The Product Development Of Our Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper Is Quite The Mission

We filmed some telly a few weeks back - A Channel 4 researcher got in touch regarding the show "Luxury for Less". They were putting a couple of shows together about Christmas and were looking at both cost and sustainability. 

Why do sustainable products cost more, how do we spot the good from the bad, is it better to be recycled or recyclable, how can you tell if wrapping paper is actually recyclable - all the kinds of questions that we try to answer on this website and anywhere else we talk about it!

I wanted to write a little about what the process is here and just how much time and effort goes in to getting things right.

Our Patterns and Paper designs...

At the time of writing, all of our packs follow the same format - 8 sheets of high quality wrapping paper, 16 generous sized tags and as little waste as possible. The designs are trying to do a lot of things. Every pack must...

  • Be desirable to the giver and to the recipient of a gift
  • Each sheet must be strong enough in its own design to look great wrapped around a single gift
  • Every pattern or design must work as both a gift tag and a patterned sheet
  • Every colour used within a sheet must sit comfortably next to another sheet design in the same pack so you can mix, match and get creative.
  • Every pack should have wide enough appeal that we can print enough of them to be cost effective to produce
  • Every sheet should be easy to work with and not rely an cutting a nice bit out of the middle!
  • Every sheet should have a backing grid and recycling instructions that are readable, but don't show through the paper
  • Every pack when folded down should look great just displaying the tag sheets so retailers can stock the product and shoppers get a good idea of what they're buying.

The grids and templates have taken weeks of trial and error and we've gone through a few paper weights to get to what we think is the perfect balance of feel, quality and performance and each pack has around a week of deign work, outputting of prints, gathering feedback and sample wrapping before we get anywhere near readying it for public consumption (again - another great big pile of effort - great fun though it is).

Paper, Pantones and printing peculiarities...

Ah, good old paper choices! There aren't many really great 100% recycled papers to choose from - even less when you want a nice luxurious silky finish. There's technical reasons for it.

Recycled paper fibres are often shorter, meaning many papers aren't as strong (which is why recycled Kraft paper is more marketing speak than fact). Most recycled papers are uncoated and have a matt finish - lustre finishes involve coating the paper and coating the paper involves making the right environmental choices if you want to use a really sustainable end product.

In our case, the coating is actually china clay powder which just comes off again in the recycling process.We want to use paper that we can guarantee that we can source again and again, so it has to come from reliable mills.

You'll know from printing at home that colours come out darker on matt paper than on glossy. This is to do with how the inks coat, or soak into the paper and the amount of ink that goes onto and in to the sheet. Clay coats make colours lighter and surfaces silky, which is how we get our lustre finish on our paper. If you want colour accuracy too, a "Pantone" book isn't going to cut it, because they're not designed for or printed on the sheets we use.

To combat this issue and ensure what we design is what happens on your wrapping paper, we've developed our own colour swatches and printed giant A1 posters with tiles of colours so our design team can see and select perfect colour harmonies and be sure that what we think we're designing, is what actually happens with the finished product.

Here are some we made earlier - they're wet printed on the same paper and the same print presses that we print our wrapping paper on. It's a considerable investment; if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.

Waste not, want not...

It's a fact that the more you print the cheaper the unit costs. It's also true that the cheaper and greater the volume of raw material you use, the cheaper the unit costs and so the "market" dictates that it wants lots for little. That's just human nature, I suppose, but it also explains why and how as communities and populations we get into bad buying habits - if 10m of wrapping paper is the same price as 4, it is often viewed as good value. Did you need 10? or was 4 enough? are we wrapping gifts in huge boxes with small toys inside (Hello action figures!)

Over 100,000,000 rolls of largely unrecyclable gift wrap makes its way to landfills and incinerators every year, just in the UK. We don't want to be a part of that, so we print what we are sure we can sell and we sell what we know can be recycled. 

We also invest in printing on the reverse of all of our paper so that;

  • you cut the right amount of paper to wrap your gift - it's less wasteful and it looks great too.
  • we can add recycling instructions to the reverse of the sheet so the person who receives the present knows how to properly recycle the wrapping paper. (You've probably seen sheets where the edge of the front has print on it -  pointless tokenism and box ticking that just robs the buyer of printed paper they can use)

Another obvious fact about manufacturing is that the UK is a highly skilled, comparatively well paid country and manufacturing here isn't the cheap option. It is, however, supporting local economies and minimising road miles.

Provenance matters...

We print with PEFC, FSC and ISO 140001 certification and paper that is fully carbon balanced. It's important to us to KNOW that we're are printing and working responsibly, sustainably and traceably. It's one thing saying you're an environmentally friendly business, but how do you know if you're being Greenwashed... (you probably are, by the way).

A quick search on Amazon sees Chinese origin wrapping paper being sold in the UK as eco friendly... How? it's travelled thousands of miles by carrier. You see all kinds of "recycled Kraft paper" type of products. There is ONE recycled kraft paper in the UK that can be bought reliably and it prints terribly. Kraft means strong - it's often brown, people think brown paper is recycled and that brown paper is Kraft, or that by printing a ribbed line on a piece of paper that it can be called Kraft, like it's some sort of design style. Be careful what you're buying if you care about this stuff, because there's not many of us doing it properly... and that includes the major chain stores. The Range throw logos that make products look "green" on them, but are selling products that can't be recycled. They appear to have used cheap recycled paper, but so what? Recycled paper can be great, but virgin fibre is OK too, if it comes from properly managed forests - you'll never see an FSC logo on a cheap roll of paper, though.

You want to be looking for these things (we do)!

 Wrapping Up (sorry)...

As consumer demand for sustainable product grows, the market moves towards businesses like ours. We have made a product that effectively means a sheet of wrapping paper and a couple of tags is £1.50. It's in reach of most pockets. We guarantee though, that as our sales volumes rise, when and wehere we can we will reduce prices. Our vision is that what we do becomes the "norm" and the old wasteful practices disappear with coal and diesel. The more we all force the issue and insist on change, the faster technology and the large business who can invest in technologies and exert pressure on markets come in to line. It all starts with people like you who care, and people like us who are in our own way trying to put a dent in what is an ironically ugly business. Pretty and good? Let's do that instead, shall we.