Alternate Title 1: A Surprisingly Analog Step In the Digital Design World
Alternate Title 2: There Is No Substitute For Your Own Eyes
I'm currently sitting in the Denver International Airport, awaiting my redeye back to RDU. This morning I spent in a factory in a Denver suburb, comparing colors on shiny aluminum to their CMKY-printed counterparts. Hangar 24 Craft Brewery is going to release their Betty IPA in 16oz cans, and the colors need to at least approximate the color on the paper labels. I'm pleased with the day's work, and know the client will be happy with how nicely it matches, even given the limitations of printing on a can.*
When trying to explain this to some friends, especially the flying-out-expressly-for-this-purpose part, the main response I got was "why don't you just mail it?" If we were only changing the color on the can once, this might work. All I have to do is see it in person, compare it to the label, and then give the thumbs up, right? Sort of.
Let's say the pressman selects some colors from their pre-printed catalog, and 2 of the six colors are accurate enough for the client's (read: my) liking. That's great. But four of them aren't quite there yet. Many colors exist in their catalog, from which I could choose. That saves time over a custom-mixed ink (about 30 minutes to an hour per color), and given that most can manufactures allot one day for you to approve colors, this makes a difference.
Access to the catalog is one reason to be there in person. In some cases (like when I was press checking Meadowlark Brewing's* cans back in April) there is no catalog: only a bunch of boxes with aluminum swatches in them.
Let's keep going with Meadowlark for a minute. In this case, they had no ivory color in their "catalog" that was acceptable. The closest color was a tan-ish beige. We want a really classic but slightly aged look for Meadowlark Brewing, and the beige was just too dark and dingy. So we mixed a custom ink, cutting that beige with white. We repeated 6 times until we got it right. You can't do that over the mail.
Photos don't work either, because you don't always have control of the monitor or camera settings, and colors regularly look different in person than on screen. This is one of those situations where there is no substitute for being there. It's surprising to think about, given how much of my job I do over the phone (almost all of it). But there are a few, important situations where it is essential to be there.
Here are a few more images of the Meadowlark can samples I brought home.
I'm very pleased with the way they turned out. Using the aluminum of the can as a pinstripe adds a great visual texture. Dan Bowman (Creative Director, The Brandit) designed the framework for the can, and I did all the art and type. The custom script for Meadowlark I'm particularly fond of; the whole brand is about 40% automotive, 40% baseball, 20% Midwestern nostalgia. Kind of fun.
Also, here is a video I took of the printing machine in action.
*Cans can generally only take 6 colors of ink, and any attempt to place a gradient requires a lot of technical manipulation. It can definitely be done, but it's often not worth the headache. We did a little gradient on this product to get it to match the heavily-stylized Hangar 24 illustration. Additionally, when the can is "scrunched" at the top to put on the lid, it affects the art. The ink at the top of the can has to "flex," so a special type of ink, called a dye ink, is used there. But dye ink is more expensive so it's generally not used on the rest of the can.
*You can also see the finished cans on Meadowlark Brewing's Facebook page.