To Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It

Here’s one of my favorite design innovations ever: there is a subtle, dotted grid pattern printed on the backside of Hallmark gift wrap that serves as a guide as customers cut away the necessary amount to wrap presents. This allows you to shear away an amount of paper that’s much closer to what you actually need to wrap a gift, and to easily do so at more or less right (i.e., ninety degree) angles — in both cases, you save paper, which is good for you, the environment and Al Gore. Everyone wins.

Paper Innovations

What I like so much about this idea is that it’s not technologically driven at all — there was no mechanical reason this same idea couldn’t have been implemented decades ago. And it’s not particularly expensive, either — sure, it requires Hallmark to print a second side of the sheet where they had previously only ever printed one side, but I bet that’s a relatively minor cost for a company that prints millions of rolls a year.

Below: Baby got back. The grid pattern on the back of Hallmark wrapping paper shows the way.

Rather, this is a marketable and genuinely helpful innovation that, all told, can be summed up as almost purely a product of design thinking. Hallmark took a very simple product that had been in use continuously and without complaint for decades, identified a problem that everyone encounters and yet no one has taken seriously, and then created a wonderfully elegant solution for it.

Hallmark Gift Wrap

That’s the key, so let me repeat it: the company saw a common problem that no one was addressing. How many gifts have suffered from poorly sheathed wrapping, or how many countless yards of wrapping paper have been wasted because of uneven scissoring of rolls without this pattern?

All it takes is a simple insight like this to distinguish a product from its commodity competition. It’s just such a simple yet powerful idea that it made me slap my forehead the first time that I saw it; I’m sure Hallmark’s competitors in the gift wrap market did the same. What’s more important, it’s engendered a loyalty in me that wasn’t there before. I never thought to care one way or another who manufactured a roll of gift wrap when I went to the card store, so long as I liked the design; now, I invariably look to make sure it’s got that Hallmark logo on it.

  1. Well I think it’s an interesting choice from a business perspective: which will result in higher sales? the sales from brand loyalty from efficient wrappers using the grids OR the sales from wasteful wrappers needing to buy more rolls if there were no grids on the back.

  2. An interesting design innovation for sure, but agree with the last commenter, that it may result in lesser amounts of wrapper sold. I like it as an art/design concept and wonder whether or not a wrapping paper exists that has actual grid based perforations so that one might be able to tear rather than cut with scissors. Could be cool.

  3. Perhaps people will choose their brand over other brands (and hence more sales) because they’re not stuck with that sense of wasted money and wasted paper.

    Surely they want their wrapping to be used, not to be wasted (or at least to be -thought of- as wanting that)? “Choose our environmentally thoughtful wrapping paper, not the other brand’s”

  4. This might actually fix something else that’s been a problem with wrappping paper and specifically gift-wrapping: Making perfect 45 degree angled folds on the sides of the box! You now have guides to when you have to make that oh so crucial step of closing the sides! No more refolding or trimming if it doesn’t look straight. Drives me nuts everytime I wrap presents.

    Of course I may be the only one who has that problem.

  5. Love this topic! Can see that it is niche that has been overlooked, but not necessarily due to technology – a result of a greatly appreciated sensitivity to the user.

  6. I think wasteful wrapper sales is a moot point from a business perspective — while using a gridded paper may help one wrap more efficiently, people will still buy the same amount they always buy because it’s hard to tell what size the item you need to wrap and the wrapping paper you’re buying is enough. Usually (at least amongst people I know) people will buy an extra roll if it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of paper in the roll and they just might need it. And the rationalizing that one can always use that paper in the future anyway.

    And wasted paper vs. wasted ink on the double print or extra ink it takes to print the grid?

    I think Hallmark saw the solution to a problem and did it. The addition is a great one and extremely useful in that it is what it is — it helps to guide a user in wrapping a gift better by allowing you to follow some lines to cut and lines to fold.

    It’s an extra cost to them and may make people more efficient or less wasteful wrappers but I think this was a great “feature” and solution in “innovating” wrapping paper where there’s been a user problem before.

  7. Ok, this is off the grid, but on the theme of paper product innovations:
    They should put paper on toilet paper rolls in reverse. In other words, the soft, fluffy part — the part that touches your bum — should be rolled on the inside and the scratchy part should be on the outside, since it collects germs. Then, a full wrap around the fingers gives you a relatively clean (and soft) wiping surface. You can tell I spend a lot of time thinking about design on the toilet.

    Khoi, sorry to get all scatological on your blog.

  8. “Hallmark took a very simple product that had been in use continuously and without complaint for decades, identified a problem that everyone encounters and yet no one has taken seriously, and then created a wonderfully elegant solution for it.”

    Actually, I suspect that’s not the case. I’ve seen similar applications on generic, off-brand paper for years. Not always the same grid…frequent just a pattern of dots arranged more sort of “at the corners” of where Hallmark’s squares are. But the same idea, nevertheless.

    Which is not to take issue with the overall point of the post. 🙂

  9. great post. now who was the genius who came up with the “half-sheet” perforations in today’s paper towels? same impulse, same brilliance.

  10. Wait, toilet paper has a soft side and a scratchy side?

    I feel like a piece of my world just fell down.

  11. I don’t understand. How does this make anyone wrap more efficiently?

    I thought the point was to ensure straighter cuts.

  12. Hmm… I’ve seen wrapping paper with grids for at least the last 10 years, ranging from cheap no-name paper to more opulent expensive papers.
    Frankly, I think that Hallmark is VERY late to this party, and are not innovating nor bringing something new to the customer. They are, in fact, finally catching up with an innovation that smaller, nimbler companies brought to the market a very long time ago.

  13. Gene and Khoi, I’ll do you one further. 3M makes Scotch wrapping paper with a 1″ repeating pattern in their trademark plaid on the front AND a grid on the back. The two sides are in register, so one can line things up with either side, and do more complicated wraps easier. I used it this past Christmas, and it was about 100 times easier than standard wrapping paper. And this is coming from someone who is terrible at making comps too…

  14. It was either great design innovation, or someone over at Hallmark who finally had to reline their kitchen shelves, because Contact paper has been doing this for years. Granted the back of Contact paper peels off, but it’s the same principle.

  15. This isn’t new; perhaps you’ve just noticed it. I have some Hallmark paper that was purchased in the last century with this grid on the back. It’s a feature I’ve come to expect on Hallmark paper over the years, and yes I find it useful.

    But it’s nothing recent.

  16. I didn’t mean to imply that it’s brand new, but it is relatively new to me. I think I first noticed it about five years ago? Anyway, the point of it was not to cite the grid on the back as breaking news, but to say, “This is a good idea.” Thanks to the gift wrapping train spotters for chiming in though. 🙂

  17. Shops in Japan will expertly gift wrap any or every purchase. The paper offered is as elegant as the wrapping of it. Cheerfully done and without charge.

  18. Gordon:

    Outstanding! Please forward, at your earliest convenience, two round-trip tickets from North Carolina to Japan (any airport at either end will do). That’ll make doing my Christmas shopping much easier.


  19. I was also going to mention Contact paper. It’s especially convenient with the rolls of transparent sticky plastic — you don’t have to turn the plastic upside down, against its natural bend, to line it up against whatever you’re wrapping.

  20. I have to chime in (on the train spotter front). In addition to the grid-backed Innisfil wrapping paper my kid’s school has sold for years, I have vivid memories of MacTac having grids on the back in the late 60s. (Of course, Mactac makes for hard UNwrapping on christmas morning!)

  21. I work for Hallmark’s rival (and we happen to be the largest manufacturer of gift wrap in the world) and we don’t do this on any of our gift wrap. I hope we get with it soon!

  22. hallmark has been doing this for as long as i can remember… as a child of the 80s i can remember my mom only buying hallmark wrapping paper for this simple fact. she’d buy discounted paper after christmas was over at k-mart or the like, and be angry the next year that she decided to do so.

    i worked at hallmark all through high school & college, and, after wrapping countless gifts for hurried consumers, the grids do indeed make a HUGE difference. you can line up your box, making sure that the pattern stays straight, you can cut faster… its fabulous.

    my anal-retentiveness for the grid seems to stem from this wrapping paper, now that i think about it…

  23. I do think this is the right approach. Also when sales might get down due to this step. Though people realise that Hallmark is a solution oriented brand and not solely sales oriented.

  24. I’m tooting my own horn, but have you seen the new(ish) product called the GiftWrap Cutter? You put a roll in a tray, and slide the (kid-safe) knife down a channel to cut – always straight and 90 degrees! Cuts cello too. This is totally self-serving advertising, since I own the (little, 2-person) business that makes it 🙂 but it really is a great way to take the frustration out of gift wrapping!

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