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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Limited Edition Metal Can Printing

I was shaving this morning and noticed something intriguing. There were dinosaurs on my shaving cream can.

I wasn’t hallucinating. Rather I was noticing the co-branding effort between the the Jurassic World movie “franchise” (no longer just a “movie”) and the shaving cream manufacturer.

Actually, the first thing I saw was the “limited edition” notation at the top of the can, and this started me thinking.

My first thought was that the can must have been printed via some digital technology. Since I wasn’t sure how cans were printed in the first place, I took out my printer’s loupe and looked closely at the halftone patterns on the can. I was surprised to see the rosettes of actual halftone dots set at the proper angles (called “irrational angles”) for offset custom printing. So my initial premise was wrong. This was not digital custom printing (no minuscule inkjet spots and no laser halftone screens). So the limited edition was presumably not so limited.

How Are Cans Printed?

First of all, I had no idea, so I went online. My first thought was that metal sheets had been offset printed and then converted into cans. I was wrong. Actually, the offset printing paradigm, complete with the press blanket, prints right on the cylindrical metal can. The trick is that the can is “spun,” so the flat offset press blanket surface can lay down ink on the can’s curved surface. I thought this was rather ingenious. It also reminded me of how cylindrical objects can be spun under flat custom screen printing presses. The key in both cases is that the cans are held rigidly and spun precisely.

Once the ink has been applied, the cans go through an oven (much like the ovens following the inking units on a heatset web press). These ovens dry (or cure) the offset ink and the clear, protective varnish coating.

Interestingly enough, since this traditional offset process involves high energy usage (and other drawbacks such as a huge amount of space required for the equipment), the use of UV inks cured with light rather than heat is gaining a strong foothold in can printing.

So there you have it: a shaving cream can with two pterodactyls in mid-flight, one flying across the red and white striped branding of the shaving cream can. In addition, there are two logos: one for the movie and one for the shaving cream.

A Multi-Channel Marketing Opportunity

The idea is intriguing, and the execution is crisp, but this sample can grabbed my attention for an additional reason. The marketers who created the graphic design knew the value of “co-branding.” In cases like these, the brand equity of each company rubs off on the other company’s brand. The shaving cream company is considered to be ingenious for providing a limited-edition can that stands out on the shelves (presumably no other shaving cream cans have pterodactyls in their graphic design) as well as fun-loving for supporting the Jurassic World movie franchise.

Going even further, the can takes advantage of new electronic media. You can go to the shaving cream website and learn about the movie. You can also participate in an online contest pertaining to a shaving cream can (apparently) relevant to the movie.

When you consider the online imagery and the contest you come away with a handful of marketing truths:

    1. People like games. In fact, the area of marketing in question is called “gamification.” Games and contests take advantage of people’s competitive spirit while keeping them “engaged” with the brand.


    1. Multiple exposures to a brand foster consumer spending. People also like seeing a brand on both a physical object and online. In this case you see the same dinosaurs on the shaving cream website that you just saw on the can. Moreover, you can see that there are multiple versions of the limited edition cans showcasing different dinosaurs.


    1. People respond to scarcity. If a limited commercial printing edition of two different dinosaur-branded shaving cream cans can be bought, people will want them. People want to own something that’s in short supply (like gold and diamonds).


  1. People like to play and have fun. Why else would someone put dinosaurs on a can of shaving cream?

The Take-Away

As graphic designers, you are also all marketers. Every piece you design is an advertisement for your company and for your own design skills. Consider the aforementioned marketing truths. You might find them directly applicable to your own design work. Even if you never design a metal can, these points of information can be applied to many other marketing, branding, co-branding, and multi-channel marketing initiatives.

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