Best-in-Class Innovator Spotlight: At H&H, 'Printing Has Become the Product'
What a year. No one in the industry could have foretold it. Now we’re all doing our best just to come to the end of it in safety.
2020 will be remembered for many things. One of them should be that it was the year in which innovation often came to mean the same thing as business survival.
Everything that has happened to printing firms as a result of the pandemic is unprecedented. This means everything they have done in response to it has obliged them to improvise. To rethink. To come up with new ways of protecting their employees. To pivot to completely different methods of interacting with customers. In short, to innovate.
As we've done the past several years in Printing Impressions, we profiled six companies that remain alive and well in the printing industry. This year, we’re presenting these portraits of Innovators in tribute, not just to the companies themselves, but to every printing business that has survived the trials of 2020 by being innovative. Here is a profile of one of our Best-in-Class Innovators.
Does innovation have a distinctive aroma? It does at H&H Graphics. In fact, innovation there smells remarkably like … tacos.
That was the olfactory enhancement the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based specialty screen printing business gave to a holiday gift wrap for Taco Bell by infusing the paper with the scents of each of the snack’s principal ingredients. When the wrap was offered on Amazon, reports Michelle Leissner, president and CEO of H&H Graphics, “it sold out in a matter of minutes.”
Nostril-tickling projects like this are all in a day’s work for a company that lists Blackberry Crisp, Mountain Dew, and even Durian (the notoriously odoriferous fruit from Southeast Asia) among the stock scents it offers for scratch-off and rub-off applications. Smell, however, gives only a hint of the innovative multisensory printing being done at H&H Graphics, where, as Leissner says, “our printing has become the product.”
One way she and her 20 employees make print the product is with scratch-off maps that people can use to mark the progress of their visits to countries, states, and other destinations. The durable scratch-off overprint, tightly registered to fine graphic elements such as state lines, is what makes the piece a keeper, Leissner explains.
Invisible Ink Is Visible for a Split-Second
Signs and posters likewise enter new dimensions when treated with glitter; glow-in-the-dark effects; and heat-, water-, and light-activated chromic inks. UV coatings give printed pieces the feel of leather, wood, sand, grit, and custom textures such as duct tape and matchbox-striking surfaces. The company’s R&D team has even devised a “SnapShot” ink that becomes visible only for the split-second in which the flash fires, revealing the secret printed image in the photo — but keeping it hidden in the substrate.
Leissner says the R&D department sources inks and coatings from all over the world, and then “plays with them” to discover what new effects they can be tweaked to produce. Six screen printing lines manufactured by Sakurai apply the effects to the print-as-product novelties in which the company specializes.
“The flexibility and craftsmanship inherent in screen printing allows us to incorporate a wide and customizable array of multisensory special effect techniques into our projects,” Leissner points out, noting that the traditional screen printing process offers more creative flexibility than the digital embellishment systems now coming into use.
She says that in this way, H&H Graphics caters to some of the world’s best-known brands with products and marketing materials that drive consumer engagement and increase ROI.
H&H Graphics clients also include commercial printers and plastic card producers: accounts that the company originally served as a trade shop when it was founded in the suburban Chicago area in 1978.
Special effects and enhancements for secure gift cards made up about 60% of H&H Graphics’ business when Leissner purchased the company in 2008. She says she realized at the time that the path to growth lay both in expanding the multisensory portfolio, and in partnering with other companies in a developmental role.
Her vision proved to be correct. “H&H Graphics has grown by 56% since 2008, and seen its staff triple in size as our versatility and pivoting into multisensory marketing and product development have taken off,” Leissner reveals. One tactic has been to offer clients the right to patent H&H-developed processes in return for exclusive contracts to manufacture the products — an arrangement the company currently has with three partners.
In an interesting turnabout, some of the printers H&H Graphics used to serve as a trade shop now have become providers the company outsources to. This occurs when H&H wants to supplement its print-as-product special effects with four-color lithography or variable digital printing.
To Smell It Is to Feel It
The sharpness of Leissner’s business acumen parallels the ingenious versatility of the things her company produces, especially in the category of scent. Citing an authority on the subject, she notes that 75% of human emotions are thought to be generated by the sense of smell, which is “gold” from a marketing perspective, Leissner asserts.
However, the company’s most noteworthy application of scented printing may be the COVID-19 screening tool it developed in collaboration with Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Smell and Taste Center. The product — a card impregnated with eight scratch-off smells, at least five of which the person being tested must correctly identify — can reveal smell dysfunction, an almost universal indicator of infection with the SARS-COV-2 virus. (Specific virus testing would still be necessary.)
Having a nose for innovation the way H&H Graphics does it “is about rethinking printing and the role it plays,” Leissner asserts. “If you only look at printing historically, that’s not going to take you where it’s going.”
She also thinks printers have been too focused on going it alone, when pooling their talents would serve them better. Partnering with others, she’s convinced, is what leverages capabilities and opens up new creative possibilities.
“There’s just so much power in that,” Leissner declares.