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Archive for the ‘Packaging’ Category

Custom Printing: Bacardi’s Direct Digital Bottle Printing

Monday, July 27th, 2020


reproduction rights purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

When BACARDI does something, people pay attention. As a contemporary brand, BACARDI is stylish and sexy–on the cusp of the future.

So I paid heed when I read an article recently about BACARDI’s new bottle printing work done by O-I: EXPRESSIONS on Dekron digital equipment (“BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print,” Pat Reynolds, 07/02/2020). The article defines direct digital custom printing, addresses the benefits of this technology from a marketing design and sustainability vantage point, and then goes on to mention the improved marketing results of linking this technology to digital-only media such as the internet and AR (Augmented Reality).

What the Article Says

(Reynolds’ article is actually quite short. However, it includes links to other articles describing cutting-edge, direct-to-shape (related to direct-to-object) custom printing not only on bottles but also on cosmetics tubes and cans. So this is a quickly growing phenomenon with a number of exciting facets. I think you might find such articles inspiring if you are a designer or printer.)

First off, “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print” describes BACARDI’s marketing initiative, mentions the technology used, and then lists the benefits of the process.

For this marketing campaign, BACARDI chose not to print paper or plastic labels or even shrink sleeves. Instead, BACARDI’s creative team at O-I: EXPRESSIONS used Dekron digital custom printing technology to image the marketing message directly on the bottle using organic, food-safe inks.

From a design/marketing point of view, this approach made for striking BACARDI packaging.

It also expanded the space for branding imagery far beyond the usual limits. For example, in the case of paper labels, the space available for commercial printing is small: some variant of a rectangle or other geometric form on the front and maybe the back of the beverage bottle. The key word is “small.”

In the case of shrink sleeves (while larger than a label), there are still size limitations. Can it be printed and then wrapped around and over the neck of the bottle and also the bottle cap, extending the marketing imagery over the entire surface of the bottle? Will the shrink sleeve, even in its much larger than label-size format, still have too limited a texture? Will it have just an overall gloss or matte surface with no localized, textured effects?

Well, BACARDI’s Caribbean experience initiative addresses all of these concerns/limitations and then goes much further. According to “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print,” the beverage maker was able to produce limited-edition personalized bottles with “a much improved look and feel to the packaging [that] is a more sustainable alternative” (as per Simone Kockelmann, Customer Marketing Manager, BACARDI Europe, as quoted in “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print”). This enhanced effect includes a spot tactile treatment of both the BACARDI bat logo and some palm leaves and tropical flowers printed on the bottle. Using the Dekron direct digital printing equipment, O-I: EXPRESSIONS was also able to print an entire 360 degree, full-color image on each bottle.

The overall effect? An enhanced “Wow” factor.

But the benefits of the direct-to-object commercial printing didn’t stop here. The imaging technology was paired with the internet, Snapchat lenses, and Augmented Reality. As the article notes, these cutting-edge technologies were able to “transport the user to the homeland of BACARDI, the shores of the Caribbean” (“BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print”). According to Reynolds’ article, a Snapcode on the bottle unlocks the Snapchat lens, and Augmented Reality creates an immersive experience for the customer.

The Key Benefits of This Technology

So from a marketing point of view, here are some key benefits:

  1. This was a limited roll-out. So a relatively small—and precisely targeted—group of people experienced this promotion. Presumably a loyal group of BACARDI afficionados. In addition, the marketing initiative was prepared specifically for them, using marketing research to make the experience relevant to their needs and preferences.
  2. The marketing initiative extended the BACARDI brand across multiple media: print (the labeling) and digital (both the internet and Augmented Reality). It also involved multiple senses, reinforcing the brand message in the minds of participants.
  3. The experience was immersive—sort of like watching a movie and forgetting you’re just in a theater watching a film—but going even further due to the three-dimensional nature of Augmented Reality. Again, the more senses a marketer engages, the stronger the branding message. Just as the more media the marketer employs (such as signage, radio spots, product packaging), the more memorable the customer experience of the brand message will be.
  4. Sustainability. Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the need to change their behavior to maintain the livability of the planet. Labels leave a residue on bottles that can contaminate the recycling stream. Direct-to-object commercial printing leaves an empty, clean, and ready to recycle container (no labels, no residue). In addition, the inks are food-safe. Even the shrink sleeve noted above would introduce extra plastic sheeting into the environment. Direct-to-shape digital commercial printing will not. Moreover, from a manufacturing and storage point of view, not printing on either labels or shrink sleeves reduces materials’ costs as well as materials’ storage and inventory costs. No labels to buy and store. No shrink sleeves to buy and store. More profit.

The Takeaway

Digital commercial printing, in general, is ideal for marketing work. You can print short runs economically and efficiently. (Limited editions sell; it’s the “exclusivity effect.”) You can create a customized marketing initiative based on increasingly precise marketing research, and you can effect this “differentiation” quickly, making changes on the fly as needed. You can also personalize the experience to make the brand immediately relevant to the target audience (and even specific individuals you have identified as prospective clients).

This is even before you get to the mixed media effects BACARDI exploited in their marketing initiative.

Deep inside there is a child in every adult. That’s why people are so attracted to new, immersive experiences such as Augmented Reality, Snapchat lenses, and such. Your marketing work will be more effective (“relevant,” as they say) if you can tap into this quality of human nature. And using the new direct-to-object or direct-to-shape technology, you can even do this in a sustainable way, lessening your environmental footprint.

If you’re a printer (offset or especially digital), or if you’re a graphic designer, it behooves you to read up on this technology. (Research “direct-to-shape,” “direct-to-object,” “direct-digital.” There are multiple terms describing this technology.) Even if you’re not designing for packaging (shrink sleeves, labels), websites, Augmented Reality, or any or all of these—this is the future. It will serve you well to become conversant in this developing technology.

I think BACARDI has the right idea.

Custom Printing: Some Functional Elements of Packaging

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Readability. Utility. Precision. Some commercial printing work is not meant to persuade or educate, but rather to convey information clearly. It’s called functional printing. The printed keys on your keyboard fit into this category. So does the package of eyedrops my fiancee just received from her eye surgeon. She will undergo cataract surgery in a few weeks, and the pre-operative information she just received has to be unquestionably clear.

The Custom Eyedrop Kit Packaging

Here’s a description of the packaging for my fiancee’s eyedrops with a focus on utility:

  1. The interior packaging is a cross between “clamshell” packaging and “blister” packaging. Two parts of a fold-over case are joined with a scored, central hinge, just like a muscle in an ocean clam. This allows the user to lift the top cover of the clear plastic box and then lower it again to close the box. The bottom half has four thermoformed wells (presumably created by placing the sheet of clear plastic over a super-heated mold). In this way, the bottom half is more like blister packaging (with bubbles or wells or chambers). The top portion locks down tightly over a ridge on the bottom half, ensuring the safety of the plastic bottles of eyedrops my fiancee will need prior to her cataract surgery.
  2. A Crack ‘N Peel label printed in black, green, and red has been hand-marked in pen with the dates of the eye surgery and the required numbers of eye drops for each date. The most important information is printed in red, but due to the simplicity of the sans serif typeface, plus the limited number of colors and the contrast between the handwriting and the printed type, it is very easy to instantly grasp all pertinent information. (The increased type leading and the type size also facilitate readability.) The bottom line: there’s just enough information, and the design and coloration of the type enhance readability by anyone of any age.
  3. The screw-on tops of the eyedrop bottles are color coded. Two (coded in green) are larger than the third, which has a red top. Each bottle label has clear, sans-serif type, and the most important type has been reversed to white out of a solid green printed bar. All of the custom printing is on Crack ‘N Peel labeling affixed to the bottles. Clearly the goal was to use the proper type (sans serif) at the most readable size for the elderly, who have compromised sight, to avoid a dangerous misunderstanding of the instructions for the use of these drugs.
  4. In all cases, there is contact information for reaching the pharmacy. This is not only useful for my fiancee, but it also reinforces her confidence in the whole eye surgery procedure. Hence it supports the branding of the pharmacy.
  5. Much of the information on the labels is very specific, such as expiration dates for the medications. Hence, we can assume that digital commercial printing technology was used rather than offset printing technology.
  6. On the top of the closed plastic packaging shell are laser printed (I checked with my 12-power loupe) Crack ‘N Peel labels printed in black toner noting everything from the pharmacy contact information to my fiancee’s contact information to the kind of medication, lot number, and expiration dates for the medications. In addition, there are three strips of color (magenta, yellow, and cyan, with black surprinted type noting when the medications expire, how to store them, and that they were made according to the doctor’s prescription). So your eye is attracted immediately to the colored, printed strips (and the information contained therein), and then to the information on the other two labels. All necessary information is contained (in its entirety) on the front panel, and is repeated in bits and pieces inside the packaging.
  7. Therefore, the interior packaging protects the medications and tells my fiancee how to use them. None of this is unattractive. It’s just that functionality is paramount. (And the package design is based on the marketer’s knowledge of how people best consume and process written information.)
  8. Now for the exterior wrap. This portion of the package focuses on two things: the user’s confidence in the reliability of the product and the pharmacy’s branding. And of course these are intimately connected.
  9. The wrap feels like 14pt or thicker cover stock, printed and then scored to wrap all the way around the interior plastic insert. (That is, it’s a sleeve with open ends.) The wrap front panel includes a large eye printed in 4-colors but desaturated overall to look like a black halftone or quadtone. However, the iris of this eye retains its intensity of blue coloration, making it look like a black and white eye with a hand-colored blue iris. Above this is a solid green bar out of which the name of the drops (plus a brief description thereof) has been reversed.
  10. On the back of the cardboard sleeve is the name, logo, address, website, fax, and email for the pharmacy. The logo and name are very large and prominent. In an emergency, or even if you have a question, you’ll know just how to contact someone who knows what to do.
  11. To the entire outer package sleeve, the commercial printing supplier has applied a flood UV coating in high gloss. The whole thing feels very competent, clinical, locked down and ready for the surgery. Even without the printed content, the paper weight and the coating would convey an air of gravitas and competence. Hence, the packaging elicits confidence and therefore supports the pharmacy brand.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Ensuring readability depends on understanding how people process information. This involves understanding which fonts and colors are the most readable and what people of various ages can read, depending on the health and flexibility of their eyes.
  2. It also depends on understanding how to gather and group information so that it will be read (i.e., in small, understandable chunks). This is especially true for scientific information, especially when making a mistake can threaten one’s health.
  3. Functional printing opens the field of commercial printing way beyond promotional products, labels, print books, and large format signage. There’s informational, functional printing on almost everything. That means, as a graphic designer, you can always be relevant.
  4. That said, all functional custom printing still either enhances or tarnishes the company brand. If your functional type is unreadable, that’s a problem. Think about cheap computer keyboards with printed letters that are flaking or rubbing off. Personally, that makes me feel less comfortable about both the durability of the keyboard and perhaps even its accuracy (I’ve noticed that some cheap keyboards skip letters when you’re typing quickly).
  5. So the bottom line is that functional printing embraces everything from graphic design to branding and marketing, to ways to facilitate communication, to the operation of the human eye. The more you understand all of these, the more skilled and useful you will be as a designer.

Commercial Printing: Package Printing for Vegetables

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Everywhere I look now I see articles about how digital custom printing benefits the package production market. Moreover, this seems to be a two-way street, with the approach of a business to packaging and distribution changing and growing in response to advances in digital commercial printing.

More specifically, I read an article this week about corrugated packaging for vegetable boxes. The title of the article was “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes.” It was written by Cristobal Macedo of HP (Hewlett-Packard) and published online in Packaging News on November 7, 2018. The article focused on a new breed of consumer, the “locavore,” who prefers to buy locally sourced foods. The article refers to them as “ideological consumers who prefer to buy foods farmed in their region” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). So, as I understand it, the term seems to pertain more to supporting local vendors than to buying fresher produce (although both may be true).

The article goes on to say that online vendors are offering seasonal fruit and vegetable boxes as well as eggs, cheese, meat, and other foods, and that this creates the need for corrugated (and other) packaging. Moreover, it also creates the opportunity for marketers to directly communicate with consumers in bi-directional ways using commercial printing as the initiating medium.

In addition, the success of the online sale of locally sourced food, and the interactive marketing it has spawned, has further increased demand by locavores, and the number of local food vendors has grown. Furthermore, their entry into the locavore market has increased the demand for digitally printed packaging.

The Perfect Storm

What makes this marriage of locally sourced food and digital package printing so successful is the variable nature of digital commercial printing, the ability to economically produce short print runs of corrugated food packages, and the availability of food-safe inks that do not migrate into, and therefore do not contaminate, the food.

Regarding the issue of press run length, for analog printing to be a competitive technology, food vendors would need to produce much longer runs of their packaging jobs. There would be issues of storage, waste, and possible obsolescence of packaging. Printing on corrugated board via offset lithography would not be an option, since the pressure of the press rollers would crush the fluting in the corrugated board. Therefore, low-pressure options such as flexography (a relief custom printing process using rubber plates) would be the technology of choice. This would allow for direct printing on the corrugated board, but it would yield lower quality results than offset printing, so (presumably) the creative packaging design would need to be simpler. Or, if the press run were very long, the printer could offset print the marketing artwork for the corrugated boxes onto liner paper that would be laminated to the fluting, and then the flat box material could be converted into corrugated cartons.

But all this would only be good for long press runs.

In contrast, digital printing allows for the spraying of non-toxic printing inks directly onto the fluted corrugated board of the cartons, with the print heads never directly contacting the substrate. Therefore, nothing can crush the box material. Moreover, the high quality of the technology will allow for much greater detail (both higher resolution and a wider color gamut than the other commercial printing options), all while allowing for economical, short press runs.

In addition, all of this can be done quickly, with an infinite varying of the creative marketing message on each fruit or vegetable box or with short, versioned press runs that allow for seasonal marketing (maybe a special press run for fresh peaches during a limited period) or localized marketing (maybe a special press run of boxes aimed at a small geographical location).

At it’s most granular level, this can even allow farmers to communicate directly (through their package messaging) with individual customers or at least small groups of customers. Such messaging can therefore be more personal and targeted to the customer’s interests, and this can open up a dialog between the food producers and the food consumers.

Such a dialog can then be enhanced through the pairing of online messaging with the printed package. A customer can initiate the purchase online through a web-based store; the fruits and vegetables can be packaged in boxes decorated with digital printing; and when the boxes arrive at the customer’s door, specific messaging on the corrugated cartons can direct the customer back to the Internet to further the conversation with the local food vendors. (This messaging may include nutritional information, cooking recipes, and information about the farm and the farming practices.)

In addition, digital printing offers a functional tracking benefit. Since each corrugated box can be different, identifying codes can be added to track the growing and shipping of all food products.

Macedo’s article in Packaging News, “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes,” refers to the “unboxing experience,” noting that receiving the package, reading all of the printed messaging, and absorbing the overall “look” of the brand allow for an intimate point of connection between the farmer and the customer, particularly since the customer can personalize the boxes when she or he orders the food online. In addition, the farmers can enhance the experience by varying the packaging. Therefore, the customer can be continually intrigued by new and different packaging each time she or he orders.

The Farmers

“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes” goes on to describe some of the food producers who have benefited from digital printing technology.

The first case study involves an egg vendor in the Czech Republic, Golden Egg. Macedo’s article notes that the commercial printing quality available through digital inkjet allows for superior graphics, which can be varied to show the region where each batch of eggs originated. This visual, as well as written, sourcing information can enhance both the knowledge and the confidence of egg buyers.

The second case study involves Vignola, an Italian fruit consortium. Using digital printing paired with QR Codes, the vendor produces individual fruit boxes that can send the customer (via the Internet) to information on the grower, the date of the food production, etc.

A third case study involves Yamo Foods in Germany. This vendor prints corrugated packaging (through Thimm Group) that is food safe (due to the nature of the digital printing inks). Buy beyond this, Yamo can provide “tamper-proof boxes with a printed safety strip” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). This not only provides secure packaging throughout the process but also enhances the customer’s level of comfort in the reliability and safety of the food product.

What You Can Learn from This Article

There are a number of elements in Macedo’s article that interest me and that might interest you as well, if you design printed products or sell custom printing:

  1. The concept of the “locavore” is supported by the flexibility and personalization capabilities of digital commercial printing. Just as the nature of the locavore creates the demand for digital printing, the capabilities of digital printing also foster the growth and multiplication of small farmers through variable-data printing and online communication. Each fosters the growth of the other.
  2. Printed marketing materials and Internet communication also have a mutually supportive effect. Used together, they are more effective than either used alone.
  3. All of this consumer demand bodes well for growth in digital printing: including the quality, cost, and flexibility of the technology, as well as the growth of post-press finishing operations (and other elements beyond the printing component).
  4. All of this also bodes well for printing in general, digital printing specifically, and both copywriting and package design.

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs.

In this light, I just read an article by Elizabeth Skoda on www.packagingeurope.com entitled “A New Dimension of Digital Printing.” It was published on 09/19/18. This article describes many of the features and benefits of direct-to-shape digital commercial printing. At this point the technology exists for custom printing on rigid packaging tubes and cylinders (a full 360 degrees around the tube, and from the cap to the base), avoiding the need for screen printing, flexo, and even labels. This is ideal for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries that use both plastic and aluminum packaging tubes.

Skoda’s article focuses on the Velox IDS 250, a direct-to-shape digital printer produced by Velox Ltd. As Skoda notes in her article, this “entirely new approach to digital printing…is poised to disrupt the packaging decoration market” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

Why This Is Disruptive Technology (Features and Benefits)

Velox Ltd. claims that its “decoration quality and capabilities…outstrip analogue printing solutions, while allowing a more efficient and flexible production process and a low total cost of ownership” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

More specifically, here are the features and benefits of Velox’s IDS 250 and its proprietary adaptive deposition architecture (ADA) and variable viscosity ink (VVI):

  1. The IDS 250 prints directly on rigid, cylindrical packaging containers, sidestepping the need for labels.
  2. It allows for both low volume and high volume printing.
  3. It requires only minimal make-ready time.
  4. It is fast, decorating up to 250 packaging containers per minute.
  5. The IDS 250 can incorporate up to 15 colors and embellishments in a single press run, including both inks and coatings, and in particular including tactile coating treatments.
  6. The equipment prints high-resolution, photo-realistic images.
  7. The IDS 250 can print from the base all the way to the cap of a packaging tube, with no visible seam.

Prior Technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to direct-to-shape commercial printing (or more specifically, prior to Velox’s IDS 250), a print shop could mass produce decorated packaging tubes using the following technologies: dry offset, screen printing, and flexography. All of these required considerable set-up time and effort. Therefore, they were cost-effective only for longer runs. In contrast, the IDS 250 can produce quality comparable to the analogue methods, albeit with faster make-readies, faster and therefore more economical production runs, and the ability to vary the content of the custom printing.

Here are a number of benefits that even surpass the quality and flexibility of the prior analogue methods:

  1. You can print on the packaging tube, its “shoulder,” and its cap. That is, all surfaces of the product packaging can incorporate the design. Therefore, you have a larger, more dramatic “canvas” on which to print your marketing message. In most cases, prior custom printing technology could not achieve this look.
  2. You can print on the seam of the packaging tube. In addition, you can not only cover the entire tube; you can do so without overlapping any portion of the design (as was necessary with prior analogue technologies).
  3. You have all the flexibility of digital custom printing. That is, you can produce a prototype packaging tube (a one-off product), then show the prototype to your client, then make any required changes, and then produce the entire print run. Unlike prior digital printing options, you can even produce a long final run, since the Velox IDS 250 can print 250 containers per minute.
  4. As with other digital technologies, you can personalize your decorated packaging tubes. For example, you can make each one unique, incorporating the recipient’s name into the design. Or you can target a specific demographic with a short print run, or perhaps create a seasonal product that also has a short run. Unlike analogue printing, digital direct-to-shape printing can be cost-effective with short runs as well as long ones.
  5. Velox’s IDS 250 incorporates so many ink colors (up to 15 colors and embellishments) that it can reflect a much wider color gamut than traditional analogue methods can achieve. Therefore, you can match more PMS colors (for corporate logos, for instance), and also you can print colors of amazing vibrancy.
  6. The textured coatings available on the Velox IDS 250 add a tactile dimension that in many cases was unavailable with prior analogue printing methods. These include matte, glossy, and embossed coatings incorporating raised particles. Such coatings add another element that can enhance the customer’s emotional experience and bond with the product and the brand.
  7. According to Skoda’s article, the Velox IDS 250 will provide “full functionality on any material or coating” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).
  8. Overall, this means you can focus exclusively on the creative message rather than on the limitations of either the custom printing method or the printing substrate. At the same time, you can reap the marketing benefits of precise targeting and personalization in order to strengthen the bond between the customer and the product.
  9. At best, all of this used to be achievable only by printing and applying digital labels. Now it is available digitally (without labels) within a cost-effective structure that allows for consummate flexibility and creativity. And unlike many other digital custom printing technologies, the process can also accommodate longer production runs.

What You Can Learn From This New Technology

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Packaging is clearly a growth industry within the realm of commercial printing. Given that direct-to-shape (DTS) digital printing has been making the aforementioned strides, it seems that DTS might even capture work from the custom label market. Furthermore, according to Skoda’s article, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are two major markets for DTS technology.
  2. With this in mind, I think it behooves both creative designers and larger commercial printing vendors to closely study the following: digital printing, direct-to-shape printing, marketing, personalization, and “big-data” analysis.

I think the future will be all about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and then using digital technology to speak directly to her or him in a way that engages the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.

Custom Printing: Flexible Package Printing Samples

Monday, November 19th, 2018

I’ve read a lot about flexible package printing recently. It is a vibrant element of a quickly expanding arena of commercial printing (i.e., package printing in general).

Packaging isn’t going anywhere. Newspapers may fold, and magazines may go online. Some people may prefer e-readers to print books. But as long as products in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments compete with each other for the consumer’s attention (i.e., their dollars), package printing will thrive. (Think about a store with packages that have no labels or graphics. It’s not going to happen.)

In this light, earlier this week my fiancee sent me some photos she had taken of unique flexible packaging that looks like a mason jar. She also tore the back cover off a magazine to give me because it has a tip-on Chanel perfume container fugitive glued to a Chanel ad.

What Is Flexible Packaging?

So what’s this all about? What is flexible packaging?

The Flexible Packaging Association defines flexible packaging in the following way on www.flexpack.org: “Typically taking the shape of a bag, pouch, liner, or overwrap, flexible packaging is defined as any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed.” That is, the contents of flexible packaging can be squeezed out, and the container can be resealed and rolled up or squished up to take up less space. It’s not rigid.

It has the following benefits:

  • “From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability and superb printability, the industry continues to advance at an unprecedented rate.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “Innovation and technology have enabled flexible packaging manufacturers to use fewer natural resources in the creation of their packaging, and improvements in production processes have reduced water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and volatile organic compounds.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “Even more, lighter-weight flexible packaging results in less transportation-related energy and fossil fuel consumption, and environmental pollution.” (www.flexpack.org)

The Samples: Faux Mason Jar and Chanel Perfume “Bottle”

Let’s get back to the samples my fiancee gave me and discuss why they work.

The first sample is packaging for a chocolate cookie mix. It is a soft version of a mason jar, the kind used for canning fruits and vegetables. It has precise detail in its lid as well as specular highlights that make the faux glass of the jar look like real glass and the metal top (which is really just foil) look like rigid metal. A fine artist would say the design is a good example of “trompe l’oeil.” (Wikipedia defines trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”) In the case of this flexible packaging, the image of the mason jar appears to be three dimensional when it is really only composed of a front and a back foil panel.

From an emotional point of view, the packaging brings to mind a simpler time when we grew and canned or bottled our own products. It evokes thoughts of really good cookies that were made at home from quality ingredients. Presumably this will interest those consumers who grew up making cookies in their own oven. This is the emotional hook.

What makes this sample of flexible packaging special is two-fold. There is a bit of humor in the double-take it provokes. (It looks like a cylindrical mason jar, but it’s really only flat, flexible packaging.) For those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it also is a nod to Pop Art or, more specifically, to those soft sculptures of everyday consumer products such as Claes Oldenburg’s huge fabric ice bag from the 1970s. In that case and in other similar works, by making the art much larger than usual or by using unexpected materials (like a hamburger made out of cloth), the artist gets us to look at an object from contemporary culture in a different way, as a piece of art in and of itself.

In the case of the flexible packaging mason jar of cookie mix, what makes it unique is the initial recognition of the jar, and then the realization that it is not as it seems. The consumer sees it on the shelf and stops, and then looks again. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Now the Chanel box.

I just pulled the Chanel box off its backing (the back interior cover of the magazine), and, upon closer inspection, it seems to be a printed bottle of perfume. It has a vertical pull-tab that brings up a small nozzle. When I squeeze the box, the flexible bag inside is compressed, and a stream of perfume exits through the spray nozzle, bringing an irresistible note of high-fashion to my nose.

I think it’s intriguing because it is a functional product. Granted it is small, so the reader of the magazine will be compelled to go out and buy a large bottle if she likes the perfume. But more than that, it is a reader “involvement” device. You do something, and you get the product—all in the comfort of your home. You don’t need to drive to the department store and test perfume from the sample bottles. This creates an intimate moment. It’s just you and Chanel. And all of this would not be possible without flexible packaging. The little foil pouch in the fold-over Chanel box fugitive glued to the magazine cover makes this possible.

How Do You Print on These Packages?

I thought about this packaging film, and I made the assumption that offset commercial printing would not be an option. I assumed that maintaining the dimensional stability of such foils would be impossible given the pressure of the offset press rollers.

I found the answer to my quandry on the Consolidated Label website, which references its new 10-unit flexographic press as being ideal for flexible packaging. Elsewhere I read that inkjet equipment could also be used for such package printing, and still elsewhere I saw a reference to using rotogravure printing for flexible packaging.

Notably, the research I did touted the benefits of UV-cured inks for flexible packaging, since they “dry” instantly when exposed to UV light and since they therefore adhere well to non-porous materials such as packaging film.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Package printing is a growing industry. Therefore, if you’re a designer, a print buyer, or a print sales professional, it behooves you to read as much as you can about the subject.
  2. Flexible packaging can be unique. It can catch the eye of the consumer. It also provides a large “canvas” on which to display the advertising graphics: much more than the space provided by a stick-on label. This leads to more consumer interest and more sales.
  3. Flexible packaging takes fewer resources to make. It is usually recyclable. It takes up less space in transit to retailers and on the display shelf as well. And it is resealable. In addition, it is not permeable (nothing can contaminate the food or other substance it contains). This means it provides superior “barrier protection,” which makes the FDA happy and also keeps you healthy.

Commercial Printing: Personalized Package Printing

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

I just read an article by Tom Egan, vice president, industry services, at the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, entitled “Package Printing Gets Personal.” It was published online at www.beveragedaily.com on 7/30/18.

What makes this article intriguing to me is Egan’s ability to articulate the immense power of personalization. Basically, even when you buy a bottle of water (which is one of the examples he cites in the article), you’re making a statement about who you are: your essence, your individuality and values. And when the brand, as reflected through the packaging of the water, engages your emotions and makes you want to buy one kind of water over another again and again, it is clear that the marketing information on the product has created a tidal pull on you, both intellectually and emotionally.

When you think about this, it’s pretty amazing. And according to Egan’s article, the ability to personalize packaging design dramatically enhances the “pull” of the brand. Furthermore, it is the increasing ease of personalization, as well as its economy, plus the increasing quality of digital commercial printing, that are creating the perfect storm for package printing today.

Breaking It Down

Here are some of the words and phrases Egan uses in “Package Printing Gets Personal” to characterize the emotional pull of good packaging design:

  1. “Beverage manufacturers are looking to captivate customers with packaging that offers some form of personal resonance.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  2. “Whether referencing a lifestyle choice, a fond memory, or an important goal, a beverage label that can connect with consumers on a deeper level has the power to stick.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  3. “Today’s consumers will likely not reach for a drink when they simply feel thirsty, but instead when they feel understood.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)

Particularly the last quote has an almost transcendent feel. It’s not about the product; it’s about the experience and the values the product resonates with in the mind of the consumer. Using typefaces, the principles of graphic design, copywriting skill, and custom printing acumen and technology, marketing departments wield immense power to influence their customers.

Beverage Packaging Examples

Egan goes on to describe a number of bottling promotions and their beverage packaging.

  1. For instance. he describes a promotion in which Johnnie Walker, the whiskey company, created Jane Walker whiskey, a limited edition from which a portion of the proceeds went to organizations that empower women. So those who bought this whiskey could be affiliated with a brand that values strong, successful women and that shows this commitment through financial donations. This commercial printing initiative attracted “the female demographic typically not considered a whiskey-drinking group” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”).
  2. Another example Egan describes involves Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack whiskey, aimed at a demographic that “associates fine whiskey with a premium sipping experience.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”) To distinguish this premium product from value brands, the manufacturer employs tactile labels and tinted glass to give the bottled product a more sophisticated look.
  3. A third example in Egan’s article involves promoting smaller cans and bottles of beverages, since there is a current drive toward portion control. So, in essence, bottling companies can command a higher price for smaller amounts of their product while making their customers feel good about their decision to drink less (less sugar, less alcohol, or just “less”).

Benefits of New Commercial Printing Technologies

Egan references the “Share a Coke” campaign in which Coca-Cola cans were personalized with customer names. This “strengthened customer loyalty and created buzz around the brand” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”). And it was only because digital custom printing can infinitely vary its printed output that such a powerful and persuasive campaign could be done, particularly for a reasonable cost. In addition, since high quality commercial printing is such an integral part of premium packaging, the fact that digital printing is now achieving such high quality makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of digital labeling. After all, if a customer is asked to pay a premium for a personalized product, the printing has to be stellar.

Sustainability is another draw of this new technology. Digital printing creates less waste and uses less energy. For environmentally conscious customers, this reflects well on the beverage makers and bottlers. Vegetable-based and aqueous inks provide excellent quality printing while releasing few if any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere.

The same holds true for UV inks. These are cured instantly with UV light, so fewer VOCs are released, plus this technology allows for printing directly on non-porous substrates such as glass and plastic bottles. Furthermore, such direct printing is eye catching and dramatic when compared to traditional labels.

What this means is that beverage companies can produce their alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and get them packaged more strikingly and in a shorter time frame, so their products can be fresher when purchased by the consumer. And at the same time, the entire production cycle can be better for the environment. Moreover, since digital printing allows for versioning and immediate printing, it’s possible to keep less product in inventory or change the product more often (perhaps on a seasonal basis to focus on special calendar dates).

Another benefit of the current digital technology is the amount of coverage possible with some of the newer technologies. For instance, Egan in “Package Printing Gets Personal” focuses on both shrink sleeves and paperboard packaging, noting the benefits of each. That is, the shrink sleeves holding a six pack of a beverage provide a lot of space for dynamic images; however, they are often torn off and discarded. In contrast, some bottlers choose to package a six pack in cardboard, providing a longer-lasting visual display. The consumer can see the imagery and read about the brand story whenever she/he goes to the refrigerator. In both cases, the printing and wrapping of the product have benefited tremendously from digital printing and finishing technology.

Specialty inks can also add to the brand appeal. For instance, Egan’s article references the use of thermo inks in Coors Light packaging. The color of the imagery will change depending on the level of coldness of the beer. When the beer gets to the right temperature for drinking, this will be reflected in the color of the ink on the cans. (This is both useful and fun for the consumer.)

This reflects the growth in specialty inks, which have been crafted to change with temperature, and which can adhere better to metal cans. At the same time, other inks are now on the market that are light responsive or more tactile than traditional inks. And in addition to better technologies for coating metal cans, there has been an increase in the resolution of the imagery that printers can produce when printing beverage packaging.

The Take Away

Tom Egan’s article, “Package Printing Gets Personal,” basically says that if you’re a commercial printing vendor, the newer digital printing technologies, as well as advances in inks and coating methods, will help your brand tell its story. If you can create an experience that resonates with the consumer’s values and aspirations, and if you vary the appearance of the packaging to keep making the buying experience new and interesting, you can drive customers to your product year after year.

Commercial Printing: A Spectacular DVD Package Design

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Seeing a sample of quality design and commercial printing can be a moving experience. I know this is just custom printing, and I shouldn’t get carried away, but I recently saw a video box at my fiancee’s mother’s house that was simply in a class by itself. I thought it might be of interest to you from both a design and a production standpoint.

A Description of the Video Case

My fiancee’s mother is 99, and one of the things my fiancee and I like to do is find movies for her in thrift stores. Her mother loves watching videos. We recently found a DVD for To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck that had a beautiful, classy CD case.

The first thing you notice when you pick up this DVD case is its heft. It’s heavy and well crafted, and this gives a sense of dignity and seriousness to the box. The interior presentation is a triptych, with the left and center panels covered with two thick, transparent plastic disc holders, thermoformed with recessed wells to hold the two DVDs. Even the four wells around each DVD, included so the viewer can easily grasp and lift out the discs, are sturdy. There is nothing flimsy about this case.

The CDs are nicely but simply printed, presumably via custom screen printing, since the ink is thick and has a bit of texture. The three-color treatment is subtle but effective. The main text is black over a white background with a pattern of lighter, gray type that seems to have been taken directly from the print book version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

On the rightmost panel is a sleeve that wraps around vertically. It is open on two sides (left and right), and it is attached to the base art. The sleeve contains an envelope in which 4-color promotions for other videos have been inserted. These have been printed on thick cover stock, continuing the overall air of opulence reflected by the entire DVD package. Moreover, the designer included die cut thumb tabs to allow the viewer to reach in and easily grasp and remove the envelope.

Under the two plastic DVD holders is a full-bleed, sepia-toned montage of images from the movie. This provides a dated look to the package, which is appropriate given the subject matter. At the exterior margins (the perimeter of the box), this photo montage covers the turned-edges of the fabric on the three exterior panels of the DVD package, giving a rough feel to the overall box presentation. But interestingly enough, the product designer has used extra-heavy binder’s boards under the turned edge cover fabric. When all panels are folded up, the DVD box has heft. It feels good in the hand, since it weighs about as much as a case-bound book. This seems particularly fitting, since the movie includes trial scenes, and the overall packaging of this DVD case has the feel of a law book.

Finally, there is a tip-on page attached to the back panel. It contains supplementary promotional information printed on a thick, gloss coated sheet (probably 100# text), affixed to the main box with fugitive glue.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. More than anything, this DVD package exudes quality, seriousness, and durability. So I would encourage you to consider the relationship between form and function in whatever you design, be it a print book, a brochure, or a product package. If the subject matter has an air of gravitas, make sure this is reflected in both the creative design and the materials from which the printed case is made. Subconsciously, the feel of a product tells the reader or viewer as much as the creative print design.
  2. This goes double for any promotional product. The To Kill a Mockingbird DVD case is essentially an advertisement. How it looks and how it feels will either sell the DVD or not. If it feels flimsy, it probably won’t pique the viewer’s interest as much, and a sale will have been lost. In your own promotional custom printing work, keep the sales goal in mind. Make sure the printed package reflects the quality of the item it contains.
  3. A DVD box has to be durable. Presumably, the viewer will want to keep the DVDs for years. Using binder’s boards that will not warp and plastic DVD holders that will not crack or chip makes good business sense.
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird was a print book before it was a movie. Therefore, it makes good design sense to have text on the cover art for the DVD discs themselves. In your own package design work (or any design work for that matter), find ways to tie the design into the meaning/tone/purpose of the printed piece. Consider color, typefaces, paper surfaces, and paper coatings. Each of these will either reinforce or detract from the meaning or purpose of the product. Make sure the tone of the subject matter and the design presentation are congruent.
  5. Product packaging is an advertisement. If it is well done, it will sell the next set of discs as well as the first. Keep this in mind when you’re designing anything. The look and feel of marketing materials either supports or detracts from the “brand.”
  6. Use appropriate printing technology. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, the custom screen printing on the DVD discs themselves gives an air of opulence to the product because of the thick, tactile ink. Other approaches to decorating the discs might have used thinner ink, which would have detracted from the overall effect. Keep this in mind when you design anything. Think about the difference between an inkjet printed garment, for instance, and one that has been decorated with thick, custom screen printing ink. The ink sits up on the surface of the product. You can feel it when you run your hand across the t-shirt or hat. Even a print book with a soft-touch cover coating that feels good to the reader’s hand will make an impression.
  7. People like to participate in a design. The tip-on advertisement on the back of the DVD case can be peeled off and repositioned because of the fugitive glue. Most people like this sort of thing.
  8. Be opulent where appropriate, but make sure you also understand the overall cost plus your budget. Clearly this product package was expensive to produce compared to a simple plastic case. But it will last through many viewings, and each time it will make a favorable impression. You have to ask yourself whether it’s worth it. In many cases the answer will be yes. In some cases, no.
  9. Complex print jobs like the To Kill a Mockingbird DVD case cannot be printed by all vendors. Make sure your print vendor has the right equipment and knowledge to successfully execute the specialty binding work, die cutting, or coating work. Ask your commercial printing supplier for product samples to make sure you’re satisfied with his skill and to ensure the success of your custom printing project.

Commercial Printing: Hand-Drawn Packaging Art

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

I remember growing up on Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” hearing that if fifty people a day came into the recruiting office and sang a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant,” the collective effect would be a movement, the “Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement.”

Well, I see another movement coming, in commercial printing and packaging. In our living room my fiancee and I now have a square corrugated box of nuts, two Chipotle cups, and the printed box for a container of Cabernet Sauvignon “House Wine.” What they all have in common is that all of them look “hand drawn,” and all are monochromatic, flexo print jobs.

I’ve already written a blog post about the humor, playful drawings, and quaint sayings on the flexo-printed nut carton, so I will focus this time on the two cups and the box of wine. I see some interesting marketing benefits inherent in this casual approach to design. I think it’s an exceptionally effective approach that rests firmly on basic principles of psychology.

Overview (the Chipotle Cups)

First the Chipotle cups. I have long been a fan of Chipotle’s design and marketing work because it engages the viewer using surprisingly sparse imagery. Like other Chipotle marketing work, these two cups rely on single-color custom printing. When I look at the ink under a 12-power loupe, I see a dark brown, almost black ink with a hint of red coloration. The halos around the perimeter of the type letterforms, with ink that is somewhat uneven and bubbly under high magnification, indicate flexographic commercial printing. But even on the exceptionally small type, this does not diminish readability. To the naked eye, everything looks crisp.

Each of the two cups includes about 25 lines of printed type. Both are entitled “Cultivating Thought, Author Series,” although the type treatment of this title differs from cup to cup. On one cup, the title is surrounded with drawings of figures, power tools, and electronic gadgets (a TV remote, a cell phone). Everyone seems somewhat stressed out, based on their expressions. They seem to be busy, perhaps overwhelmed with multiple tasks.

The text copy on this cup (written by Colson Whitehead) provides a zany, stream of consciousness glimpse of a couple whose TV is possessed. It only plays reruns of Cheers (the episodes with Diane).

The second cup has only one image, a smallish surfer on a surfboard, with all manner of words (like “creative,” “motivation,” inspiration,” and “love”) jammed together in a “tag cloud” and flowing like a cresting wave behind her. The words nestle into one another and are presented in a hand-dawn font reminiscent of 1960s posters. Their combined image forms the surfer’s wave behind her.

In a stream of consciousness form, the narrator (Sue Monk Kidd) addresses the question of what to do with her life. It’s almost like reading a diary, very personal, very intimate. The text reveals the narrator’s coming to embrace not the answers of life but the questions themselves.

What Do the Cups Say About Life, Art, Psychology, and Marketing?

I think the way to understand these cups is in the context of hand-drawn marketing items in general. Here are some thoughts:

  1. We live in an increasingly impersonal world. No one seems to even notice us, let alone care. Within that context (which goes against human nature), an informal marketing item that directly addresses the reader with a brief, interesting story, can be very compelling. It is personal and concrete in an impersonal world.
  2. Humor makes the pain and absurdity of life less oppressive. (Think back to the zaniness of 1960s movies and TV shows.)
  3. Cool, edgy text copy invites the reader into a small, exclusive group: the smart, savvy people. Everyone wants to be a part of this exclusive club. Even the Chipotle restaurant interior design, signage, and marketing collateral, as well as the restaurant logos on the cups, reinforce this message of ultimate “coolness.” Affiliation is a basic human psychological need. This tribal and casual marketing approach directly addresses this need.
  4. From the point of view of the vendor, the reader is a captive audience. Anything printed on the food packaging (cups, bags, etc.) will be read at some point, particularly if the person is eating alone. (Think about how many times you have read the cereal box while eating breakfast, when you’re not on the phone or checking emails.)
  5. Single color type and art stand out in a marketing arena (i.e., the customer’s entire field of vision) in which almost everything else is presented in full color. Marketing messages compete for your attention. Any marketing item different from all the others will stand out. Ironically, as single-color, casual marketing items become the norm (i.e, the “movement” I mentioned above), they too will cease to be visible to people.

Overview: The Box of Wine

“House Wine” seems to be the name of the company as well as the description of the contents of the box. When I was growing up, liquids came in bottles. Now they come in bags (flexible packaging) and boxes (folding cartons with flexible packaging inside).

The title “House Wine” just works. People these days embrace “utilitarian-chic.” Simple, hand-drawn line art and type give a functional appeal to this box of wine, as does the notation that one box equals four bottles or 20 glasses. People today like lots of information, specifications, details. The box includes all of these.

Again, like the Chipotle cups, the box of wine is printed in one color: black. This is not really true, although the overall look is of a one-color, low-budget job, a functional product with a functional design. It actually has a little blue ink, positioned on the doors of the house (which is the logo, “House Wine”) and the word “original” on one side of the box. The box design looks sparse, just the perfect drink for those who either love to live simply or who have no other choice.

What Does the Box Say About Life, Art, Psychology, and Marketing?

Like EF Schumacher’s book on economics, Small Is Beautiful, this box exudes simplicity in its low-impact, environmentally-conscious commercial printing. Under my loupe I can see the halos around the text and the watery looking ink (with bubbles and other irregularities) that reflects flexographic custom printing. Since the packaging is a box with gloss litho paper covering the corrugated fluting, I’m not surprised that it was printed via flexography (although the litho paper could also have been offset printed and then glued to the corrugated material).

Here are some thoughts about the overall look:

  1. As with Chipotle’s two cups, this box has a simple, casual air. I’d say it would appeal to young people on a budget who want to savor the joys of life but who may lack sufficient cash flow.
  2. These customers may also have a taste for energetic living, the irreverent, and simplicity.
  3. The design is simple and bold, easy and cheap to produce, and environmentally conscious in its appearance. I think it’s aimed directly—and quite effectively—at young urban professionals.

Overall Views

Overall, I love the approach of this product packaging (which is really marketing collateral). My only hope is that the approach doesn’t morph from a quirky and edgy experiment into a movement, and then into a commonplace style seen everywhere. It’s like the bell bottom jeans of the hippies. At the beginning they were a protest. At the end, they were a uniform.

Commercial Printing: Three Intriguing Printed Samples

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

My fiancee always has her eye out for exceptional printed samples because I’m always talking about custom printing. She has become a printing aficionado, and I always get a steady stream of new ideas from her.

We were at the beach recently, and she gave me three commercial printing samples that caught my eye. Here’s what she gave me, as well as my assessment of either why they work particularly well or what we can learn from them:

The Cosmopolitan Cover Tip-On

To begin with, a tip-on is a separate printed sheet glued to the front or back of a press signature. In many cases I have seen fugitive glue used in this process to allow for the easy removal of the attachment. Fugitive glue is like rubber cement. You can easily peel off a printed sheet (or even an object like a plastic card) that has been fugitive glued to another printed sheet.

This particular issue of Cosmopolitan magazine included a fake cover (or additional cover), with the logotype of the magazine (often referred to as its “flag”) printed at the top of a cover-weight gloss press sheet (above a perfume ad mocked up to look like an actual magazine cover). It had the word “Advertisement” printed at the top, but to me it looked like a real cover (complete with a knock-out box for the inkjetted address, carrier route sorting information, and the Intelligent Mail barcode).

Now I have seen many similar tip-ons added to the front cover of magazines, but for the most part they have been produced on uncoated vellum bristol paper (postcard stock). They have looked like cover wraps, and for the most part they have imparted information (usually that it was time to renew my subscription) adorned with the publication branding and some light marketing copy.

What made the Cosmopolitan tip-on so intriguing was that I was certain—until my fiancee peeled it off the actual magazine cover—that this was in fact the true cover. The logotype made it believable. It was sexy. Now that’s powerful marketing.

The Organic Apple Chip Bag

It takes some serious marketing mojo to get away with charging more than $5.00 for a small bag of chips. And this particular vendor succeeded masterfully.

The next piece, which would be considered “flexible packaging,” is printed in solid black heavy coverage ink. With a loupe I can see black halftone dots under the solid black ink coverage. I learned this technique when I was an art director. Black ink by itself can look washed out. Since I can see some imperfections in the ink when viewed through my loupe (it looks a little uneven and watery in places), my guess would be that the job had been printed with flexographic equipment. This is often used for flexible packaging.

To minimize the slightly washed out look of the ink, the designer had specified black ink over a black halftone screen (as an alternative, he or she could have also opted for a “rich black” ink, a composite of black ink and other process colors). This works beautifully. It makes the entire bag seem lush and indulgent. It also makes the 4-color apple and reversed, hand-lettered type (actually just a simulation of hand lettering) jump right off the page.

The design is cute (the logo is made of sliced apple chips placed to make letters), and the simulated hand lettering gives the product a relaxed, casual feel. The organic specifications (gluten-free, fat free, non-GMO, etc.) provide a healthful and sustainable aura, targeted at customers in the upper financial echelons who want to be healthy and environmentally sensitive. If I had the cash, I’d pay this much for a product of this caliber.

Needless to say, since you can’t test the chips before you buy them, all of this mojo has to be conveyed through the lush ink coverage, the contrast between the images and the background, the playful typefaces, and “crunchy granola” marketing copy. This is a success.

The Sidewalk Chalk Box

The third sample is really less of a marketing success and more of an educational tool, providing in a small format all you need in order to grasp the concepts of die cutting, scoring, and folding (as well as laminating a 4-color printed cover sheet to fluted cardboard stock).

What appeals to me about this simple package (known as “folding carton” work on “corrugated board”) is its educational value. If you disassemble the carton and lay it completely flat with the printed side down, you can see the fluting of the cardboard, all the scores for folding the flat box into a three-dimensional finished piece, all the die cut tabs plus the die cut window for the front of the box, plus the one tab that has been spot glued to allow for joining the four sides of the box (exclusive of the top and bottom) into a cardboard cube.

On the flip side, you have a sheet of enamel litho paper, printed in four colors and laminated to the corrugated board.

When you wrap it all up and stick the tabs where they should go, you have a three-dimensional product. It is no longer a flat, printed sheet. It is an object you can hold in your hands, a cube, even before the manufacturer puts the toy in the box.

What makes this interesting to me, beyond the education it provides in how boxes are constructed, is that in creating every box a designer must take into consideration the physical properties of the finished packaging as well as its design (how at appears) and its marketing message (both the content of the copy and the emotional effect of the graphic design).

But once it’s in the store on the shelf with innumerable other items, all of this goes out the window. Then it’s just you and the box. Will you buy it, or won’t you?

Custom Printing: Using Bags to Sell Fast Casual Food

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

With our hectic schedules, my fiancee and I eat more fast food than I’d like to say. We have found that you can sleep, eat, and run a business from the privacy of your own car.

That said, a few of the bags in which the fast food has been served have piqued my interest due to both the simplicity of their presentation and the power of their marketing message.

The McDonald’s Bag

My fiancee is addicted to Egg McMuffins. I love the Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. What has struck me, though, is the power of simple, bold colors on unbleached kraft paper (i.e., paper bags). On its main bag, McDonald’s has printed its name, the golden arches, and its signature tag line (“I’m lovin’ it”) in bold primary colors. Moreover the golden arches are positioned slightly off center on the back of the bag, and they extend onto the bag’s side.

A small red vertical bar out of which the tag line is reversed balances the larger (but lighter) golden arches, creating an asymmetrical weight distribution. This actually evokes more drama, movement, and excitement than would a centered, symmetrical approach to the same information. In particular, the golden arches’ extending off the back and onto the side of the bag gives a more expansive feeling to the design.

What really intrigues me, though, is the treatment of the iconic “McDonald’s” moniker.

“McDonald’s” has been set in an extra-bold, sans serif typeface, broken down into three lines of type. It is printed in a light blue ink, so the heaviness of the typeface is somewhat subdued in an elegant and sophisticated way.

Keeping true to the current fashion of breaking words arbitrarily (not hyphenating them at syllabic points), the McDonald’s logo has been broken down into these three groups of letters: “McD/on/alds.” I understand and appreciate the first line. It offers the traditional nickname for the company: “McD’s.” The letters “o” and “n” fill the next line, which is set under the first line with just a smidgen of space, providing an almost sculptural look reminiscent of the “I(heart)/NY” image from 1977, created by Milton Glaser. The shape of the letters is striking, and the lack of leading makes this even more evident. It also ties the first line closely to the second.

As noted before, there are no hyphens. This is rather avant garde, placing the design (and the patron holding the bag) in the position of the intellectual or artist (i.e., stylish and contemporary). The third line contains the letters “alds” set in a much smaller point size but again placed under the preceding line with almost no leading.

Even though the word has not been broken into identifiable syllables, it nevertheless reads like the expected “McDonald’s” with the added benefit of looking avant garde, artistic, and cool.

As a final note, all three lines have been placed immediately against the left vertical fold of this panel of the bag with no surrounding space. That is, the type abuts to the fold. This creates even more drama. In addition, the structure of the three-line word, “McDonald’s,” is perfectly left and right justified. This accounts for the differences in type size of the letters on the three lines (so they will be precisely justified), but it also allows the bag-holder’s eye to travel down the contour of the letterforms on the right-hand margin.

So What Does This Get You?

Some people just eat the food. I like to read between the lines. This is what I learn from this McDonald’s bag:

  1. McDonalds is rebranding itself to look environmentally aware and sensitive. The bag is made of unbleached kraft paper (no caustic chemicals were used that might harm the environment). The lightness (thin ink film) of the red, yellow, and blue custom printing gives prominence to the absorbent kraft paper.
  2. McDonald’s has an artistic eye. The bag reflects an aesthetic sensibility.
  3. Artistic implies “intellectual.” Therefore, the branding invites the viewer to join the exclusive realm of the intellectual while eating his/her burger and fries. People have a need for affiliation, and a good marketer will draw the viewer into the small and exclusive “club.” And McDonalds is an ace at marketing.
  4. The homage to the big, blocky sculptures of the 50s and 60s (as reflected in the large, heavy type) reinforces this artistic, upscale look.

Pretty soon you’re stopping at McDonalds several times a week, as my fiancee and I do, absorbing both the food and the marketing message relayed through this custom printing job.

The Chipotle Bag

I’ve written in earlier PIE Blogs of my love for the simplicity of Chipotle’s commercial printing materials. A hand-drawn illustration, a little type in brown ink. The minimalist look can go a long way.

Chipotle has been producing “Cultivating Thought—Author’s Series” bags that wax philosophical. The one in front of me has about a thousand words, in stream-of-consciousness style (like William Faulkner or Gabriel Garcia Marquez), addressing our tendency as a species to not watch where we’re going or be present where we are. It’s called “Two Minute Driving Lesson” (by Jonathan Franzen). The article weaves in and out of driving skills, politics, the ecology, and philosophy, basically asking the question: “If you’re taking such an extremely short view, how are you even supposed to see a pedestrian who’s starting to cross the street?”

Actually, it literally asks this question. Franzen’s query takes up most of one side of the bag, printed in brown ink in a simple sans serif face (not unlike the McDonald’s bag but in a less bold type) with generous leading between the short lines of text. There’s also a Chipotle logo bleeding off the right bottom side of the bag, and the “Cultivating Thought—Author Series” tagline mentioned above reversed out of a solid brown that bleeds off the right, left, and bottom of the bag.

As a culture, we seem to be moving away from images in our marketing materials to embrace type, both for its message and for the sheer visual beauty of the letterforms.

So What Does This Get You?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. People still read. In fact, in the morning while eating cereal, a lot of people read the cereal box. Chipotle marketing execs are smart, and they realize they have a captive audience. Presumably people will read their fast casual food bags while eating (unless they are on their smartphones).
  2. Brown type on light brown kraft paper just feels ecologically sensitive. Perhaps it even makes you want to stop at Starbucks for a latte. Hand-drawn illustrations incorporating witty, provocative signs above a frazzled driver in a car (just like my fiancee and me, driving to and fro’ with our McDonald’s and Chipotle bags) add humor. However, they also evoke a sense of recognition in the reader. He or she is “hard-wired,” as the bag says, to be short-sighted. Like the McDonald’s bag, the Chipotle bag draws the reader into the experience and provides a sense of affiliation. “We are all part of this group,” the reader can say. And, as we know, affiliation sells product.

The Overall Outlook

First of all, I’m pleased to see any marketing collateral that requires people to read. We don’t do enough of that as a culture. More than that, I like marketing collateral that is edgy and that makes people think. Both the McDonald’s and Chipotle bags do this.

Finally, I think it’s masterful marketing to use a platform (or substrate in this case) that will be right before the eyes of the person eating the hamburger, fish sandwich, or burrito, to not only sell the product but to also challenge the user to think.

Andy Warhol would be proud.

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