The Dangers of Undocumented Features

Sep 20, 2010

Whenever you take advantage of an undocumented or unintentional characteristic in a product, there is a risk. Usually, you say that about something technical, but we got bitten by – of all things – paper. We use a particular paper – Mohawk Via Vellum Black – to cut our business cards. In it’s original incarnation, the dye they used bleached out almost completely under the laser. Etching on it left you with sharp, high contrast, highly readable text. It made for a very distinctive card, with a built in hook about the benefits of exploring the limits of commonplace materials for unexpected, and potentially cool behaviors. As part of building our business and our personal knowledge, we’ve cut and cataloged how more than 200 different colors, finishes, mills and types of paper behave under the laser, and we’ve found more than few cool behaviors.  However, since mills don’t test for behavior on the laser, and seldom notify when they change the formulation of a paper, we still have to test the new batch for each new job to make sure the parameters are unchanged.

Mohawk did just that, and recently we bought a new case that gave us a nasty surprise.  They have changed something about the formulation of the product and ruined our neat little material hack. The paper now lasers to a dark green, instead of the previous ivory color. It’s still an interesting and useful effect, but nowhere near as dramatic.  It’s good enough that we’ll use it up, but we probably won’t be buying any more.

IMG_2063.JPGSo, we’re back on the hunt for a new paper the laser likes as much.  There are a few others from French Paper that work well but no one seems to stock French. The Plike paper from Cordenon that we used on the Eiffel Tower does okay, but it just isn’t bright enough to justify the novelty. In truth, though, most people couldn’t justify the cost of rastering a whole card anyway, and laying down white ink on a dark substrate is a surprisingly uncommon and difficult process for short-run printing processes.

We’ve started evaluating screen printing for prototyping and very short run, and are fortunate to have found Texas Graphic Resources,  one of the relatively few shops in the DFW Metroplex that can can do white in on an HP Indigo digital press for larger jobs.  It’s a little more conventional, and a little less distinctive, but people are usually surprised enough by our cards that the loss of that little detail will not be missed – except by us :o)