microns. The Scodix can reach a true embossing height of 250 microns.
Although there are several Scodix installations in the United States, the only provider of Scodix to the trade is AccuLink, which has trademarked its process 3dUV™. The process creates a multi-dimensional effect by allowing the designer to assign a fifth color in the design. The higher the desired effect, the higher percentage assigned. For maximum height, the designer can assign the layer a level of 100%. For a more subtle effect, he or she can use 5% to 35%.
“In addition to greater height, higher levels of UV treatments will give you a sharper, glossier effect, while lower levels will create something that look more like a matte background,” explains Lindsay Gray, Vice President of AccuLink. “In that regard, you can simulate blind embossing and even foil stamping to some degree since the clear UV will pick up the colors underneath it.”
Rachel Doyle, Art Director for AccuLink, notes that higher levels of 3dUV™ treatments can be used to create unusual and highly tactile effects such as textures and water effects, “while lower levels can add depth to backgrounds when used in conjunction with the higher, glossier levels in the foreground,” she says.
When to Use Digital Embossing
When is Scodix/3dUV™ the better choice for a marketer’s project? There are a variety of factors to consider. If the marketer is trying to replicate blind embossing, they will want to go with blind embossing. But digital embossing offers effects not possible with any other process. It can also create cost efficiencies for short-run projects not possible in a traditional environment.
“You might be talking to an executive who says, ‘I want an impressive business card. What I have in mind is a full-color logo, blind embossed, and I want it glossy. I want a matte card stock, but I want to blind emboss the logo, and I want to hit it with a gloss foil so it really pops,’” says Gray. “Blind embossing, foil stamping, and printing are all different press operations, which creates three possibilities for getting out of register. Plus the client has the cost of the dies for the blind emboss and the foil stamping. At the end of the day, you’ve spent $300 – $500 getting the job set up. We can simulate all of these process with a single 3dUV treatment.”
Digital embossing also creates visual effects not possible with traditional embossing. This is because it is able to combine the raised texture of embossing with the high gloss of UV inks. For one client, AccuLink printed a black background on a white sheet, with a variety of colorful images knocked out. The sheet was then laminated, giving it a soft matte effect. Using 3dUV™, AccuLink applied digital embossing on top, making the colors underneath really pop. The contrast of the high-gloss, “embossed” images over the soft matte below was powerful.
Where digital embossing also pays dividends is when you have different versions or sizes. Once the job is designed, you can do resizing quickly without remaking the dies. The same logos designed for 3dUV can be used for business cards, direct mail, presentation folders, point-of-purchase, or any other print project.
“The versatility to revise on the fly has really opened up more possibilities for me as a designer,” says Doyle. “I can rework the UV levels and test them to see how to get the best effects out of a piece in a few minutes.”
Short Runs and Prototyping Digital embossing can also be used to maintain a consistent look and feel when end users want to go from high volume production to JIT production.
“Imagine a Steven King novel at B&N,” Gray explains. “You buy a book and it’s got a dagger with blood dripping off the tip of it. It’s blind embossed, foil stamped, and has that really nice, interesting tactile feel. But what if you wanted to print it on demand? Have zero inventory? Or if you want 250 of them at a time? Perhaps it’s a new book and you don’t know whether it will sell well or not. With 3dUV™, it’s less expensive and quicker to take to market. We can have a finished product the same day you finish the design.”
Another advantage of digital embossing is the ability to create prototypes the same day, overnight them, and test concepts. AccuLink recently produced a postcard for an optometrist. On the front of the card was a set of eyeballs. On the iris of each eye, the customer used 3dUV™ to make the iris pop in relief—sharp and glossy.
“In my initial consultation with the client, I suggested doing a 10% UV layer because the client indicated the UV would occupy large areas, and this can some times dimple when using 100% UV,” says Doyle. “So initially, the artist had used a 10% layer based on the original specs. Once the sample was printed, however, it was clear that this resulted in an effect that was too subtle. (In this case, it was hardly noticeable.) So when we received the file and saw that the areas were varied and small enough that high levels would hold without issues, we substituted with 100% UV as a test. It absolutely popped.”
The client wanted samples before printing 20,000 postcards, so AccuLink printed one of each—the eye with 10% UV and 100% UV—and FedExed them out the next day. The client took the 100% UV.
Packaging prototypes is another great use for 3dUV™, especially for high-end products. Say the end user is creating a new liquor or wine bottle in a special box. They want to have that image of the logo and the wine everything really jump out. Or they might want to play around with half a dozen different designs and see a physical product. “In the past, this workflow was very expensive. It could be thousands of dollars and take weeks. With 3dUV™, we can get it to market very quickly and inexpensively,” says Gray.
Real-Life Digitally Embossed Projects
AccuLink has kept its 3dUV™ press busy. It has produced hundreds of thousands of postcards, business cards, invitations, and announcements.
One client with measurable ROI thanks to 3dUV™ is the Cleveland Browns. Midway through the football season, the team still had $100,000 skybox seats available. They produced a three-panel, double-fold A7 piece with a personalized football appearing to come out of the darkness. The grain and the tread on the football were printed using the digital embossed effect.
“You could actually feel the grain of the football,” says Gray. “On the football was the person’s name, signed, as if it were their signature on it. You opened it, and the interior panels were personalized and included unique micro-sites (personalized URLs), where they could register to attend one of three games, where they can also play video games with Armchair Empire headsets, they also wined and dined and sold on the remaining skyboxes. We mailed about 2,000 of them. We only produced one mailing and the sky boxes sold out. It was very successful.”
But digital embossing projects don’t have to be this flashy to be successful. One client in the tire industry created highly memorable business card by using 3dUV to create raised tire treads on one side of the card.
Another great use for 3dUV™ is to add braille to print projects. Traditionally, the only way you could create the braille image was to blind emboss, but this creates a debossed hole in the back of the piece. For projects like business cards, this can be a real drawback. Because the maximum height for Scodix/3dUV™ digital embossing is 250 microns, which is braille height, this resolves this problem entirely.
Digital embossing can also be applied variably. AccuLink recently produced a tradeshow postcard invite in which the image on the front was a basketball. It applied a 3dUV treatment so that the recipient could feel the roughness and texture of the ball. The recipient’s name was variably printed in raised text. “You could not do that any other method,” says Gray.
Focus on the “Wow”
In selling these pieces, Gray says, it’s important to focus on marketing goals and the “wow” factor before broaching the issue of price. “Don’t take my sample and run into someone’s office and say, isn’t this cool?” Gray explains. “They’ll agree, then say, ‘How much does this cost?’ As soon as you get those words coming out of someone’s mouth, you’ve just devalued the conversation.”
For example, AccuLink is producing another sports-related project for a local university that wants unique football media guides to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This is a special edition, so AccuLink enhanced the covers of the guides with the school’s logo and other ornamentation. “[The department of] sports marketing wants to show the reader that this publication is special, that it deserves their attention, and this isn’t just another printed piece,” says Gray.
That’s why Gray encourages distributors not to look at 3D UV as a printed process. “It needs to be sold as a promotional item—a promotional tool with ROI,” he says.
In complement to its 3dUV™ process, AccuLink recently installed an Indigo 10000, a 20.5”-29.5” digital cut sheet press. Because the Scodix 3dUV™ is 20”x28” format, this allows AccuLink to broaden its range of digital embossing projects, such as presentation folders, that can be produced in-house.
“We are the only company in the United States that has both the imaging ability and the Scodix ability that is 20”x28” under the same roof,” says Gray. “Before, blind embossing a presentation folder would have taken a week or two of additional time. Now we can do both in the same day.”
In the end, the value of the digital embossing process is maximum impact: unique visual appearance, high-gloss, significant height and tactile sensation. But you have to be thoughtful about how you approach the sale.
“What’s the value of the ‘wow’ factor? The visual appearance? The value of tactile sensation?” Gray concludes. “Research has shown adding the sense of touch increases memory retention by a factor of 10. Also, you can look at whether the project is a one-off or a repeat where you can amortize the upfront design costs over time. Just like any other high-value print these days, the more strategically you approach a 3dUV project, the more value it brings.”