Print’s tactile nature ensures other media can’t touch it

Barney Cox
Monday, June 29, 2015

One clue of how important touch is as a sense, is in how closely the language of emotion is entwined with it. When we talk about emotional states, we talk about ‘feelings’.

“There is a clear connection between physicality and emotion,” says Tim Milne, director of Artomatic a consultancy specialising in the strategic use of print. 

What’s more touch is one of the first senses to develop and remains a powerful tool for communication.

“As kids we explore the world with our hands, we’re well versed in the language of touch,” says Alistair Hall, director of design studio We Made This.

Ironically the importance of touch for communication has come to the fore as a result of the ubiquity of screen-based digital media. With the initial excitement at the arrival of digital media starting to wane, clients are re-evaluating their options, looking to use the most effective medium rather than the newest. Which is good news for print.

“Tactility is becoming more important as we move to an increasingly online world,” says Antalis creative papers product manager Peter Harrison.

Hall adds: “New media make people re-evaluate every medium’s strengths. The advent of the internet means people are reflecting on what print is for.” 

Someone who’s done that is Tim Solway, managing director of boutique printer Solways.

“The objective of print is to create impact, emotion and remembrance,” he says. “The issue is how do we do that. There are three ways – design, paper and print processes.”

When it comes to feeling and feelings, paper, because of its tactile qualities, is enjoying a resurgence. While those qualities are becoming more important, they aren’t easy to understand.

“There’s not so much science around the physicality of paper,” says Milne. “When people attempt to discuss it, it sounds clunky and the reason is that our reaction to it is intuitive.”

Timon Colegrove of Hunts adds: “People notice unconsciously. A brochure on uncoated paper just feels good. The recipient probably won’t know why, but they know that it does.”

Exploiting emotion

Colegrove, like Solway, is one of a class of printers who, even if they don’t understand the precise principles underlying it, are using tactility as a tactical tool.

“We focus on companies who consider their branding to be important and who see print as a tool for differentiation,” says Solway. “I feel that is the direction the market for print is going to go. Tactility helps – the impact tends to be greater. 

Another firm that is thriving thanks to a focus on more tactile work is east London’s Gavin Martin Colournet.

“A lot of general commercial print work is disappearing as the communications move to screens,” says managing director Gary Bird. “By focusing on the quality and physical end of things we’ve thrived in the past few years.”

Paper is usually the main influence of the final feel. When texture is important an uncoated paper is usually the preferred option.

“Uncoated in general is more tactile; it’s the default choice when clients want to be more engaging in a tactile way,” says Fenner Paper marketing director Justin Hobson. 

Fedrigoni UK sales director Fred Haines agrees: “The fact that uncoateds are so popular shows that feel is important. Coateds limit the range whereas the range of uncoated finishes is massive.”

The wide range of finishes and the vagaries of selecting the best one for the job means that it can take a long time to pick the right paper.

“Generally people forget about how a job sits on press and the impact of the materials as they design and view so much on screen,” says Solway. “To sell texture you need to have full sample kits to aid selection.” 

It’s not just the paper that affects the feel of the job. Any subsequent processes will also have an impact. It is important to consider coating and laminating. While it may have taken six months or more for a project to come to fruition, by the time it’s on press it tends to be the 11th hour.

“It’s the nature that after six months of development of a project in the end the paper and print are always wanted in a hurry,” says Haines.

Gavin Martin Colournet’s Bird says: “We can’t tell customers that they need to leave two or more days for a product to dry before we finish it. So 99% of what we do is varnished to ensure robustness. That means the job can pass quickly through the factory. However, it relies on selecting and using the right varnish for the paper. 

“If you go to the trouble and expense of having a lovely tactile paper but then use a standard coating, it hides that texture and looks like a commodity grade. To get around that we make sure that we use a sealer that complements the paper, rather than conceals it. Typically in a day we’ll wash down the coater two or three times to switch to the varnish with the right properties for a particular paper and we may change coating on every job.”

Hunts has recently installed a Komori five-colour plus coater HUV press. The use of UV curing inks has meant it no longer needs to coat for protection. However, it has opened up opportunities to offer further finishes.

“We offer what we call rich silk – it’s a combination of solid matt and gloss,” says Colegrove. “We use the 5th unit for matt and the coater for the gloss. It’s like a veneer.”

Even with the ability to radically alter the finish using HUV varnish Colegrove still holds that “laminating is a good way to add tactile value”. 

Bird also sees a place for them: “Most designers think of laminates purely for protection rather than as something that can add tactility to the job. Used appropriately soft-touch laminates can add to tactility.”

The trend with lamination is to look beyond just using it as a protection.

The look and feel is becoming more important,” says Graphic Image Films (GIF) sales and marketing director Sandro Mosquero: “Soft-touch has been around for several years, more recent developments are embossed textures that enhance the end-product such as leather and linen.”

He argues that in some cases a textured laminate can be cheaper than a speciality paper, although does concede that the range of textures available for laminates, though growing, is still a fraction of the range available with paper.

Balanced approach

While the feel of a job is crucial it has to be balanced with a stock’s printability. 

“A common request is to use a tactile paper for photographic imagery,” says Bird. “If the paper is soft and porous the results can look like an apology. We try to suggest materials that satisfy the need for a beautiful tactile feel and that print well. Often that’s Mohawk, as it has a treatment called Inkxwell that means a genuinely uncoated paper can have good ink hold-out, while retaining a soft feel.”

There are other ways around that problem. In Hunts’ case that’s through the instant drying of the inks on its HUV press. Fedrigoni’s Haines highlights another trend, the development by the mills of coated papers that look like uncoateds. In Fedrigoni’s case that includes X-Per. 

“Textured papers used to be uncoated but there has been a move to coated,” he says. “In markets such as greetings cards publishers want both the tactile qualities and the lift in the image to ensure they leap off the shelf – an uncoated feel with a coated look.”

A combination of print and paper developments is enabling printers with the magic touch to get the best from their materials to add a feel -good factor to their customers’ jobs. 

Top tips

“The objective of print is to create impact, emotion and remembrance. Paper is one of three ways to do that along with the design and print and finishing processes.” Tim Solway, managing director, Solways

“There’s a clear connection between physicality and emotion. That’s what Christmas and all gift giving is about.” Tim Milne, managing director, Artomatic

“A library of materials to show clients helps to explain. For many processes and materials you need to put something into their hands to enable them to understand.” Alistair Hall, director, We Made This

“Some papers are best left to shine on their own with single colour printing or nothing bar a foil or deboss. Make the media stand out.” Peter Harrison, creative papers product manager, Antalis

“Some textured papers are much more expensive compared with using a textured laminate over a standard grade.” Sandro Mosquero sales & marketing director GIF

“It’s about communication and openness rather than following the brief to the letter and then getting an unsatisfactory result at the end.” Gary Bird, managing director, Gavin Martin Colournet

“Coating can take away some of the benefits of a textured paper, use the wrong coating and it will smooth out the surface and reduce the impact. You end up losing the very texture that you paid for.” Justin Hobson, marketing director, Fenner Paper

“The perception that specialist paper is more expensive than it really is can be a disincentive to considering it.” Fred Haines, sales director, Fedrigoni UK

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