Subscription Box Ideas

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Recently we got to work on a pretty cool project, The Laughing Owl made a few thousand beer themed coaster box sets for the mail order gift box company Man Crates. Each set included six coasters and a box that were all letterpress. Each coaster was a style of beer, stout, pilsner, lager, salmon, hefeweizen, and India pale ale. Each flavor was designed to reflect the beer’s unique qualities. This was an all-encompassing job for us. There was ink, foil, head scratching, and a lot of meticulous man hours. In the end we made some pretty great coaster box sets that will go on to be a part of many manly gift crates!

Letterpress is a great option for subscription boxes or any direct mail gift boxes. Coaster box sets are the best example, but there are also things like notebooks, note card and greeting card sets, and even wine glass stem tags for the wine of the month club! Letterpress is all about taking mundane paper products and turning them into something worth keeping and sharing with friends and family.Since its paper it makes letterpress ideal to be sent through the mail.

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No matter the nature of the subscription box there is always a fitting letterpress product. Coasters are great for anything food and beverage related, notebooks work for anything from children’s gifts to writing focused gifts and even something outdoor or sportsman themed. Greeting card sets are a great gift idea because not only are they gifts themselves, but they can be shared with loved ones. Greeting card sets are literally the gift that keeps on giving!

When it comes down to it, letterpress is the way to go when looking for something to include in your subscription boxes. There are few other ways to get a hand crafted work of art in your package while not taking up much space and weighing practically nothing. The best place to help your monthly box get its letterpress fix is of course The Laughing Owl Press. There is no job too big or small and our experienced team of designers and printers have the skill and attention to detail that will resonate with the customer and make them look forward to next month’s arrival! 

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Metallic Foil vs. Metallic Ink

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Letterpress is much more than creating an image on paper, it’s all about connecting with people through the use of texture, color, and the embrace of imperfection. Much like the way a musician connects with people using tone, pitch, and that seemingly magic touch that separates the greats from the masses, the embrace and exploitation of imperfection. Just like how a musician will use different instruments and equipment to get a different tone, printers can use not only different colors, but different types of ink and foil to create different effects. Foils and metallic inks are two great ways to add a new element to a letterpress work. They help make a design pop out and stand apart from the norm.

While foil and metallic ink are very similar to each other, they are also very different and have different strengths. Just like James Taylor and Jimi Hendrix, they both sing, play guitar, write songs, and are both named James. However they are also very different. Just listen to “Fire and Rain” by Taylor and “Fire” by Hendrix. The difference between foil and metallic ink is that foil is just that, a metallic foil, where metallic ink is ink with metal particles mixed into the ink. There is no ink involved in foil stamping, for more info on that check out our previous blog post “Foil Stamping, The Good, The Bad, & The Shiny.” Metallic ink on the other hand is an ink and is treated just like any other ink when it comes to printing.

When deciding between foil and metallic ink, there are a few factors that come into play. The three main factors are how much the design needs to grab attention, coverage, and cost. Both metallic inks and foils are good for standing out on a print, but catching and reflecting light is what foil does best. If you need something to be bold without being drastically different, metallic ink is the way to go. Just like if you were sitting in a small coffee shop reading a blog about letterpress, a James Taylor song playing in the background would be a good fit. Not so much if you were speeding down the highway with the windows down and the stereo cranked, Hendrix would be the better choice here. Both have their strengths depending on the situation and what the goal for the print is. 

Getting back to the embrace of imperfection, or the happy little accidents that make each piece of letterpress unique. With metallic inks you can mess around with over inking, under inking, or any other method of altering the coverage. This is not something you can do with foil. With foil it’s all or nothing and usually the edges of the design are very pristine. In this particular case Mr. Taylor is the foil and Hendrix is the ink, the foil is uniform and consistent, where as with ink you never truly know what you’re going to get. Both have their benefits and are subjective to what is needed for the project.

Cost is the another factor in determining whether foil or metallic ink is going to be used. Printing with ink is more cost effective than foil, due to the fact that foil requires its own special process. Metallic ink can be put on the rollers of any machine just like any other ink. No special plates or process means a lower cost. Keep in mind though, that metallic inks do have a bit of a sheen to them, just not nearly the amount of a foil. So if you have a budget to stick to, metallic ink may be the best bet, but if cost is less of a factor and you really want that eye catching pop, foil is the way to go. 

All in all, both metallic ink and foil are great alternatives to normal inks, adding contrast and standing out from the normal. The main idea here is to remember that as similar as the two seem there is a difference between them. Foil is full coverage and very reflective, metallic ink is an ink, less reflective, and more cost effective. Just like “Fire and Rain,” and “Fire,” both are great, but appropriate for different situations.


Foil Stamping, The Good, The Bad, & The Shiny

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There are few things more satisfying than watching a piece of foil stamped stationary catch the light and running your hand over the impression its left. One of those things is successfully running said stationary through the press and having it come out perfect. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, an easy thing to accomplish. In fact this process has been frustrating printers since Ernest Oeser filed for the first hot stamping patent in 1892, and it’s fair to say some time before that. It is also fair to say that the process hasn’t changed too much since then either.


The hot foil stamping process itself is relatively simple, foil is pressed onto paper using a heated magnesium block. Pretty straight forward, but like most things the devil is in the details and in this case he is constantly playing tricks on the printer. In a perfect world the press can be set up, turned on and left to consistently pump out eye catching works of art. However in this perfect world foil stamping does not exist. In order to get that perfect stamp there are an extraordinary number of factors that all need to line up. The humidity of the air, the depth of impression, the amount of time the plate is in contact with the foil, and the temperature of the plate all play crucial roles in getting the final product to turn out right. Did I mention that these all change foil to foil and paper to paper? 


In Order to get a better feel for the foil stamping process I sat down with The Laughing Owl’s foil Guru, Eric while he ran a job through one of the Owl’s antique Heidelberg Windmill presses. The main thing I found out from this is that no two foil jobs are the same. There aren’t so much rules of thumb, but set up methods instead. Each job must be dialed in just right and carefully watched over, sometimes needing to be recalibrated throughout the job. He filled me in on some things that he watches out for and that can effect the stamp. Some of which are: If the design is patchy and the coverage isn’t full, chances are the plate temperature is off. If the impression depth is not even, makeready may be needed to even things out. If the alignment is off, well that could be anything from the plate expanding due to heat or the paper not feeding correctly. Sometimes the motion from the paper being auto fed into the press can knock things out of alignment which means that particular job may need to have each piece hand fed. There are a seemingly endless list of things that can effect foil stamping so much so that Eric said, “It almost makes you superstitious”.


All potential and imminent obstacles aside, finishing a well done foil job is a very rewarding thing. It is a skill that takes a very long time and a lot of trial and error to be any good at. Even longer to claim to master. All time and effort well spent because crafting any stationary  that is as visually pleasing as a well done foil project is a rare thing. Luckily this is something Eric and The Laughing Owl team are extremely good at and do often. The Laughing Owl may ship beautiful foil stamped works all over the world and those works are shared and treasured by many, but the satisfaction of putting the finishing touches on an ornate foil invitation is what the Owl’s hoot about and is all their own.