When designed and produced properly, a “pop-up,” or dimensional, can evoke a range of reactions. Common to all of them is recognition and memorability. That is, after all, the path a good marketing tool takes to drive results and ultimately increase sales.
The path of producing a dimensional — loaded with critical, time-sensitive decisions and many idiosyncratic steps — can be a challenging one for even the most seasoned production professional. Following is a short list of the most crucial considerations you should take into account when approaching such a project:
Concept. As with any promotion, the first step in creating a dimensional is to conceptualize the piece in a way that will best serve the message. The choices of dimension type are endless — a conventional children's book pop-up, a changing picture, a three-dimensional constructed object, lights, sound, scent, holograms, lenticulars, uncommon materials, etc. Naturally, the choices become narrower as you consider timing, budget and other parameters. And with dimensionals, the impact of those boundaries can be more profound than with traditional flat promotions. That's why it's important to plan carefully, with an eye to managing all aspects of production.
Design. While it appears obvious that the design stage is crucial to the success of a dimensional, the reasons aren't always as clear. Consider a one-stage design (one where opening a fold activates a platform to rise). It's simple enough for many art directors to construct themselves for presentation purposes — and many do. It's unwise, however, to presume that simplicity in actual production with volumes ranging in the thousands to millions. Much can change when a design's “simple” mechanism needs to be produced cost-efficiently in large quantities.
Postage. This is a manageable part of your cost. Don't treat it as an afterthought. At the start of your project, consider machinability, weight and shape, and factor those considerations into your overall budget and planning. Postal concerns always come into play with oddly shaped products. The less like a letter it is, the more it's going to cost to mail (independent of weight). Square mailings are more expensive than rectangular ones, boxes of any type more expensive than flat pieces, etc. The paper stock you use also affects postal costs. Since dimensionals are paper engineered to perform (do something other than simply carry a readable message), stock selection is crucial to the project's success. However, as higher performance stock is usually heavier, it costs more to mail. Magazine inserts, as well, not only need to meet the requirements of the publication, but can increase its mailing cost.
Testing, Testing, Testing. It's rare that a flat printed piece requires much testing. Not so with dimensionals, where testing can be critically important to a project's success. When creating direct mail pieces, we will build exact-to-spec samples and mail them to numerous locations to see how they survive. We recently produced an electronic piece that was mailing in the winter, so we froze and thawed the electronics. If producing a magazine insert, we will bind hundreds of samples into actual publications and mail them to test for performance and durability. You need to know anything and everything that could — and will — happen during the life of the promotion.
Knockouts are critical to a dimensional piece. Many glues won't adhere to certain inks or even paper stocks. Test the glues. Test them in different temperatures. If the product is rubber-band activated, test the rubber bands under any conceivable conditions they may encounter. Skipping any of these steps could mean the difference between your dimensional arriving to its recipient correctly or in pieces. Few advertising messages are less effective than a pop-up that doesn't pop.
Die-cutting. Once printing is completed, the next phase of the process is die-cutting. The importance of the accuracy of your die-cutting builds exponentially when creating a dimensional. Paper that moves, expands, slides or glues will only do so if cut accurately. Angles become more critical, sizes as well. The decision of using perforations vs. scores also can be an important one for many projects. Many highly complex pieces — particularly those involving a lot of multidirectional movement — will only work with perforated paper. Others will work fine with scores. Think about it and test it in advance.
Hand assembly. It may sound archaic, but we find hand assembly (sometimes machine-assisted hand assembly) to be the best method of manufacturing dimensionals. Hand assembly may be hard to envision, especially when dealing with several million pieces, but a good hand assembler is no less a technician in his field than a good designer. Hand assembly can be the ultimate in quality control assurance. Simply by its nature, each and every piece of every project is tested by a person. This is the most effective way to weed out any less-than-perfect pieces that may have been constructed. Keep in mind, however, that as assemblers can compensate for a number of production sins, they cannot perform miracles. It's far more costly to have a hand assembly line correcting mistakes than it is to catch them in earlier phases.
The other unique aspect of hand assembly, one that needs to be planned for, is the inherent learning curve. The assembler has to become familiar with a particular piece's construction. Once familiar, an assembly line can move quite fast — millions of complex pieces created by hundreds of workers in a few short weeks.
Mike Maguire is president of Structural Graphics, Essex, CT.