Oklahoma: Come See – and Feel – for Yourself

by Brittany Willes, editor, PostPress
Since its publication, the Oklahoma Travel Guide has received various awards from the Printing Industries of America, Great Lakes Graphics Association, the Foil & Specialty Effects Association and Printing Impressions magazine recognizing the complexity of its specialty printing techniques.

For those outside of the Midwest, the phrase “cowboy culture” likely conjures images straight out of a John Wayne western: saloons, horses and cattle, dusty wide open prairies and campfires. While the scenery may have changed somewhat, cowboy culture still is alive and well in states such as Oklahoma and remains an important part of the state’s identity.

“Cowboy culture is a big part of Oklahoma’s DNA,” remarked Colleen McIntyre, director of operations for Oklahoma Today, the state’s official magazine. As such, McIntyre and her staff sought to proudly display that culture in the latest edition of Oklahoma Today’s guidebook, the Oklahoma Travel Guide. The goal was to create a unique, high-end cover that would convey the rich cowboy culture that Oklahoma is known for. In order to do so, Oklahoma Today selected an elaborate design featuring intricate embossing and foil stamping in order to simulate the look of tooled leather. “We wanted a cover that reflected a prevalent part of our state,” McIntyre affirmed. “Tooling on saddles and other leather pieces are very common, and we wanted to portray that on the cover. We wanted a cover that would impress.”

In order to create a cover capable of evoking the look and feel of tooled leather, Oklahoma Today first hired someone to create an actual tooled leather piece. “Our art director found John Rule to create the original leather design,” said McIntyre. A local artist and custom saddle maker in Oklahoma, Rule specializes in artistry featuring Western, Native American and wildlife designs. According to McIntyre, Rule was excited to be part of the project. Even though he had produced leather pieces for other print projects, creating what would become the cover of the guidebook “was something new for him.”

Rule’s design was that of a highly detailed tooled leather portfolio embossed with images related to Oklahoma’s rural heritage. The front and back covers feature large sprays of sunflowers, roses and other forms of vegetation. The state bird, a scissor-tailed flycatcher, is depicted soaring across the top of the cover, while a stately buffalo grazes in the bottom left corner. Additionally, the state seal, bearing the motto “Come See for Yourself” is displayed in the bottom right corner. Prominent on the front cover is a silver, oval western-style belt buckle. Both the buckle and the edge of the portfolio are outlined with white “stitches,” lending the piece a hand-sewn feel.

“The belt buckle was created specifically for this cover,” explained McIntyre. “We knew that having the embossing and the belt buckle would make the impressive cover we wanted. Once the leather portfolio was created, our art director photographed it and created a die file using the inclines and declines on the portfolio.”

To create the Travel Guide cover, a very heavy paper stock was selected in order to best ensure the final texture would evoke that of tooled leather. Once the stock was selected, the cover went through multiple rounds of foiling, embossing and stamping. “The first step in producing this cover was the foiling,” stated McIntyre. “Then the 4-color printing was done, followed by a spot gloss UV coating. Embossing was the last step.”

To create the foil oval of the buckle and the two smaller metal pieces toward the bottom, a Brausse 1050 SEF diecutter and hot foil stamping machine was used to apply a layer of Kurz Shiny Silver GIO Release foil. In addition to being foil stamped, the buckle would be further embossed with the word “OKLAHOMA” across the front in the final stages of production.

Once the foil stamping was completed, a standard 4-color process printing applied varying shades of brown ink to further convey the illusion of leather. Subtle shades of purple woven throughout the cover add contrast to the brown while emphasizing the “tooled” look of the leather and offsetting several of the images to be embossed. As with the foiling, embossing was achieved using a Brausse 1050 SEF. The entire cover was sheet-fed through a KBA/864 printer with inline UV coater. In order to create the effect of tooled leather, custom dies were made by Metal Magic.

One of the challenges in producing such a complex cover was finding a printer with the necessary capabilities. Oklahoma Today reached out to Quad/Graphics’ Commercial Specialty Print team. As a partner to Oklahoma Today, Quad was able complete the project entirely in-house. Quad’s customer service team was able to streamline the production of the cover with complex treatments through the specialty print capabilities of Quad’s Burlington, Wisconsin, and Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, plants.

Beyond finding a reliable printer, the greatest challenge in producing the cover was making sure the die was done correctly. As McIntyre explained, “Since the die had to be made to fit the printing that would already be on the paper, it was extremely important that everything lined up perfectly. Our art director put a lot of time and attention into making sure the file he sent was perfect.”

The finalized cover certainly proved to be worth the extra time and attention. In its determination to create a cover to impress, Oklahoma Today created a design about which it was “absolutely over the moon,” enthused McIntyre. “One year later, we still pick it up and run our hands across the cover. We still have people requesting it. Tourism agency directors from other states were extremely complimentary of it.”

State tourism directors were not the only ones impressed by the final cover design. Since its publication, the Oklahoma Travel Guide has received various awards from the Printing Industries of America, Great Lakes Graphics Association, the Foil & Specialty Effects Association and Printing Impressions magazine recognizing the complexity of its specialty printing techniques.