Designing for Foil

Foil cards can be used to great effect, whether it’s for an ultra-rare card or an entire shiny deck. You do  not have to change your existing card artwork to get it in a foil version, but there are a few things to keep in  mind about your card design if you want your foil cards to really stand out.

Most printers, including ours, print with four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK).   Our normal printers do not lay down any white, as it’s assumed that the paper being printed on is bright  white. Lighter areas of artwork have less toner on them so more of the white paper shows through, and white  areas of artwork have no toner on them.  

Foiled paper is a glossy, iridescent silver color, not bright matte white, so what this means for your  artwork is that white areas are going to let the glossy foil fully shine through. Areas of light color and less color  are going to get a little dulled but still have a bit of foil shine. Areas of dark, saturated color will cover up most  of the foil but have a rich matte color instead. 

In this example, there’s a Tarot-sized card for which I want to create a foil version. The file is already the  same dimensions as a non-foil card, so one could simply upload it as a foil Tarot card and it will print just fine.   However, in this example, there is a dark background that results in a dense layer of color and mostly  obscures the holographic foil.

The left-hand card in this photograph is the non-foil version, while the right-hand side is the exact same artwork printed on holographic foil.

This is not the “wrong” way to do it, as this subtle effect might be desired. If you want a more pronounced holographic effect, though, there are some changes you can make to your artwork to get the most out of our holographic foil.

The key to making the foil stand out is to create a lot of contrast between background and foreground, and a lot of contrast with your text and graphics. Keep in mind that dark colors will only be slightly holographic, light colors will show a lot of the holographic effect, and white will be fully holographic.

To make a special foil edition of this card in particular, a few tweaks were made. The most obvious is that the dark background is changed to completely white so the holographic foil will be at its brightest instead of muted by dark colors.

The smaller changes focus on creating contrast between the foil and the important graphic elements. The icons on the bottom half of the page have a white border that would cause them to get lost in the white background, so a black border was added around them. The saluting figure was changed to blue for the same reason. The card icon in the upper right-hand corner now has a black outline, as the white outline was indiscernible from the light-gray fill color when printed on foil. The transparent fill color behind the text was made considerably more opaque to bring out the white text. 

Before and after optimizing the image for holographic foil

The holographic result of the changes to the card design. The tweaked design is printed on non-foiled paper on the left-hand side and foil on the right-hand side for comparison’s sake.

Now when the card is printed on foil, the holographic effect jumps out immediately while all important elements of the card are still easy to read.

The areas of your artwork where you want to really show off the holographic effect can be more than just a field of white. You can add faint patterns to areas of foil to change the appearance of the foil without diminishing the sheen by much. A light gray hexagon pattern in the background drastically changes the presentation of this card.

Adding a faint pattern can produce interesting effects on the holographic foil.

The main drawback to this printing process is the silver iridescent foil becomes the brightest color achievable, meaning you will not get bright whites anywhere. All colors will appear slightly darker than if they were printed on brilliant white paper. You can simulate the effect this will have on your artwork during the process of creating your game, or you can use the holographic patterns provided below (or on the product page). Import the appropriate foil pattern file into your art program, make sure it is on top of all the other layers, and set the blend mode of the imported file’s layer to Multiply.

Simulating the holographic effect digitally.

Poker Holographic Overlay

Tarot Holographic Overlay

Note: While you can use UV coating and/or linen texture on foil cards, it will make them much more prone to scratching.  Because of this, we do NOT recommend these surfacing options for foil cards.  

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