Varnished truths

Excessive foiling and other over-the-top print processes have been out of favour recently, reflecting more austere economic times, perhaps. But applied with intelligence and consideration – and in moderation – such finishes can play an effective part in a range of projects, finds Anna Richardson

Special print finishes such as foils and varnishes are often perceived as wasteful and garish, conjuring an impression of papering over the cracks. But applied in a thoughtful and appropriate way these processes can offer an added dimension.

Wired magazine, for example, uses foiling, metallics and five-colour printing as an integral element of its brand, keeping its print publication relevant and vibrant, while exploring innovation and technology editorially. Since the UK edition launched last year, clever use of special processes has not just made the publication ’a jewel on the newsstand’, as its art director Andrew Diprose puts it, but in some cases has complemented and enhanced content and messages.

The July 2009 You Will Buy Me cover – which accompanied an article on hidden advertising – used a spot gloss UV varnish to create a hidden message, while the recent Trust issue was finished with a silver latex varnish applied over text areas to produce a scratch-off finish that challenge the trust relationship between publication and reader.

’Wired has always been a magazine about ideas and progression, so it’s a place where that sort of thing should naturally occur – whether in the stories and features or the finish of the magazine,’ says Diprose. ’We will do things that are progressive and clever, and, hopefully, they go down well – but only where it’s relevant and fun.’

Special processes are particularly relevant in luxury brands – but again, consideration and moderation are required. Construct London creates brand guidelines and many printed projects for a client list including Claridge’s, Mulberry and other luxury brands, but Georgia Fendley, managing director of Construct, says considering the wider picture is vital. ’We always try to limit the amount of space in which we’re using foil, just because of the environmental impact. Because we are very much a niche consultancy, there are usually not so many budget constraints, but our positioning is about thoughtful luxury – we don’t like luxury that causes problems for people or the environment.’

Construct tends to explore an overall audit of all materials and products produced – often leading to a reduction of items, print and lamination. For Mulberry’s brand book, for example, the consultancy wanted to convey a new approach to luxury, with an emphasis on the raw material with a touch of sophistication. It therefore printed on 100 per cent recycled and unbleached paper, with binding kept to a minimum and a touch of luxury through a foiled Mulberry logo. ’We would rather have a few exquisite experiences than mass corporate branding. You might have a foil on something, but it’s one thing rather than ten – so the net result is a reduction,’ says Fendley.

Where Construct deals predominantly with luxury, the Victoria & Albert Museum in-house design studio typically has to grapple with tight budgets when it comes to designing invitations to major exhibitions. ’Budget is, understandably, always a key issue so we try to use innovative print and finishing techniques in a way that adds interest without breaking the bank,’ says Cathy Stuart, deputy head of design at the V&A.
For this year’s Horace Walpole exhibition, the limited budget was used to ’add some dimension’, according to Stuart. Stock and print were kept simple – just two colours – but combined with a laser-cut design ’to reflect the architectural feel of the show’. For the invitation for Grace Kelly/ Style Icon, the team experimented with unusual papers to create a ’luxe’ effect; for the Quilts exhibition invitation, it achieved a tactile element with a stitched hem; and for 1:1 Architecture the invitation combined a deboss with a clear foil to make the text stand out.

’As communication becomes increasingly digital, we like to enhance the tactile quality that only print can bring,’ adds Stuart. ’Often we will be asked to design “e-vites”, so when we do get the change to work in print, we always make the most of it.’

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