By Erin La Row, writer, PostPress
theory11’s special edition The Beatles playing cards and box set, made in collaboration with The Beatles, pays tribute to a band that has shaped the world’s music scene for decades – nearly 60 years after Beatlemania hit US shores. The individual card boxes represent the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band marching band uniforms worn by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The project came together when Studio On Fire, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, was hired by theory11, a producer of luxury, designer playing cards, to plan and execute production of The Beatles playing cards. Another partner in the project, Mattson Creative, was tasked with designing graphics conveying that Sgt. Pepper’s flair in a cohesive way across the set.
“It was up to us to make sure the decks lived up to previous theory11 releases and that the special edition box felt luxurious and worth purchasing,” said Sam Michaels, creative manager at Studio On Fire.
The team got started by asking questions: What is the best way to achieve those bright colors? How can this be done on budget? Where was it worth the splurge?
Designing and planning
There are many physical production steps involved in a project of this scale, and equally the same amount of work happening in the studio before paper even enters the building.
The first step was to design the structure that would house the four decks of cards. Studio On Fire’s talented CAD department created several mock-ups that were reviewed and tweaked to get the final product. Questions had to be answered to settle on the final structure: How does this fit on a sheet, which would affect the press run and cost? Does budget allow for hand assembly? Does it hold the weight of the decks? Does it feel premium?
“That last nugget, does it feel premium, is a question we ask ourselves a lot,” Michaels said. “Small things go a long way to pushing something into ‘premium’ territory. For example, the satisfying ‘click’ of a closure, the heft of a thick stock or the sturdiness provided by a custom insert.”
The project’s graphics were designed by Mattson Creative. “Working with a studio that understands our capabilities helps the process, though we’re always pushing our boundaries and attempting things that really shouldn’t be attempted,” Michaels said. “But end up looking really cool, so it’s always fun to see what gets asked of us.”
Before the design process was complete, Studio On Fire looked at initial files to start planning for potential production problems – a must in today’s world of continuous supply chain issues. The team was able to guide some final material and design choices based on availability of papers, foils, etc.
Then it was the prepress department’s time to shine. Production processes go down one layer at a time, so it takes time to rip files into their specific passes. Michaels said the trapping, choking and altering of art all happens in this step when they’re creating the proof.
“The Beatles box set also has a beautiful emboss happening and it’s our prepress department’s job to call out how that works: What type of emboss? What pieces of artwork? They’re making sure things won’t crack or get too close to scores,” Michaels added. “It’s a really detailed, specific set of decisions that are made in order to set the production team up for success.”
The next step in the process is getting client approval of the proof. Then it is time to start buying materials such as paper, foil tooling, cutting dies and rolls of foil.
“What some folks don’t realize is that a good chunk of production planning is for materials to arrive in sync with when open press time will be,” Michaels said. “It’s truly a behind-the-scenes ballet.”
The Beatles box set is comprised of five main components: four decks of cards and the outer special edition box that houses them. Before anything can hit the press, the paper must be cut down from parent sheet size to press sheets. Everything at Studio On Fire is run sheet-fed. From paper prep, the job starts its tour of presses at the shop. The selected paper for the box set and inner tray was the Neenah Folding Board Natural White Vellum Finish.
The outer box has three passes of foil – white, gold and black – all executed on a large format Saroglia press. After foils, the Saroglia completed the beautiful emboss, giving the artwork the tactility Studio On Fire pieces are known for. The foil for the project was supplied by Infinity Foils, Inc. and Kurz Transfer Products. The engravings for both the foil stamping and embossing were supplied by Universal Engraving. Inc.
Both the outer box and internal tray/insert were diecut on a second Saroglia before vending out for final assembling, including the addition of a magnetic closure.
A rare occurrence for Studio On Fire, the four tuck cases started with a vendor partner who laid down four colors of offset ink and a pass of aqueous coating before Studio On Fire took it in house. Once the sheets were on the floor, they took three trips through Studio On Fire’s Kluges to get gold, black and red foils laid down. A pass through the Saroglia for a beefy emboss before moving on to the second Saroglia to be diecut. The fold/glue team finished off the set of tucks, folding and gluing each of the four-color versions and getting them neatly packed.
“These were made with love,” Michaels said. “Each step, from planning to production, is painstakingly executed by a staff who cares deeply about making a quality product that can’t be made anywhere else.”
Embellishments and challenges
“So much foil” – that is how Michaels described the project. Layers after layers of foil were laid down on every type of foil press Studio On Fire has at its disposal. After the layers of foil, everything was hit with a heavy emboss, carefully as to not crack the layers of foil, but heavy enough for the team to question whether it was too much.
“It’s never too much,” Michaels said.
The Studio On Fire team initially was given a rigid box concept. Michaels said the team moved this to a folding carton structure to get a more tactile result by having the ability to hit the artwork with a deep emboss. The team also chose to keep the entire product paper instead of defaulting to a foam insert, which added complexities but produced a more environmentally friendly product.
Best of Show
The result: The most vibrant and eye-catching playing cards ever produced by theory11. Studio On Fire entered The Beatles box set into FSEA’s 29th Annual Gold Leaf Awards, winning “Best of Show” for all the Best Use of Foil and Embossing categories.
“Projects like this reflect a great relationship and effort between client, design, planning, and production,” said Ben Levitz, owner of Studio On Fire. “Focusing on projects with that synergy is what we love to do; we think that love is reflected in the final product and thus pushing it to ‘best of show’ level work. We’re honored.”
The Beatles cards are available for individual purchase or in the premium special edition box set at theory11.com.