How can I use metallic inks on stationery projects without problems through a laser printer?

Answered by Stephen Beals, Digital Pre Press Manager and Writer

I've always been advised that you can't use metallic inks or foil stamps on stationery packages if they are going to be run through a laser printer. Although this seems to be the rule, I continue to see company letterhead using these techniques. Since all companies today use laser printers, how are they able to use their letterhead without the foil peeling off? I know there are laser compatible metallic inks, but they don't have the same metallic look as regular metallic ink.


In general, what you have heard is correct. Metallic inks and laser printers don't play nice together. Metallic inks are actually metallic particles mixed into tinted varnishes. Because the "shiny" effect is achieved when the ink dries and the metallic bits rise to the surface, these inks are highly susceptible to rubbing off and can be affected by the heat of laser printers (the particles can melt and slur). On uncoated papers, typically used in the printing of letterheads, the problem is compounded by the abrasive nature of the paper surface. The choice of paper stock and the heat resistance of the varnish used in the metallic ink have a great effect on how it holds up under heat and normal use.

When running metallic inks on press it is desirable to run the density as high as possible and run minimum amounts of water. It is also possible to varnish over metallic inks to improve their resistance to rubbing and heat, though it helps keep a better shine to run a little of the metallic ink with the varnish. If that sounds a lot like double hitting the metallic ink, it is: and that's another option.

Though we certainly would not advise it as a general practice, there might be combinations of inks, papers and printing techniques that would allow metallic inks to survive production laser printers. Ink companies do make metallic inks that are less heat-sensitive and will run through desktop printers with no problems. But high speed toner printers often run at higher heat settings to achieve that speed and could create problems even with more heat resistant inks. While it may help that printer manufacturers have developed new toners that fuse to paper at lower temperatures, if you want to be able to run a letterhead through ANY printer, it might be smart to avoid metallic ink.

There are also metallic pigments like Mirasheen that provide foil-like results in a heat resistant pigmented ink. We haven't seen it, but it is reported to give results that are difficult to tell from more traditional metallic inks. We could also not find any reports on the specific question of how this product holds up under laser printer heat. Contact your ink specialist for this and other possible solutions.

It is interesting that laser printers can be used for APPLYING metallic foil to printed documents, though it's a one-off proposition. There are foil tapes designed for applying on top of black laser printed copies. The tape is cut slightly larger than the text to be colorized, and the heat of running through the printer (or a warm iron) fuses metallic particles to the black toner. Not exactly a technique for a production environment, but it is effective.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at

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