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Part 4 of The Paper Cuts Series

Though the design industry has changed in many ways just since the 90’s, printing is still a thriving and vibrant source for connecting with consumers, and paper is the key. For this series, I’ve interviewed some of the best printers, paper reps, and designers to give their insights into how paper can strengthen your brand.

Rick Dobbs, yes we’re related, of Unreal shares his paper experience as a packaging designer and sheds some light on how important paper selection can be for product packaging. So, crack open a cold one (Lazy Magnolia if you got it) and learn how to think about the box.

Give us a little background about yourself.

I’ve been a “professional” designer for ten years. My first job was a designer in advertising at MGM-Mirage’s Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. I left Beau Rivage as an art director after almost five years there to take a designer/art director spot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the design firm Xdesign. After two years at Xdesign I made the leap to go solo with Unreal. That was in October of 2006 so Unreal is almost four years old.

What first drew you to graphic design and specifically packaging?

I was a fine art major (painting) and got to talking to some design students in one of my painting classes. The concept of “commercial” art as a career while at the same time being able to paint on the side sounded very appealing — although I rarely am able to find the time to paint these days.

The packaging industry was not an intentional target at first for Unreal. After landing my brewery client, Lazy Magnolia, the other packaging work began to fall in my lap.

How do you use your printer and paper rep in the development of a packaging project?

We are wrapping up a direct mail packaging project for a large industrial client of mine at the moment. My printer and finisher have been most essential every step of the way in planning and execution — from stock and process recommendations to box construction and coatings.

My beverage packaging projects do not really require much dialogue with printers and paper reps on the front end. This being because label and carrier stock and processes are almost universal. I design to either CMYK or spot specs within the chosen vendor die templates and we are good to go.

How does paper impact your design process?

Paper impacts my design process from the very start. Color field and imagery selection depends heavily on whether or not you will be using coated or uncoated stock, cover or text weight.

The tactile integrity of stock is also essential. First impressions when someone touches or holds a piece are key.

How has the way you spec paper for print projects changed over the years?

It’s a weeding out process. Over the years I’ve developed a “go to” list of papers for certain uses. I like to use stock that I’m comfortable with and know what to expect when it comes to holding color, scoring/folding and tactile quality.

Can you think of a project where the paper stock has defined the project or increased the overall impact, and how so?

We just wrapped up a client’s large, coffee table, photography book. It would have been so easy to use cheaper, thinner stock and save tons of money on production. We opted to use nicer, heavier stock with great tactile characteristics. In addition to the nicer stock we added a spot varnish to the photographs. A cheaper paper would not have been able to hold the varnish as well. The paper and varnish combination make the photos pop off the page. I wouldn’t say the paper selection defined the project, but it definitely pushed it over the top.

Can paper be used to define a brand, and in what way?

I’m not really sure if paper can define a brand, but believe that great branding in concert with smart stock selection can be very impactful.

Have you seen a case where a paper choice hindered the effectiveness of a package design, and in what way?

Most definitely. Everyone has seen incidents where oils in in the product leak through and leave spots on the package. This is the result of poor stock selection and not specifying the proper coatings.

I’ve also seen cases (field observations) where cheaper beer labels peel off sooner than others under heavy condensation. If you are going to use paper labels I recommend laminating or coating them, but vinyl is the way to go in my opinion.

What has been your best use of paper in one of your packaging projects to date?

Our upcoming industrial client’s direct mail packaging is going to be super nice. It is a collaborative effort between the client, printer, finisher and Unreal. The combination of construction, paper, printing, coatings and design make it a one-of-a-kind piece.

In what ways has your role changed as a designer with online digital printing, sustainability efforts and the economy?

I have a few clients who when they see offset printing estimates tend to say, “Well, we can get these done online for a third of that price”. It is a hand-holding and educational process for the client, and it is my responsibility to guide them through. You have to explain the pros and cons off offset vs. digital, and also the drawbacks of cheap, online, digital stock.

I try to stay as involved as possible from concept to production with all of my clients’ projects.

What’s your favorite paper stock and why?

I’ve always liked Cougar Opaque and Classic Crest. They both have weights, finishes and color variations for every occasion — not to mention their scoring and folding qualities. I’ve had nothing, but good experiences with them and they are both at the top of my “go to” list.

Which paper stock would you be and why?

I would consider myself anything from the Curious line because they are weird, high-quality, expensive — nah, I’m kidding.

I think I would be Cougar. It’s a versatile and reliable line that has multiple uses and variations.

Letterpress or silkscreening?

I like them both and there are definitely fitting uses for each of them.

I have not been able to use letterpress yet, but will be on my upcoming, new business cards. The history of letterpress is also intriguing and important to the creative and printing industry.

My experience with silkscreening is limited, but am looking forward to utilizing it on a client’s upcoming event posters. Silkscreening is something I’d like to learn more about and eventually get some hands on time with.

If you’d like to find out more about Rick Dobbs and Unreal visit Be sure to become fans on facebook of Unreal.

Check back next month when we talk to Neenah Paper superstar Jamie Saunders for Part 5 in The Paper Cuts Series.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve helped clients add a touchy, feely side to their brands with paper.

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