The following is a continuation of the article “Creative Canvas” which appeared in the March 2013 edition of Beverage World on page 44. Paul Evers’ firm, TBD Advertising, worked with 21st Amendment Brewery on the award-wining design for its Bitter American can, and has most recently been working with the brewery on its packaging for its new Lower De Boom Barleywine. Evers shares his experience working with cans as a design platform for craft beer—and how certain design challenges unique to cans can be overcome.
BW: Are you working on cans for many craft brewers or just 21st Amendment?
PE: There’s only one brewery that we’re working with cans for and that’s 21st Amendment. I know that cans are being adopted at a pretty rapid pace and I think with good reason, but out of the three craft breweries that we handle branding and package design for, 21st Amendment is the only one that uses cans.
BW: How would you say cans compare to other types of packaging?
PE: There are some advantages and some disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that you have the whole can that you can cover with the exception of the top and the bottom so there’s more room for story telling, which we love.
You can take the consumer all the way around the can. A lot of cans are designed with a clearly delineated front and some with a clear back as well. One of the things we just love about the can is using all 360 degrees as a canvas to play with and story tell.
The disadvantages are the printing processes are somewhat archaic. Printing on an aluminum substrate you don’t have the same level of precision and detail as you would as printing on paper. So you have keep your outlook fairly simple.
BW: So are you saying that what it looks like is not as good as paper?
PE: No, we love the challenges actually presented with the can. We enjoy embracing a challenge like that and leveraging it and making the most of it.
But here’s one example. You can’t overlay inks on a can, you can’t build one ink on top of the other. You can’t have two colors butting against each other unless they’re very similar.
BW: And how do you get around that?
PE: When you’re printing on paper you can use screens and blend the colors together to achieve a wider range than the four or six colors you had to work with. On cans you can’t do any blending so you’re limited on the number of colors you can use and then you’ve got to figure out how to allocate those colors across the concept you’re designing, also keeping the art work simple enough.
The other risk with cans is that if anything the lines get fatter or thicker, not thinner, so you can’t have too much detail in your artwork otherwise the lines will thicken up and then they plug up and the artwork can get muddy. So you can’t achieve the same level of detail as you can when printing on paper. Paper is absorbent, aluminum isn’t, so the ink is just going to sit on top of the can until it dries and it will thicken up.
So what’s been fun with 21st Amendment is kind of achieving a maximum amount of what is perceived to be detail in the design, kind of a little bit of overcoming the obstacles and achieving something that looks very complex and has a sense of texture or humanity or quirkiness about it when you’re dealing with a very slick shiny surface and a limited number of ink colors.
BW: And how do you achieve that result?
PE: We’ve worked in other sectors where we’ve dealt with limited reproduction capabilities. Another example would be Tetra Pak packaging, the aseptic packages, and that uses flexography as a printing technique which is basically a rubber printing plate and has very similar challenges in a way – a fairly crude, old process and you can’t really achieve a very high level of detail.
So we were familiar with how to overcome limitations. And we made some mistakes along the way, too, but just in doing sort of an assessment and looking at other cans. The first thing that we did was we went out and bought a bunch of cans and analyzed those cans. It didn’t matter if it was craft beer or energy drink or soda or regular beer. We studied them and did our own kind of assessment as to how they could have achieve the effects that they were able to.
Color choice is a big factor. There are some options on color choice. You can use transparent inks, you can use opaque inks, and you can use a combination of the two depending on the effect we’re looking for.
BW: Is there anything you have found that certainly doesn’t work when it comes to can design?
PE: Too much detail, for one. The first run of can for Fireside Chat for 21st Amendment features FDR on the can and it looked like his hand belonged to a werewolf. There were marks on it that looked like a hairy hand. That was not intentional. It was just too much detail and it plugged up. So for the second run we made adjustments to that.
BW: How closely do you work with the breweries on the designs?
PE: Our philosophy and our approach is that we come with our set of expertise and experience and that pairs with the charisma and creativity of a craft brewer. Our primary job is to appropriately express what the spirit of the brand is. So the more charismatic the brand is, the more charismatic those that are driving the brand, the more effective the packaging is going to be because we’re able to capture something that already has a lot of energy and creativity in it. So we worked very closely with Sean O’Sullivan and Nico Freccia. Those two are very exciting partners as a craft brewery. And the more the brewer brings to the table, the better the results. But our objective is always to optimize every opportunity. We thrive on collaborating with breweries.
BW: Does craft beer give you a little more leeway to be free-spirited with the design just by the nature of the business?
PE: Yes. There’s a pretty broad range of attitudes or approaches within craft, but for the most part there’s an inherent rebellious streak or an inherent appetite for taking risks. The industry was really founded on being bold or being willing to take risks and being willing to challenge convention or having a passion for challenging convention. So there’s already sort of in the DNA of the craft brewing sector a wonderful sort of spirit or ethos that lays a great platform for building a brand on.
But within that there’s a range from those who approach it more conservatively to those that are interested in making a statement, not for the sake of making a statement but making a statement because it’s reflective of what they believe in. In the case of 21st Amendment Brewery, they were one of the first to adopt cans so they’re already predisposed to being adventurous.
The interesting challenge when you’re working on a brand like 21st Amendment is to maintain continuity across its beers so when somebody sees it they recognize that it’s 21st Amendment while at the same time giving each beer brand it’s own unique identity or a sense of personality or persona. With 21St Amendment the whole thing changes. The continuity is more sublime or subtle. It is about a spirit, an attitude, the style of the art, the way the illustration looks, the way the character looks, the personality of the beer and the story telling.
BW: How vital to the success of a craft brewery today would you say can design is?
PE: I think it’s extremely vital. There’s a huge expansion in the number of SKUs on shelf and differentiation is critical. It’s getting more and more competitive so differentiation and having a package that resonates and not just pops off the shelf, but resonates with the consumer, is becoming more and more critical. One of the advantages that 21St Amendment has is they box their 6-packs and that box is a terrific story-telling tool for them. You’re not just looking at cans. You’re looking at 8 sides of the box that tell a story.