When Harper College, a two-year community college located in Palatine, IL, USA, added a Package Design concentration to its Graphic Arts, Associate in Applied Science program in 2012, it received a donation of Esko technology, insuring its students acquired the necessary skills to use the industry's leading software.
The Graphic Arts program consists of four specialized areas of study: Creative Design, Web Design, Package Design and a Print Production option. Emphasis is on digital product design, visual techniques, and production, in line with the needs of the graphic design industry. Students complete a professional portfolio and resume for employment.
Ramping up the program
To get the necessary packaging courses up and running with curriculum ideas, Graphic Arts Program Coordinator Patty Bruner tapped into the brain trust at nearby Illinois State University, which already has a successful program in play. She also hired a qualified instructor, Marcello Santoro, a senior package designer at AGI-Shorewood Group (ASG), who not only knew structure and design but also Esko technology. As a brand new concentration, Bruner looked hard at how to best focus the program. "A lot of the local four-year colleges are focusing on engineering packaging," she explains. "With our program, we give a taste to students and open their eyes and show what the field is like."
In December 2012, Bruner further bolstered the concentration by receiving a donation of Esko's DeskPack packaging prepress plug-ins and the Esko Studio bundle, Adobe Illustrator-based software that has revolutionized packaging design and production.
"Esko," says Bruner, "has been fabulous with us, helping us to get things going. I am passionate about helping our students while advancing industry knowledge - and Esko has the same philosophy. We are grateful for their help." As the program was getting up to speed, the Graphic Arts team realized that it would need licenses for all of its 80 Macintosh computers to run the necessary Illustrator program, instead of the 30 it had. Esko stepped in and furnished the college with all of the remaining licenses.
DeskPack benefits Prepress Production class
While the basic courses are the same for anyone in the graphic arts concentration, within the packaging track there are additional courses on packaging design and finishing. DeskPack will be used in the Prepress Production class, a requirement in the Graphic Arts Package Design concentration. The class focuses on preflight, imposition, color management and basic prepress such as editing files. "Now, with the addition of DeskPack, we are adding another layer, allowing the students to understand that they can take an Illustrator file, and RIP, trap, impose and perform the entire preflight, checking to fix problems in a file - a function you are aren't able to do efficiently in Illustrator," says Bruner.
Packaging Design covers the full breadth of what is happening within that segment, including instruction on marketing and branding strategies, barcoding and postal preparation, as well as package product design from file production through manufacturing. Students tackle packaging structural implications and substrates, along with 3D packaging design and production for folding cartons, flexible bags, labels, and shrink sleeves. The course emphasizes the creative visual design of 3D packaging and prototype creation, which is why Esko Studio is so critical to the concentration.
The Package Design class is directed at students who have basic Illustrator and design skills, adding onto that knowledge with instruction on designing flat cartons, folding cartons, labels, flexible packaging, and shrink wraps, explains Bruner. It discusses the ramifications of what is needed in the file to build a package. The instructor also discusses the business side of packaging - sales, marketing and branding, market distribution, and shelf placement at the retail site.
Learning the practical implications of 3D
Prior to implementing Esko software, students were only able to talk theory about packaging design; with Studio they are able to actually create the graphics in Illustrator, and then work with the file in 3D. Working in Studio, package design students create full size samples, developing a comprehensive understanding of the 3D aspect and the implications of the prototypes, says Bruner. "Studio allows us to introduce the 3D aspect of package design. Students are able to take a PDF file and create a 3D prototype. They are able to take the 3D image and rotate it, seeing all the various sides and checking the quality of their design, seeing how their folds work."
Students are also able to design a 2D flat and test if it is structurally sound, using the 3D capabilities of Studio. Studio helps fold the flat die drawing, allowing an understanding of how the artwork aligns - or doesn't - and how to account for cuts and creases. Before additional design elements are added, Studio's 3D capabilities can see placement of seals or gussets for possible obstruction of design elements. "Studio lets them see where the flap is and how to construct it the right way, folded inside and out," explains Bruner. "When the flaps are created in 2D, you aren't getting that information; in 3D, you can see if it folds up correctly."
Appreciating importance of structural design
While Harper College doesn't yet have specific courses on structural design, the tools from Esko allow students to gain an appreciation of structure, explains Bruner. "The instructor brings in existing CAD die files and the students utilize those files for their designs," she says.
In the Packaging, Finishing and Distribution class, the course work covers a host of techniques, including foil stamping and embossing. "Packaging is very complicated," says Bruner. "It has to be finished and distributed, plus, there are environmental issues. Students learn how to fill out a pallet and ship the finished package, and where it will end up on the shelf."
The Package Design concentration now has a total of 10 students, a "perfect' number according to Bruner. The maximum number of students enrolled at any one time in any packaging class is 17, keeping the teacher-students ratio at a level that allows students to get the most from the class.
For those students interested in transferring to a four-year college to complete their graphic arts education, Harper has agreements with several colleges, including Arizona State University, Ferris State University, Illinois Institute of Art, Illinois State University, Robert Morris University, University of Wisconsin-Stout, DePaul University and Harrington College of Design.