Paper wisdom

As paper merchants retreatto the Web for promotions, designers risk distancing themselves from the textures once central to their craft. Emily Pacey rediscovers the tactile pleasures of tracking down the perfect stock

Nearly ten years ago, Arjowiggins closed down its Covent Garden Paperpoint store, the site of many a lavish paper launch. As the clink of champagne glasses and admiring murmurs about the Hi5 Fine Paper collection faded, paper took on the cast of an estranged lover to the design industry.

Ironically, considering that digitisation caused the decline of the premium paper industry, the Covent Garden shop was replaced by an online store. There is general agreement among designers that – which still exists – misses the point of paper as something that is felt, smelt and even heard at least as much as it is seen.

’We used to be invited on paper mill tours in Norway [which provides much of the UK’s pulp] as a matter of course – staying over, being wined and dined and entertained. It was hedonistic, but so important,’ remembers Someone co-founder David Law. ’I spent my first three years as a designer in the early 1990s learning all about paper – about bulk, tooth and weight. Paper then was as important to designers as buying car insurance is to a car owner’.

Today, those designers to whom paper still matters complain that it is more difficult now to track down the right stocks. Designer and paper enthusiast Enrica Corzani of Thomas Manss & Company tells of the work she put into the catalogue for Korean artist Minjung Kim’s London exhibition, which takes place next month.

’She creates beautiful artworks with super-colourful Korean rice paper, so we looked for a paper that was as close as possible to that material,’ says Corzani. ’After searching for a few weeks, we found a very thick paper in France for the cover, another in Italy for the pages, and we wrapped each section of the book with the Korean rice paper that she uses in her artworks.’

The next challenge was to convince the printer and binder to work with these unusual papers. ’The printer was very scared to use them, but we made a dummy and in the end the printer was happy. As the designer, you have to be determined and do a lot of the hard work yourself,’ warns Corzani.

999 Design provides its lucky staff with a ’vast’ library of paper swatches and samples, as well as their own resident expert in the form of group production directorColin McNab. ’A good all-round knowledge of existing paper and board is essential for a production person, as they need to be able to veto design ideas early on if they compromise the budget, timings or the main design idea,’ says McNab.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have such resources, particularly if they are freelance, but there are some paper merchants that pride themselves on providing a personal service even in the digital age. ’We are a tiny player in the paper industry, but we have a high profile among designers because we talk to people all the time,’ says Fenner Paper marketing director Justin Hobson. When you call the company, it is Hobson who picks up the phone. ’I work very differently from other merchants, who will just send you a load of swatches, whereas I enjoy taking a consultative approach, finding out details and sending a printed sample relevant to the job.’

Hobson points out that designers can only really tell that a paper stock is right for a job once it’s been printed on. In fact, designers could do worse than go to a printer for advice.

’You can learn a lot from printers. The paper merchants know roughly how the paper reacts to the main things – like illustration or photographs or full colour, but they don’t experiment very much and you can learn more from a printer,’ says Corzani.

The way a certain ink moves across a particular paper is the subject of Arjowiggins’ latest digital venture, an iPhone app called the Curious Game. Focusing on its specialist Curious Collection – which Law believes is ’the only really innovative paper around at the moment’ – the game uses tilt technology to show how ink moves across the different papers.

This is one of a number of Arjowiggins digital platforms, including a new gallery launching in the next two weeks where designers will be able to promote the work they have done with Arjowiggins products. ’The online space is a key tool where designers can look for inspiration, and maximising visibility online has been a key focus,’ says Arjowiggins marketing communications manager Katie Hungerford.

Some still dismiss these digital initiatives are mere gimmicks, and continue to value expert personal service and regular innovative paper releases above all else. ’I cannot get my Conqueror [an Arjowiggins division] rep on the telephone nowadays,’ complains Law, ’and I don’t even know their name.’

However, digitisation may not be all bad in its effects on the paper industry. Corzani reports that her boss Thomas Manss likens the Web’s liberation of print to photography’s liberation of painting. ’Manss is always telling us that relieved of their duty to depict reality, painters explored completely new avenues. The Web is replacing paper as the cheapest and most efficient means of distributing knowledge, and at the same time opening up new opportunities to create cherished objects.’

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