When the calendar goes beyond dates - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Calendars designed by Pasja and Grafico have inspired Arihant Enterprise. When the Vasai-based firm embarked on the journey it was teeming with failures and missed deadlines. However, after 700 calendars, 25 days, and 300 man-hours, the work redefines the glory of print.

In this Sunday Column, Deep Shah shares his deep understanding of print processes while producing the Arihant Calendar 2021

28 Feb 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

The Arihant 2021 calendar is stunning. The process, the print, the ink and the coating; all combine to create a wonderful idea. How was the idea born?
The idea was born with the thought of creating an expression of what Arihant stands for. We've been in the print industry for the past 19 years. Over the years, we've always been in constant pursuit of excellence. Recently we set up a packaging unit  and have invested in converting equipment. We wanted to create a product that would symbolise our work, which would represent our brand and create a bold expression of everything we stand for. The calendar seemed a perfect idea.

Were you inspired by any previous works?
Yes, the calendars by Pasja and Grafico. We wanted to create something that's unlike anything else. This was a challenge to the self.

Print run?
We printed a total of 700 calendars.

Approximately how many days did it take to produce the calendars?
The production time took us 25 days x 12 hours a day x six days a week. That is approximately 300 man-hours.

What was the R&D process?
The calendar should give a wow factor. Being in the print industry for the past five years, I’ve travelled to events such as Drupa and Fespa and explored the fine arts aesthetics of the Japanese print industry. We wanted to push our limits and experiment with processes from every possible angle. Be it offset, flexo or screen printing, we wanted to express the possibilities.

What about the concept and design?
The concept and designs were selected with the process. We developed prototype samples of each process six months ago and started building around numerous short-run processes and effects on different substrates. Sometimes we experimented with the client's job. This turned out to be a success for the trial and development phase.

Was it easy or onerous?
Honestly, it was very tough. It's easier said than done. The challenges we faced in this project was something that would topple you from your chair, literally.

Any failure stories...
Yes, and it is quite shocking in my opinion. We had to print all of 9,000 sheets for the calendar, twice.

Yes, twice. You heard us correct. That was purely because of one slight deviation in the process from the trial phase to the production phase. While some would lose all their heart and courage to do the entire project twice, we did not lose hope. We went ahead and redid the project from scratch for the second time. This showed us how tricky this technology can get if you take even one process for granted. It was an eye-opener and one of the biggest learning curves in our lives.

How many prototypes or finished dummies were made?
(With a slight chuckle) 700 calendars, printed twice to get it right. Some would say that's disastrous. Jokes apart, we did a test run initially with 50 calendars, processing them with more than hundred types of processes to get things going.

A special calendar in so many ways... Did you miss deadlines due to pandemic?
We did. A lot of sourcing of speciality inks got delayed and shipments had to be cleared on several occasions on personal levels. The average sourcing lead time of four weeks increased to 8-10 weeks due to the pandemic.

Special job...
Oh yes. The calendar was special because we experimented and pooled together many inks and UV polymer giants. We used each of their specialities and decided to see how different processes and inks could combine to produce something that's extraordinary.

Which inks did you deploy?
The inks were sourced from Germany, Switzerland, France, Hong Kong, China, Japan, USA, Belgium to name a few. It required very detailed planning and careful selection of process orientation while doing justice to the project timeline. Post-press planning was done through numerous dummy tryouts to see which finishing process would stand out the most. It was planned for six months to achieve this project.

How did you select the material?
We did test runs on numerous papers (of different gsm) to understand which material would be optimum and suitable for the project. The trial phase involved rigorous testing of the paper's compatibility before it was short-listed for the final run. Nothing was taken for granted, not even paper selection.

Why did you choose Iggesund Paperboard’s Invercote Creato as the substrate?
We've always been fascinated with Iggesund's paperboard. They are world-renowned, proven boards that are unique in so many ways. The board's five-layer coating makes it one of the most suitable coated papers in the packaging and print industry. Invercote is used around the globe for packaging and we were head-strong about this. We spoke to Hema Java from Java Paper Group and pitched our project. Hema loved the idea instantly and it was all in sync. Java’s aggressive support made the whole project workable for us and we're very pleased with the end results.

Can you highlight the tech specs for the job?
The whole calendar is statistically interesting. There are 145 processes (including the print impressions, special effects, coatings, varnish impressions) in just one calendar, out of which 77 screen-printed effects have been used. It took us around 1,20,000 impression cycles and over 300 man-hours to finish the entire project. It has been printed on a 260gsm Invercote Creato by Iggesund paperboard along with five-colour conventional offset printing followed by a rigorous flexo and screen processes. 

Which press was used to produce the job?
Offset printed on Heidelberg five-colour offset printing machine, flexo coated on Heidelberg one-colour plus flexo coater UV printing machine, screen printed on Sakurai machine at Dot Printers.

What were the specific challenges?
Some of the core challenges were faced during the processing stages where we had to shuffle a lot of processes and use alternative processes at the very last minute.

There’s a flexo process, too...
A lot of effects or processes were not even planned in the trial phase, which was visible during the production stage.

What role does ink and coating play in innovation?
Extremely huge role, we would say. Each of them has its own unique speciality to churn out a different look and feel game. If you change one of the above, the end equation will be completely different. It's not just the right substrate/ink/coating, but the right technology and skill that plays a vital role in achieving the best results.

Shah with his father, Jayesh Shah

What has been the feedback from friends and customers?
We have been over the moon with the sheer amount of messages and feedback from friends, colleagues and customers. People were amazed to realise what "calendar" could even mean beyond the date-pad. Some were truly berserk by the exceptional quality and processes. Some were shocked to see the multitudes of unique effects that were practically possible in the world of the print industry. We've been absolutely grateful and honoured to receive generous feedback from each and everyone who's received this calendar. Some said this is going to be in my art gallery while some said it's not something that can be thrown off even after 2021 is over. It's a piece of art.

Have you begun work on the next calendar?
(Laughs) Well, we are taking a moment to reflect on this project and the reviews we've received; it's quite overwhelming for us. We are a small family-driven business. But we're a team of big dreams and vision-driven business and that's how we always see ourselves. Everything is possible, everything is within reach and that's our value principles. To answer your question, we're currently in search of inspiration for the next year's calendar that would move us in so many ways and we're pretty stoked to tell you that next year's calendar will be even more spectacular than this. The work has started already.

Do you think we need art education – along with print gyaan – in India? Technically we have evolved a lot, but some of the work is aesthetically challenged, isn’t it?
Our industry is heading towards a steep price war. The price war exists because everyone wants to duplicate another printer's process while slashing their own creativity. Nobody talks about inspiration. Nobody wants to create something that is beyond their own P&L framework. Either printers are copying each other's ideas or just overpowering the rest with just another "mediocre-quality” product.

What’s the solution?
We need to think beyond the price war. Our world is growing at a rapid speed and end consumers want to see something different, see something new each day. Brands want to wow consumers and learn customer buying behaviour rapidly and in order to achieve that, art education is necessary. Why do we see a calendar as a source of date-pad only? Did anybody ever see it as an art piece that could aesthetically beautify a corporate office or your posh residence? Why is print all about cheaper costs and not about value addition?

Value-addition is the key...
We printers need to educate our customers to invest, add value and see the end-user in a different way because today's customer wants quality, customisation and privilege in buying any consumer goods.

It's a long journey...
Yes, and we will always push this industry to dream on.

The Arihant calendar – page-to-page description

 A brief summary of each page, each process

Cover page: The cover page highlights our incredible screen printing mastery using various UV-based effects. It features a high gloss spot UV effect on the watch dials, a subtle drip-off texture process on the wrist bands, a green glow-in-the-dark process on the dials, 3D emboss UV finish on the company's brand name and a snow-icy effect on the entire background area.

January: January was all about starting the year and highlighting the process that's most overrated while, result wise, the most underrated process by our industry – drip off texture/gloss effect. While the most widely used process, not everyone truly understands the science and truth behind what successful drip-off looks and feels like and we wanted to show what "actual" drip-off effect looks and feels like. Please note, the process was achieved without any form of primer coating, so the results were kept as natural to substrate as possible without creating additional comfort to the process.

February: February was an ode to the emboss styles and techniques and hence we decided to show both emboss UV process and die emboss process in the best fashion.

March: March seemed common to naked eyes, but it was unique in several ways. The selected targeted gloss UV process was achieved through flexo technology using a special flexo-polymer Nylo plate courtesy of Flint Group by Numex Blocks, which collaborated with us for the supply of entire Nylo polymer plates. The high gloss levels were achieved through our in-house process advancements. We've also shown an offline silver screen printing process on the object to highlight the product while the entire background was covered with a gorgeous shrink effect.

April: April was another bold move from a traditional process to a sustainable process. While in the packaging you'll observe the process of matte lamination with spot gloss UV, we've moved beyond that process. The entire calendar was our statement to go sustainable. And so, we haven't used any form of lamination or hot foil stamping process, which is environmentally hazardous and non-recyclable. We've used the online matte/gloss effect, which is the most popular alternative used by the European markets as well. It gives a very high level of gloss combined with matte finish. This was our approach to go plastic-free with this calendar.

May: May highlights our haptic touch-and-feel experience of wood texture finish.

June: June was yet another bold expression to move from traditional velvet lamination process to an online velvet water-based coating, which is a more eco-friendly and sustainable approach.

July: July was all about process finesse. Everything was done in the highest order. We've produced an alternative to silver hot foil stamping by using metal-based solvent inks that give a foil-type finish on any substrate. We want brands to understand that sustainability is no more a privileged option but rather, a compulsory mandate. If we don't educate our brands, how will we fight against the rising pollution waste that's affecting our environment? The background of July is achieved through an offline screen printing process that produces a 3D lenticular effect when viewed under different viewing angles.

August: August was all about the touch-and-feel experience again with our newest innovation of sand touch effect that will make you go wow while you glide your hands over the grainy sand design. A very precise pre-press work was done to achieve maximum register efficiency while overprinting this process. The reverse area was coated with a velvet coating while the diamond watch face was given glorious pearlescent metallic effects.

September: September speaks volumes, which we look at. With a total of 11 processes, each different from another and each overprinted individually, made it one of the most complex processing pages of all. It gives an ode to the cosmetics industry and defines how the processes can give end consumers that product experience on the packaging itself.

October: October is crowd favourites and one you cannot skip for sure. Everything you see is a result of a combination of offline screen-printed gold and silver, which has been self-registered using a 3D die embossing process. We developed a special 7mm die using a CNC machine built process. The end result is pure bliss and shares the beauty of the die embossing process on natural paper.

November: November is the big daddy of all. It's screen printing. That's correct, entirely screen printed. We've used a 0.5mm clear polycarbonate (PC) sheet and printed each and every process using screen-printing technology including the CMYK process. The page showcases an in-house development of a 3D mirror effect, which is unique and unlikely. The page also features a mirror effect along with blue glow-in-the-dark effect on the watch dials. It's certainly one of the most premium and glamorous pages of all.

December: December highlights our specialisation of metallic effects. Also, the most incredible innovation is the subtle and elegant ivory pattern process on the background, which is achieved using a special screen printing technique.