Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rose Bowl Helmets, Jell-O Cartons, and the Italian Renaissance

"Mirror Ball"
Brian Libby, Architect Magazine (January 6, 2012)
"A vintage materials finish is responsible for one of the most high-tech, dynamic looks in college football history.

"When college football's Oregon Ducks played the Wisconsin Badgers in Monday's 98th annual Rose Bowl.... It was also a chance for to make the historic Pasadena game a fashion show, a familiar rite for the Eugene, Ore.–based school. Flashy jersey-and-pants combinations have become de rigueur in the past - the school counts Nike co-founder Phil Knight as its biggest booster - but this week, the team introduced a helmet unseen in Rose Bowl's century-plus history, one seemingly made of chrome and as shiny as a bumper from a '60s muscle car.

"Drew Gereb of Newberg, Ore.'s Hydro Graphics, which assisted Nike with the helmet finish, handles the proprietary 'LiquidMetal HydroChrome' technology used to produce the material finish on the helmet. Unveiled to the press shortly after Christmas, the new helmet for the Ducks was promoted by Nike as a 'futuristic' innovation. But the technique is actually one that dates to the 1970s, Gereb explains.

" 'The technology was locked up in the automotive industry for years,' Gereb says. 'It's using the old Gravure printing drums. That's how they did the wood grains on the dashboards.'

"The 12-step HydroChrome process is almost entirely performed with or under water, with each football helmet taking approximately seven days to be completed. Hydro Graphics adds a thin layer of translucent material that, once applied, gives the surface of the helmet a bright, mirrorlike appearance. The Ducks' helmets went through the process twice, with a custom die-cut graphic of the team's winged logo applied in between...."

Somebody must have really wanted the Oregon Ducks to have fancy new helmets. With each helmet taking seven days to process, those things must have been expensive. Of course, having those distinctive helmets at the Rose Bowl gave Hydro Graphics a lot of publicity: the company has a photo of their company's home page (, so they're well-aware of the marketing angle.

"Gravure" Printing?

Gravure printing goes back long before the 1970s:

"...The origins of gravure printing were with the creative artists of the Italian Renaissance in the 1300s. Fine engravings and etchings were cut by hand into soft copper.

"The engraved surface consisted of channels or sunken areas. The Italian word intaglio (in-tal-yo) means engraved or cut in.

"Intaglio refers to a method of printing whose image carrier consists of lines or dots recessed below the surface.

"Intaglio reproduces an original design by pressing paper into the recesses.

"The first intaglio plate was used for printing in Germany in 1446 about the same time as Gutenberg. Unfortunately, the intaglio process was not compatible with Gutenberg's letterpress, so it wasn't adopted by early printers.

"The modern gravure printing press resulted from the invention of photography and the adoption of rotary printing from cylinders....

"...Auguste Godchaux received a patent for a reel-fed rotary gravure perfector press in 1860...."
("Gravure Printing," Paul D. Fleming III)

It took the Lemming about ten minutes to find a history of Gravure printing: on the Western Michigan University's website. What that says about journalists, research, and all that - is another topic.

Apparently wood-grain dashboards weren't the first commercial application of post-1860 Gravure printing. There were "heliogravure" prints, and that gets the Lemming back to Flemming's history.

Rotogravure, Prints, and Jell-O Cartons

"...Klic and Fawcett didn't have patents on their process, so they tried to keep the process secret. They sold prints from their press as 'heliogravure' prints, even though they were really rotogravure as we know it today.

"Their process remained a trade secret until an employee emigrated to the United States and made it public.

"The process continued to improve and gravure presses were used to print Jell-O cartons starting in 1938...."
("Gravure Printing," Paul D. Fleming III)

What the Architect article probably refers to, with the 1970s and auto dashboards, are the electromechanical engravers that came out in 1968. That's from Flemming's history, again.

Photos of the Oregon Ducks' new helmets reminds the Lemming of the "Tron: Legacy" movie, and that's another topic. From almost exactly a year ago: January 4, 2011. And that's - what else? Another topic.

More about Gravure printing:
  • "Gravure"
    Paul D. Fleming III, Paper Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Imaging, Western Michigan University

Vaguely-related posts:


Brigid said...

I don't think the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl are the same thing, are they?

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...



I could say "a rose by any other name..." - but that would be compounding a goof.

Thanks, and fixed.

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