Overprinting used to be an everyday technique in graphic design. When you look back at books cataloguing work from the 1940s through to the 1960s, they are full of the rich colours and complex effects of overlapping, transparent layers. As four-colour offset printing developed and replaced colour lithography, overprinting became less common (it is more difficult to achieve with offset litho). We barely see it today.
I have always loved the effect of two colours making a third, and of the way that it creates a spatial trick, as though one layer is on a different plane to the one underneath it.
The most inspiring examples are where the designer has used this effect as part of an idea. The great classic is Derek Birdsall’s logo for the printer Balding and Mansell. The two names in colour bars are joined together, two people coming together to make one company, and a thin cross is reversed out of the overlapping colours. The trick is this: the bars have to be correctly aligned to ensure the cross is white. As well as a logo, it is a test of good printing.
We have just created a symbol for a conference being held by the British Council. It is about relationships between different cultures – a subject that is especially pressing in today’s climate – and the conference is called Eye to Eye. I instinctively felt that overprinting was going to help and I now realise I was somehow subconsciously informed by Birdsall’s successful marriage of the two printers. Our solution shows two faces overlapping, sharing a point of view by literally coming eye to eye.