Work in Progress

Ever more complex combinations of materials and processes are being employed by designers looking to create something special for a client. We talk to production specialist Simon Farrow of Progress Packaging about the latest trends and whether we are finally going to see the end of the designer tote bag

CR: At the luxury end of the market, what particular qualities are people looking for in packaging and print – is it glossiness? Is it about metallics? Or is it more about something which feels handmade or bespoke?

SF: The most popular materials and processes we are seeing at the moment tend to be more natural or organic textures along with more traditional branding processes. There has been a surge in the use of uncoated paper stocks, from luxury retail brands downwards and this is often complemented by processes such as foil blocking, embossing and high build varnishes. Whilst the processes are seeing a return to traditional values, the complexity and detail of design has remained high so the emphasis is still on quality.

CR: Is there a material or process which you have used for the first time in the last few months?

SF: We have used soft touch lamination on several jobs this year and learned lots about it as a result. Generally this is a great material but it does not lend itself well to folding or hinged edges. Particularly where the base colour is dark, products like these show bubbling in the laminates. We have also used Tyvek on several projects this year, ranging from carrier bags to envelopes and even some foldable picnic blankets.

CR: We’ve seen an awful lot of tote bags over the past few years – are designers still specifying them or is there a new medium replacing the screenprinted tote? We seem to be getting quite a few tea towels sent to us recently….

SF: Tote bags are as strong a medium as ever although we have done the odd tea towel too recently! The bag is a format which obviously has a high utility but also offers a great medium for graphics or a printed message. Cycling musette bags also seem to be very much on trend for us, possibly following our FeedMyRide project of 2012 which we are reprising for the Grand Depart in Leeds this year. The growth of cycling, particularly in design-conscious areas of London, has made these bags a popular format. Higher resolution screenprint is also letting us print more and more detail.

CR: What is the most difficult material that you work with and why?

SF: Having 17 years experience in working with materials, we have become confident in most forms of branding. Where difficulties, or challenges as we see them, present themselves is when we try new or untested techniques on a particular substrate. One material that does present challenges every time is wood, because of its natural properties it is always difficult to achieve consistency on processes like laser etching and screenprinting. No two pieces of wood are the same so we constantly have to fine tune across a batch in order to get consistency.

CR: Are there any new materials or finishes which you think are going to gain popularity during the year ahead?

SF: Digital printing is not exactly new but it is increasingly being used on shorter runs of diverse materials. We have used this format on fabrics, metals, wood and an ever increasing selection of boards and papers. This allows us to offer complex designs and imagery on relatively short runs, a trend that seems to be growing as a result of more targeted marketing techniques. We are also increasingly using 3D printing, not so much on final production but as a means to prototype and mock up early stage designs. In the current climate, anything we can do to make an end-user’s decision-making process easier works well and nothing is better than physical sampling.

CR: Are there any new eco-friendly materials or options on the market which designers should consider as an alternative to the familiar?

SF: Eco-friendly materials and processes are now widely available and are being heavily marketed by the material manufacturers. The key is seeing through the press releases and ensuring the materials have a genuine story to tell. Most material suppliers will find some spin on their products that offer an environmentally friendly story but this is often not the full picture.

We are now printing, laminating and varnishing using vegetable inks and products. Corn starch-based plastics and laminate substitutes are now also starting to offer a viable alternative and are now available in bigger volumes.

CR: What was the most complex piece of work you produced in the past year? What was involved?

SF: We produced launch boxes to the trade for Lionel Messi’s new football boots. These were housed in a metal box with a magnetic fastening lid and multi level inserts. The first layer held a video screen within a metal sleeve that was activated on opening to play the showreel of the TV advert. The boots themselves were located in a high-density foam recess that was lined with a synthetic grass. The range of materials and processes created a large supply chain that needed managing to a typically tight timeline.

CR: For any designer thinking of collaborating with you what are the main dos and don’ts?

SF: The main ‘don’t’ from a production perspective is making sure you avoid selling a client a design or concept prior to ensuring it can be produced and delivered on budget. A good production company will want to be involved at the design stage so that they can ensure the ideas put to the end client are achievable. Like all aspects of good design, communication is key; use the experience of suppliers who are working with these products on a regular basis.

Simon Farrow is managing director of Progress Packaging, see

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