Metallic Inks vs Foil Embossing: Custom Napkin Printing

For customers seeking custom napkins with a metallic print, the question is always: ink or foil? And the answer, like always, depends on the print.  Let’s explore further!

Metallic Inks: An Overview of Custom Napkin Printing with Spot Colors

Gold ink "The Vancouver Club" custom black cocktail napkin
Metallic gold ink on black cocktail napkin

While we can print a near-infinite palette of solid ink colors [see the pantone color book], metallic shades are limited to three discrete selections: gold (PMS 871), silver (PMS 877), and copper (PMS 876).  Like traditional spot printing, the exact shade of metallic inks may vary slightly from batch to batch.

Silver ink "The Hollywood Tavern" custom black cocktail napkin
Metallic silver ink on black cocktail napkin

Unique to napkin printing, spot inks do not print opaque.  Napkin tissue is a porous, absorbent material; inks absorb into the product more thoroughly than they would on paper. While the ink colors do not change, this absorbency can create the illusion of color change.  Thus, metallic inks do not always render “true” on every color of tissue.


Copper ink "Crave Catering" custom black cocktail napkin
Metallic copper ink on black cocktail napkin

Nonetheless, spot ink printing is widely regarded as the most common printing method for custom napkins.  Gold, silver, and copper inks universally render well on white and black napkins.  Certain shades of colored napkins will also produce an adequate product.

Foil Embossing: An Overview of Stamped Custom Napkins

Foil embossed paper linen showing a jagged edge
Magnified image of a foil-printed paper linen napkin, demonstrating a jagged edge.

We foil imprint with gold, silver, black, white, green, red, and blue metallic foils. Unlike ink, foil is a solid product. In manufacturing, foil spools are unwound and a custom stamp (with your print), stamps your image onto the surface beneath (your napkin).

Because foil is a solid, it does not absorb into the tissue of the napkin.  It will hold its color across all shades of tissue.  But because it is physically stamped onto the product, it does not render smoothly on all textures of paper, especially paper linens.  Foil on paper linens prints jaggedly and will often fleck off (especially when wet).  As such, we do not foil stamp on paper linen napkins.

Printing on Napkins with Metallic Inks

The Pros:

Blue and gold ink "Petroni" custom white beverage napkin
Blue and metallic gold ink on a white beverage/cocktail napkin

1)  Price – Metallic ink spot printing is a more affordable process. For price-conscious customers, we recommend metallic inks. 

2)  Subtlety – Metallic inks offer a subtle alternative to foil printed napkins.  Foil is a bright, light-catching medium.  Some customers may find the extra glimmer distracting or gaudy.

3)  Printing on Paper Linen Napkins – Although exceptions exist, we rarely foil print on paper linen napkins. For customers seeking a metallic print, we recommend spot inks.

The Cons:

Example of metallic copper ink on a brown napkin, demonstrating poor color contrast
Metallic copper ink on a brown cocktail napkin. Note the poor color contrast between the ink and napkin substrate.

1)  Lack of Opacity – Metallic inks are not opaque. The color of the ink dilutes when applied to the napkin surface.

2)  Poor Color Combinations – Metallic spot inks do not render well on all shades of napkin tissue. Certain color combinations, such as gold and copper inks on red and brown napkins, barely show up.

The Best Uses of Metallic Spot Inks: 

Gold ink "state department" emblem on white cocktail napkin
Metallic gold ink on white cocktail napkin, magnified

Universally, metallic inks render well on white napkins: gold and copper shine brilliantly, silver is demure and elegant. Similarly, metallic inks render reasonably well on black napkins. This time silver shines, and gold and copper glimmer subtly and elegantly.

Metallic inks on assorted colored cocktail napkins
Metallic silver inks on navy and red cocktail napkins, metallic gold on a brown cocktail napkin.

For customers interested in a colored napkin, silver renders well on red and navy napkins. Gold renders well on purple and brown.

While individual color combinations vary, it is safe to assume that silver prints well on dark shades, and gold and copper on contrasting/light shades.

Please contact us if you have a question about a specific color combination.

Foil Embossing on Napkins

The Pros:

Gold foil "bumble" custom white cocktail napkin
Gold foil embossing on cocktail napkin

1)  Vibrancy – Foil catches the light and your printed napkin will glimmer in a “traditionally metallic” way.

2)  Opacity – Foil embossing renders exactly the same on all colored napkins. Any color of foil prints equally well on any shade of napkin.

The Cons:

Custom silver foil "flaking" off of a lime green napkin
A very old, improperly stored cocktail napkin demonstrating “flaking” silver foil.

1)  Price – Foil is a more expensive product.

2)  “Flaking” – Although not common, foil will sometimes flake off the napkin or appear jagged around the edges. This is especially true for prints with very fine details, foil prints on paper linen napkins, or napkins stored for over 5 years.

**We work with you to minimize or eliminate any risk of flaking.**

The Best Uses of Foil Printing:

Navy napkin printed with silver ink next to a navy napkin embossed with silver foil
Metallic silver ink vs. silver foil on custom navy cocktail napkins

Use foil when seeking a bold, bright print job that naturally looks “metallic.”  When price is not a consideration, foil prints more consistently on all napkin colors. Additionally, foil catches the light and glimmers more realistically than metallic ink.  It universally appears more metallic than spot ink printing.

This is especially true for silver foil.  While metallic silver ink universally renders the best of all three metallic choices, it occasionally loses its luster and appears “whitish.” For customers seeking a sparkling, shining silver, foil is the better choice.

In Summary

While we always provide samples to our customers before purchase, it is up to the consumer to review their options and make the best choice that suits their needs and budget. Foil, while usually a clearer product, is much more expensive.  If budget is a consideration, manipulation of ink and napkin choices may be the better choice.  Similarly, if a customer is seeking a more demure product, they might find foil “gaudy” and naturally prefer the softer look of metallic inks.

In contrast, a customer seeking a specific shade of tissue may find that only foil provides the necessary contrast for their print job (this is especially true for middle-shade colors like lime and hot pink). Additionally, some customers naturally gravitate towards the bright, light-catching nature of foil print jobs.

Questions?  Reach out to us!
Curious about pricing?  Request a quote now!

Want to learn more?

Are Brown Napkins Recycled?
Where Do My Napkins Come From?

2 thoughts on “Metallic Inks vs Foil Embossing: Custom Napkin Printing”

  1. Please can have a cost for black napkins
    size 12cm x 12cm which with fold out to 24cm x 24cm
    each with a silver logo printed within a corner area 5cm x 5cm
    and 30,000 off 1 type

    many thanks

    1. Hi Mike,
      I passed along your request to sales.. They will reach out to you within 24 hours, if they haven’t already.
      Thank you!

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