Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reviving the Blackwing: Lacquer Finish & Imprint

This feature set was considered the fourth most important across our six features ranked by our test groups.

Here there is a clear allegiance among traditional Blackwing fans to the historic charcoal or graphite gray gloss finish and imprinting information on the pencil to more closely match that of the original product. Many participants readily admitted technical and overall usage performance is the most important factor, but given a preference they’d go with a finish treatment close to the original 602. Some commented that the Blackwing font itself is different than the original. We did initially try to match exactly the original Blackwing font. During our detailed research on this topic we could not find an exact match, but we learned that it was a variation of a very old German font, which makes sense given the heritage of Eberhard Faber. We selected a more updated font that matched as close as possible without going to more expensive and time consuming efforts to have a designer create an exact match. Additionally, there have been quite a few suggestions to increase the size of the Blackwing name relative to Palomino to make it more characteristic of our treatment of the Palomino brand relative to California Republic brand on our Palomino pencils. The relative font size is a valid point and probably will be corrected in future production pending assessment of some related technical and marketing factors as we consider potential redesign.

My personal view in designing the new Palomino Blackwing pencil has been that a product named Blackwing logically should be finished in black. As mentioned in an earlier post I generally agreed with finish recommendations suggested in that Frankenpencil post and this to some extent guided thinking on this design, though admittedly Lisa was not talking about a new Blackwing pencil, but her ideal “Frankenpencil”. In any event it seemed there was quite a lot of interesting and supportive discussion around this post and with some of these design characteristics so it seemed appropriate to incorporate some of these into our design. The addition of the gold band was simply to keep some added Palomino brand family connection in our pencil range design. Some people have commented they feel the gold band is too much of a departure from the original.

Top: Glossy finish version Botttom: Matt finish version

So having decided on a black finish our next choice was whether to go with a higher gloss look more typical of our standard Palominos or alternately a matt finish to provide some further differentiation for this new unique product within our existing Palomino range. The first test samples of each looked excellent and very reflective of our Palomino quality regardless of glossy or matt finish. Ultimately, I chose the matt finish as I wanted some added distinctiveness for the Blackwing vs. the standard Palomino graphite range and some differentiation from the Tombow Mono which is already finished in glossy black. (Despite this we still received a couple comments comparing our new pencil to the Tombow Mono finish which I’ve shown side by side in a photo here.)

Unfortunately, once the initial production began and we later received a couple hundred samples we noticed some very faint foil speckling occurred during imprinting and these tiny foil flakes had been sealed in when the sealer coat was applied. This covering quote was originally intended to protect the foil imprint and band from any further wear from continuous handling during use as is occasionally noted with respect to many pencils. It’s not a process we do with our existing Palomino products and probably should be eliminated for future production. Though we felt the pencils looked very good overall we were not fully satisfied with this characteristic as compared to the samples we approved before initial production. I actually stopped eraser tipping production on the balance of the pencils, but by this time all of the initial production pencils had been imprinted and sealed. My concern was do we release “as is” or not and it was at this time I determined to do a consumer sampling and evaluation to get a gauge on this issue. Among our options was scrapping the initial production and going back to design table before actually launching the product as well as evaluating other potential fixes. I determined this process would be a good opportunity to get broader evaluation of the product for ideas we could incorporate if we ended up doing a complete re-start or to be used for future design modifications if we ended up launching “as is”.

After three weeks of feedback, we have now determined to proceed with the launch of the product “as is”. There were several decision factors, the first and most important being the overall positive response we’re now seeing to the Blackwing Palomino when considered across all of our evaluation groups. Despite a clear preference by many traditional fans for a more classic design and some indications the finish quality is just not quite up to par with Palomino, it appears we have developing demand now with people pressing us for pre-orders regardless of finishing characteristics and we learned that these characteristics consistently did not rate as highly on the scale of importance vs. other product features. Another major factor was that we subsequently determined that going back to the drawing board on design would result in a more extensive production and launch delay than originally anticipated, probably until mid to late 1st quarter 2011. This relates to scheduling issues with our subcontractor as well as to allowing adequate time to address the redesign process, including potential fine tuning of the graphite core formulation. Of course the cost of scrapping or reworking any of these pencils into other products from the initial run if possible was also a relevant decision factor, but not the first priority. I was fully prepared to scrap if I felt this was absolutely the best decision going forward and I’ll stress that our final decision was not self-evident at the point we began the evaluation process.

As previously mentioned we are now moving forward with expediting market availability of the new Palomino Blackwing from our initial run. We expect to have more definitive information next week on pricing and order availability. In the meantime we also have a breif update to our Coming Soon page.


Andy W. said...

As someone who uses a matte black Ticonderoga often, I appreciate a matte black finish. And you're right, it does make sense since it's called a "BLACKwing."

Maybe you should do a rubberlized lacquer, like the Dixon Tri-Conderoga. And I'm only half-joking. (-:

Matthias said...

I am surprised to read that reproducing the old font is expensive and time consuming as long as there are no copyright issues. Keeping in mind that people create "open source fonts" as a hobby I would have imagined it cannot be much more difficult than say printing a logo on pencil.

John G. said...

I don't have any issues with the matte black you chose (I really like the texture), but I always assumed (!) that "Blackwing" referred to the black marks the pencil made? In that case, the current model is definitely named correctly -- the marks are DARK.

Dixon puts some strange Microban semi-glass on the "Black" now, which is inferior to the old matte, IMO. I stashed a 2-dozen box of the US-produced models and promptly lost them. (doh)