IG Design Group UK, Penallta Industrial Estate, Ystrad Mynach
My first day started with a health and safety briefing, then meeting the team that I will be working with. The head of department, Sian, introduced me to Rhian, who is in the repro team at IG Design Group UK. Repro is a process whereby all artwork files are checked over for correct versions of images, no blurriness, colour modes are correct, placement of artwork elements are correct, and finishes for the artwork are separated. Rhian gave me a short tour of the repro workspace, and then explained to me about the processes used within the company. There was a lot of new information to take in in a short space of time, which felt quite overwhelming at first. Rhian explained the differences between CMYK colour printing and spot colour printing. Spot colors or the Pantone Matching System refer to a color or ink that has been specifically mixed and calibrated to a colour matching system, for example Pantone. It is a similar process to picking out paint swatches, but using a Pantone catalogue. In contrast, CMYK print has four colours: cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and back (K). The K means “key colour”, because in CMYK printing, the cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are aligned with the key plate, which is black. CMYK colours are applied to the paper through a four colour process whereby the paper absorbs the inks. To product white, no colour is printed, and all four colours combined produce a muddy black. A real black colour is produced when K is applied at 100%. Images sent to the printer are broken into thousands of CMYK dots that overlap and blend together to create a full colour image. She also mentioned how the company had switched from litho printing to flexo printing. This was due to environmental and economical reasons. Flexible printing is now pretty dated, it dominated in the 20th century, but now, flexo printing is much more popular. Litho printing production costs a lot more, and the presses needed to carry it out are very expensive. Processes to produce finishes such as metallic inks, foils, specialty coating and embossing, require extra handling or long setup times. In contrast, flexo printing has a much lower production cost, but much higher setup. It also uses more ink, but can use water based inks (in comparison to toxic inks with litho printing).
The company currently finds it very important to focus on eco-friendliness and sustainability within their design, because of the worldwide problems caused by excessive uses of plastics, glitter, etc. Obviously all of these potentially toxic materials were heavily used by companies like themselves, so it’s harder for them to find alternatives. Their customers, such as Tesco, Aldi, Wilko, Poundland, etc, are all large scale companies with huge publicity, they all have eco-friendly policies and want their products to be eco-friendly and recyclable, which has a knock on effect on IG Design, as they need to accommodate their customers needs, otherwise they could easily lose the customers. Some of their movements have included stepping away from flitter as much as possible, and increasing the use of recyclable materials wherever possible.
I was then given my first task, which was to create a gift set (card, bag, tag and wrap) for IG Design’s eco range. I decided to create my range on uncoated, recyclable paper, which meant that it had no finishes on at all (e.g. foiling, virko, etc). I started by creating the wrap. As wrapping paper has a continuous pattern over a long length of paper, they design the prints in tiles, which get repeated horizontally and vertically. A tile can be different sizes (but always square), depending on the design, and the sleeve it is going onto.
For my design, I decided to go for the “1/2 step” method. This means that on the second horizontal line, the tiles are offset by half a step (e.g. half of the size of the tile, in my case, half of 190mm, so 95mm). I was quite tricky to get my head around designing the tile so that all elements could be repeated, so the guide helped me lots. The positioning of each element of the design had to be extremely precise, otherwise the repeat pattern just wold not work.
To design the initial tile, I used Adobe Illustrator. This ensures that all design elements are in vector format, which eliminates the chance of pixelation or blurriness of the design at this stage. To create the design as accurately as possible, I used the move tool when moving any objects. I also learnt that when you copy an object, you can paste it directly on top of the one you copied by using ⌘F. This made it easier to create the design to the exact tolerances needed.
<<<photo of tile on Illustrator>>>
After this, I opened the tile in InDesign. This is where it gets “stepped and repeated”. I selected the tile, and then went to object>step and repeat, and inserted the amount of repeats I wanted, and the length of the step (95mm). For some parts this had to be -95mm, because some tiles are half a step behind the first one.
I then created the bag in Adobe Illustrator, where I used a cutter guide for a medium sized bag, which had been created by someone in the company as a template/outline to follow.
When talking to Rhian, I discovered that most of their products, like cards, gift tags, bags, etc are made by suppliers in the far east (China), in their in-house factory, only wrapping paper is produced on a large scale, and they have recently purchased a bag manufacturing machine. This really interested me, as it shows that the company probably started off creating wrapping paper, but to expand the business, started selling products manufactured in China.
On Tuesday, there wasn’t a spare Mac for me to work on with the repro team, so I went to work with the design studio. Firstly, I created my card and gift tag to match the eco range that I was working on yesterday. I then printed the designs using their printing software, Firery XF Client. This software is connected to all different printers within the building, so it’s easy to choose which type of paper you’d like the design to be printed on. I chose uncoated, white.
After having printed the designs, I went to the mock-up space to mock-up my gift set. I started by mocking up the card. Firstly, I put a piece of card the same size as the flat size of my card (140mm x 280mm) through an adhesive filter, which creates an extremely sticky back on one side of the paper. I then stuck my card onto the sticky side of the paper, in order to create a more sturdy card. Next I used a scalpel to cut the card out, using the crop marks. I then used an embossing tool to score the fold in the card. I repeated this process with the gift tag.
To mock up the bag, it was a bit more complicated. Firstly I cut out the bag’s shape using a scalpel, following the crop marks. Next, I folded along the fold marks, and used double sided tape to join the bag together on the side and the bottom. The last part of creating the bag was choosing and applying the handle, I chose a natural twine, as this fitted the eco range nicely. Finally, I mocked up my wrapping paper. To do this, I taped along a cardboard core, and rolled the paper onto it, then taped it at the edge.
On Wednesday, I was able to sit back with the repro team. I was given a task to come up with alternative packaging ideas for Aldi, as they are moving away from plastics like acetate and cellophane within their packaging from IG Design on things like multipack cards, gift ribbons, etc. I started by researching current alternatives already on the market. I came up with some ideas like using boxes, Kraft paper, biodegradable cellophane, etc. Rhian then gave me a choice of which product I’d like to create an alternative for. I chose a cellophane bag of 33 gift ribbons. I was then asked to create a cutter guide for my packaging idea. I had no idea what this was before coming to IG Design. A cutter guide is basically a drawing of the flat size/shape of the packaging, created in Adobe Illustrator, which a machine will use to cut out the shape, which will then be folded and glued to create the finished package. Pete, another part of the repro team, showed me how to create the cutter guide. It was a combination of using the pen tool, shape tool and the line tool. The company has a library of colours which indicate different things, for example, the cutter guide is always a specific orange colour, and all creases within the guide (which won’t be cut by the machine) are a specific green colour.
<<<cutter guide photo wip>>>
I spent all day creating guides, and I really enjoyed it, as I learnt lots of new shortcuts and tools in Adobe Illustrator which I didn’t know about previously. For example, I learnt that ⌘J joins two paths together, and that ⌘3 hides objects. It sounds so simple, but it actually helped me so much learning them all, and made me work much more efficiently!
On Thursday morning, I finished off my cutter guides, and then Rhian showed me how they check over the greeting cards.
For each card design, they have a “job bag”.
Each job bag includes a “job specification card” which includes information about the card, such as its size, its flat size, its envelope size, its customer code, its cost, its RRP, its job number, its barcode, its finishes (e.g. foil, virko, emboss, etc). See below for an example of a job specification card:
The process of checking the greeting cards includes checking that any images used are full quality, as before artwork is approved, designers use free shuttershock images with watermarks over them, and until the artwork is approved, the company doesn’t purchase the artwork. Sometimes the step of purchasing the images gets missed out, so that’s why it’s important to check the images first. Next, they check the colour modes of all aspects of the design. For example, in some cheaper cards, the inside pages (page 2-3) are printed only in black (K), so it’s important to check that the elements are actually black only, and not made up of blue, pink and yellow (C,M & Y). Once everything is checked, they start to “build” the card.
The first step of building the card is finding the card number on the server, and opening the folder to find the main artwork file (illustrator or eps), maybe the raw artwork file (illustrator or photoshop), a page 4 template (back page) (illustrator). Next is creating a barcode. They use a barcode creator application, to which you input the barcode number (from the job spec card). There are lots of types of barcodes, and for this particular company (Aldi), they use EAN 13 type barcodes, with no numbers along the bottom, and the lines are flushed (so all the same length). The barcode is then put onto a template for the back page of the card (page 4). The number of the barcode is then inserted horizontally to the right of the barcode, and to the left of the barcode, the customer code is inserted along with the release date for the range (e.g. 73541 05/20). The next step for building page 4 of the card is altering the “message inside reads: ….”. This template would then be saved as a .eps file, as the company works with this file type for printing. Next, layers within the artwork file are broken up into separate files. For example, a card with a foil and emboss finish would be separated into an artwork file, a foil file, and an emboss file.
The next step of building the card is creating an Adobe InDesign document, the size of the file is the flat size of the card (found on the job spec card). All elements of the card are then brought into the file on separate layers and labelled accordingly, so that anyone who opens the file will be able to understand what is what. Everything must be brought is and positioned as accurately as possible to ensure the printing process is precise. The final step is printing the artwork files as a display of how the card should look. This means that each page and each finish of the card must be printed separately. The settings for this are A3 paper, print ink mode is “in-rip separations”, and depending on the finishes of the car, a different number of pages must be printed. For example, with a card with a foil finish and an emboss finish, 5 pages must be printed: a print with all layers shown (page 1 and 4), a print with no finishes shown (page 1 and 4), a print with JUST the emboss layer shown (page 1), a print with JUST the foil layer shown (page 1), and a page with page 2 and 3 on.
After having explained this to me, Rhian gave me some card jobs to do on my own. I asked for help lot of times, as I found remembering the whole process really challenging. I got through 4 cards that day, whereas the repro team normally get through around 15 cards per person per day.
On Friday, I was given a tour of IG Design’s wrapping paper factory. It was incredible to see all of the modern machines producing such a large volume and variation of wrap. The company were already producing Christmas wrap for 2021! I couldn’t believe how far ahead they were. I was given a tour of the whole process, from the plain paper to sleeve printing, to foiling and holographic paper, I couldn’t believe how much work goes into creating the wrap. It was amazing to see!
After the tour, I continued with the card jobs. Today I got through 12 cards! I was really impressed with myself and how much I’d remembered and learnt about the process. I learnt more shortcuts in the Adobe software, which really sped up my work.
Overall I really enjoyed my time at IG Design UK, and although I was only there for a week, I felt that I settled in quite nicely with the employees, and when I was leaving they said that I could come back whenever I wanted, and they even said that if I ever wanted a job there, I was very welcome! I found this really appreciative and felt more confident in myself.