Confessions of a Graphic Artist, Part 87 -- 1992-93: Traditional Graphic Arts And The Computer Live Together In Sin
rubylith. So when I recently ran across this almost 20-year old Tops Tea Bags 48-count flattened box in the flat file, I felt it was a good example of the wilderness years of graphic design when traditional cut-and-paste design transitioned to computers become the 'tool of choice' in this field.
Now by the early '90s I did have some package designing under my belt -- a CD jewel case for local rockstars Scott Carpenter and The Real McCoys, a Scinta's! VHS box, plus a few cassette cases -- but this was the first time I had worked on something that would be seen by thousands of people a day, especially people who were out buying some generic tea. It was exciting, it was my first advertising agency job and I wanted the Tops Tea Bags box to be great! I had worked previously as an in-house designer, and then in pre-press for a few years while freelancing, but this job was in a cool downtown loft space (we listened to jazz and rock music, kinda loud sometimes) and I was pretty psyched to do some real package design!
In the year I worked at this Buffalo agency (1992-1993), we made the move to use computers to handle the final artwork for most of our projects. This was quite a transition to make as tasks like managing fonts, monitoring file sizes and getting things to print correctly were a real pain in the ass.
This Tea Bags box has a bit of both the old and the 'new' in it:
Traditional: hand-cut tea cup silo, rapidographed inked grid, wax and pasted logo stats and color separations by plastic overlays.
Computer: text was typeset (VAG Rounded, maybe...) on our single office MAC computer. Then it was delivered on a floppy disc to the typesetter, Buffalo's Printing Prep. We had to come back the next day to pick it up. The shiny stats of the headlines were trimmed out on the full sheet, then waxed and CAREFULLY pasted down to the boards or overlays. We had to use the sliding ruler on our drawing tables to make sure everything was straight. It was primitive, but like I mentioned, I was helping to move this agency into the computer age of the '90s, and we had to start someplace.
My first product illustration, the tea bag artwork used to illustrate the concept of the 'Flow-Through Bag,' was something I had hand-inked on a crisp white piece of board. It was drawn larger and then it was 'shot down' using a stat camera in the office darkroom and pasted into the working art for the box. It was like shrinky-dinks, you could be kinda sloppy because it tightens up when you shrink it down. I was no way a competent hand-inker -- my string for the tag is lumpy, my angles are all off -- and this teabag took several tries. In the end it also looks like the waxed down 'Tops red diamond' slipped off the center of the tag artwork a bit in between the time the boards left the agency and the film was shot for the printer -- dammit. But hey, when it was printed on the final boxes, it sure looked awesome on the store shelves! I always went down the tea aisle when I shopped back then, even if I didn't need tea, just to admire this box...
mathematically perfect. The background grids to this Top's brand got straighter versus the sometimes wavy hand-inked lines. But somehow as we modernized our process, the personality of it was lost I guess…. you know, the tea cup on this package was photographed in our design studio, it's not stock art.
But little did I know as I hand-inked this teabag artwork for the fourth or fifth time on a Fall afternoon in '92, while listening to Dizzy Gillespie or the Goo Goo Doll's Superstar Carwash CD, that I was about to make the jump from a traditional graphic artist to a computer graphic artist with the click of the mouse. Continuing to follow the trend of the graphics field by learning web design in early 1997, I was able to keep this design ship afloat for almost 25 years now. Though things are faster and easier today, I sometimes miss the days when there was a real craftsmanship to the graphic design field. I mean, look at this fine hand-drawn tea bag.