Sometimes the most innocuous of creative ideas can cause the biggest headaches.
Way back when Mary landed us a new client at MW Publicity. It was so long ago that I cannot remember the name of the client, or what exactly it was they did. It was something to do with data and computer systems for the medical profession. They had 12 (or maybe 15) products all of which needed a brochure. Their logo was vaguely triangular and the concept was to have good sized idiograms inside triangles illustrating each different product on each different brochure. I guess what you may now call ‘flat design’.
Then some clever dick, not me I hasten to add, came up with a bonza idea. Let’s have all the triangles join up to form one larger triangle. So if all 12 brochures were lined up together they would form one big diagram (what would now be an infographic). One at the top, two below that, three below that and four at the bottom. The diagram I have drawn up doesn’t really show it accurately. But then that was less than 20 minutes in Illustrator. In real life each triangle was smaller than A4 with roughly 30mm space around it which meant that the lines had to continue in some directions to meet up with the other covers. For example the one bottom row at the far left needed the line going from lower left diagonally upwards to continue off the top of the page to join the same line on the next brochure up. While horizontal line had to extend off right to meet up with the next brochure along. Not easy even by today’s standards, with computers and Illustrator and so forth, but far more straightforward than what we faced.
This was the days before computers and the whole project had to be planned not only to allow for the covers to match up but actually be working covers on old fashioned ‘lick and stick’ hand worked artwork too. We were working in what was called ‘work and turn’. This is a process where, for example on a twelve page A4 brochure you would draw up an A3 landscape rectangle, divide it in two, and have the front cover (page 1) on the right hand side and the back cover (page 12) on the left. Directly above this there would be another two pages inverted so that they were head to head with the first (but with a gap between them). Then page two, the inside front cover would be directly above page one, and the inside back cover (page 11) would be directly about the back cover. Then there would be two further sets of artwork for the remaining pages. Pages three and ten with pages nine and four. Finally pages five and eight above the centre spread of six and seven. Therefore for twelve, 12 page brochures we would have needed 36 sets of work and turn four page artworks!
Why does this matter I hear you cry? Well, it meant that it was impossible to draw up any of the covers together at the same time. We could not extend lines from one cover to another as we drew them up. Every crossing point from one cover to another, either horizontally or diagonally, had to be measured in by hand and the angles worked out in advance. Even then there was more to consider. Two different rulers can measure ever so slightly differently. It might only be 0.3 of a mm across 210mm but when butting the final covers up after printing that would cause a jagged little jump as the line flowed. We also learnt that on plastic rulers the measurements can change ever so slightly on a day to day basis if there are wide changes in temperature.
The other area we had to take in to consideration was the four colour litho printing we would be using. When using the CMYK (cyan magenta yellow black) process if one of the four inks start to run thin, even by a small percentage, it can cause a subtle variation of colour across a long print run with some pages having more intense colours than others. Extrapolate that across twelve long print runs and this becomes more of an issue. Especially as we had an almost cream colour mix for the background of the covers, a hard colour to hold steady at the best of times.
Alongside this there is the issue of bleed too. With the best will in the world a cutter blade has a width of its own, and no matter how hard the cutter operator tries, each batch needs be positioned as exactly as possible the same each time. So, miniscule differences can be found along the edges of a page when cut. To alleviate this commercial artists and printers use bleed. This is where the image continues off the edge of the page area so that if it is cut wider there is not a white line left around the image area. This meant that, if a cover was cut large by 0.3mm at the top, the diagonal line would continue beyond where it would naturally finish. If this line was to butt up with the one on a correctly cut cover then, again, there would be a little glitch in the smooth running of the line.
All this meant that we had to work to the highest levels of accuracy, across all the brochures, and all the covers. We had to allow for the variations I have described above in every case and use only one set of pens, set squares and ruler. Even then we had to keep a close eye on the printing process to ensure we got the best results possible.
Once the print was delivered it was down to yours truly to wade through all the printed copies to find a handful of all twelve covers where the colours matched up well. I then cut all the covers out to double check how the lines married up. They were around 8mm wide so any disparity would show as an awkward kink. With the final twelve covers chosen I then had to mount them up accurately on a huge piece of white board to form the final, large triangular image. This was then taken to a photography studio to be shot and the final image created for use in onward marketing. It really was a mad project to work on, bringing up huge challenges for us all to face, and satisfying when finally complete. Still be much easier to work on today mind!