The Production Process – Topography Inspired Journal & Pencil Box, Set Part Two


In case you missed my previous post, this is part two of our post about the making of our topography inspired journal and pencil box set. I’m sharing all the details of the project – the good, the bad and the ugly. Part one was about the concept and design phase of the project. I thought narrowing down paper selections was going to be the difficult part, boy was I wrong. This post is where the production process begins and so do the hurdles.

Now that the design is finalized, I’m ready to start on the production – but this isn’t my first rodeo. Given the challenges that go along with packaging projects – dielines, embossing, foil stamping, die-cutting and folding, I knew I needed to call in the experts.  Selecting the right vendor is the single most important part of the production process.

I turned to the pros at United Finishing & Die-Cutting in Cleveland, Ohio. They’re the experts when it comes to die-cutting, foil stamping and embossing. What I love about them is they’ve got the customer service of a mom and pop shop with the expertise, production chops and setup of a large-scale manufacturing operation. Not to mention the sweetest shop-hand ever, a french mastiff named Layla.

I met with the owner, Laurie Jazbec, to review the details of the project. She suggested we do some tests to make sure the results would be what I had in mind. I brought over tons of papers for their expert pressman, Bill, to test for me. He was a craftsman at American Greetings for years, when it comes to embossing and foil stamping, Bill knows his stuff.

When in Doubt – Test, Test, Test

Given the fine lines of the design, Laurie wanted to make sure the embossing and foil would would work as expected with the soft touch finish of the Touché paper. Bill was running a job with similar design details and suggested tailing in the papers samples I brought. Needless to say the first test was a total fail.

After some tweaking, and testing different color foils with the correct backing for the type of papers we were using, we had success. The embossing looked spot on. But my biggest concern was the dieline for the pencil box. We got the dieline online, and I needed to make sure it would actually “work.”

Dielines & Dummies

Laurie generously offered to make a sample based on the artwork I sent. She wanted to insure I’d be happy with the results. I’m going to be honest, you won’t find this kind of service in every shop. But it does exist.

Side note – if you want to form strong, trustworthy partnerships with your suppliers, do not nickel and dime them. Quality work costs more, it just does. That doesn’t mean quality isn’t within reach. Just understand there is a real cost that goes along with expertise, craftsmanship, reliability, customization and responsiveness. But if you are committed to designing and producing work you’re proud of, then developing relationships with ALL your suppliers is a worthwhile investment of your time. Now back to the pencil box.

Laurie gave me samples of the pencil box using the dieline United produced. She reworked the tabs and resized the side seams to accommodate for the glue – all things I never would have anticipated. We revised the artwork to fit the new dielines and were almost ready to go. I just needed to finalize the page count for the journals.

After a couple dummies, I opted to go with Classic Crest Smooth in 70#T for the text pages. The covers would be on Touché and match the pencil boxes. The journals would be 32 pages + cover, scored, folded and saddled stitched. Our friends at SP Mount were handling the bindery. I was familiar with their work from my days as a spec rep, and knew them to be a quality printer.

What Could Go Wrong?

Finally, after what felt like months of prep (because it was), the day of the press check  arrived. I figured it would be smooth sailing from here out – afterall, we did all the necessary testing of the paper, embossing and foil stamping, what could go wrong?

Everything went smoothly during the press check – just a bit of adjusting to the pressure for the embossing. I kept telling Bill that the edges of the shapes seem lighter in impression. He told me to turn the paper and see if they still looked faint. OMG, they kept changing. He told me that there’s an optical illusion with blind embossing circular patterns. Who knew? Umm, Bill did.

About an hour later I headed back to the studio.  Things went along as usual for the next few days and then I got a call. “I’m sending you some pictures, there’s an issue with the journals.” Wait, what? The journals were supposed to be the straight-forward part of this project. My heart sank.

After looking at the pictures, it didn’t look awful but I wouldn’t know for sure until Monday. Laurie scheduled a meeting for all of us to meet at her shop.

When I arrived both printers were there, along with the journals. It was the strangest thing, about 3/8” from the top, it looked the like paper stock was “splitting” along the spine. There was a crack about ¼” long and it was only on the Sterling (light gray) colored paper. Was it the temperature? Were they scored properly? Was it too much tension on the spine with the cover folding back on itself? Hard to say for sure, but all I knew was we had to fix it. Going back on press was not an option.

Good Suppliers Provide Solutions

In those moments things can get dicey, especially when a project involves multiple print providers. This is usually when people start pointing fingers and assigning blame, but that was not the case here. Laurie immediately had a Plan B ready before I even arrived. Since the journals were splitting near the top, she suggested we adjust the cutting die so it trimmed just below the damaged part of the spine.  Since they were stitched already, we needed to cut from both the top and bottom. As long as it didn’t cut off the url on the bottom of the journal, I was good with it.

A couple days later the journals were ready. I was giddy with excitement. Not only did we get the journal & pencil box sets on the three different paper stocks, our friends at United let us tail in some additional papers to see how the design would look on different colored stocks. They even offered up another foil color of our choosing to play with – holographic foil!

Even though the process didn’t go exactly as expected, one might even say we had a bit of a nightmare on press, the final results looked awesome. We packed them up and sent them out in the current issue of The Parcel.

In the end, my dream project turned out exactly as I had envisioned it.

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Touché Sterling with Copper Foil
Touché Black with black foil
Layla at the press check
Testing out the holographic foil
Different papers we tailed in
Touché Slate with silver foil


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