Foil Stamping and Embossing

MADISON HEIGHTS -- Specialization, creativity and diversification have helped the DaSilva family survive more than three decades of putting ink to paper to promote auto manufacturers, government agencies and small businesses.

"We always specialized in something," said Ray DaSilva Jr., who now operates the business his father, Ray Sr., started in 1970. "Back then, it was thermography, which is raised printing."

Producing a raised image using heat, powder and ink provided a classy look to business cards and stationery, but other printers soon began offering that service.

"It got a little more competitive, and we opted for more four-color printing," DaSilva said. "We kind of developed a niche in the medical field producing brochures and newsletters for hospitals."

When that field became crowded, DaSilva headed in a new direction -- foil embossing, which involves applying a layer of foil precisely over raised images or letters.

"At the time, there was one competitor who had the market," DaSilva said. "I started to dabble a little bit. It's quite complicated, but I loved it and it made me stay in the business."

Now, foil embossing represents about 90 percent of the business at DaSilva Printing and the technique can be used to jazz up placards, business cards, brochures, invitations, folders and other printed products.

"I wasn't really focused on the financial aspect of it," he said. "I just enjoyed it so much and it was such a challenge. I still get jobs today that no one else will take."

Quintek of Warren has used DaSilva Printing for decades, and now calls on the printer four or five times a year for projects involving foil.

"We use Ray pretty much exclusively for the niche he has," said Brian White, president and CEO of the art studio. "We many times don't even bid a job because we know Ray will give us a good project in a timely manner. Whenever we are looking for something on the unusual side, we'll go to him."

Finding and developing a niche is one way printers are surviving in this age of desktop publishing, digital imaging and the Internet, according to Kevin Keane, president of the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen. The commercial printing business tallies about $170 billion in sales a year, and that doesn't include book or magazine publishing. But like most manufacturers in this country, printing is undergoing consolidation and retrenchment.

"Printers have decided if they want to be a player, they have to identify their niche and specialize in it," Keane said. "Foil stamping is one of the traditional crafts, a way to decorate printing. It's actually had kind of a renaissance. It's a way to make a piece of printing stand out and separate itself from the clutter."

DaSilva has cut his staff from eight to four in the past four years, and now takes his turn in the back of the shop helping complete projects. "I still like the challenge," he said. "I don't mind doing the job and going back there and working."

But even with the uncertain economy, DaSilva remains optimistic.

"About 99 percent of my clientele are printers and I talk to them everyday," he said. "Some are not here anymore and some are barely hanging on. A lot of people are doing what I'm doing, diversifying."

Neal Haldane is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.

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