Growing up in a small town outside of Seattle, Wash., Alice Ish was fortunate to have parents that fostered an environment of continual learning and curiosity for the world around her. “They gave me a deep love for the outdoors and the natural world with many family camping trips,” she said.
And it wasn’t just nature. It was also an appreciation of art for both its aesthetic and its practical implications. “I grew up making art and taking every art class my school offered. In my free time I still love to paint. I was attracted to the field of graphic arts and print production by my love of creativity and interest in more technical things.”
FFTA scholarship winner Alice Ish.
Alice took this foundation to the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where she recently won the FFTA Rossini North America Flexographic Research Scholarship for her year-long research work related to adding Digimarc’s covert codes (digital watermarking) to packaging artwork for the purpose of sorting plastic at waste facilities.
She is now a senior at Cal Poly, and already an internship veteran with real-world experience, as well as being a successful researcher. And now she stands on the cusp of a career with both opportunities and challenges, including the fact she’ll be a woman in a mostly male-dominated field, as well the reality of entering an industry where the effects of climate change have led to calls for new sustainability solutions.
Alice appreciates her family, who have been critical to her early successes. “My mother is a family practice doctor and my dad is a business owner and a product designer,” Alice said. She also grew up the youngest child, with an older brother and sister, “who taught me how to be the very best annoying youngest sibling I could be.”
She remembers endless summer days backpacking, learning about plants and cooking meals. And perhaps, because of her father’s work as a product designer, she got interested in the field of graphic arts and print production. She eventually discovered the Cal Poly Graphic Communication major—a concentration in one of the most important graphic design programs in the country—which perfectly synthesized her varied interests.
Her education at Cal Poly revealed almost immediately how she could combine work with her personal commitment to the environment. “Through my studies, I learned how much there is to improve with the waste our society creates, how we recycle, and how many great changes we can do to better protect our planet.”
Woman in a Male-Dominated Field
Last summer Alice had her first major industry internship. She worked with the project management team for the grand format department at a large printing company in Washington state. It was a tremendous experience, and gave her valuable first-hand work experience. It was also a reminder that she had chosen a profession in a largely a male-dominated industry.
“(I tell women) don’t let the narrative be that this industry is not for you because it’s male dominated.”
And while she admits she had some concerns about this gender imbalance, she refused to let it dissuade her, and now tells women considering a career in the print package industry: “Don’t let the narrative be that this industry is not for you because it’s male dominated,” she said. “Each woman that enters print, changes the gender ratio, and carves a path for future women in more industrial fields.”
An important source of personal and vocational strength was joining the Women of Flexo Mentorship Program, which is co-chaired by Jennye Scott of Berry Global, a long-standing Digimarc partner. “This mentorship has given me a network of women working in print all over the country. They have made me feel more confident that this is an industry I can feel confident and at home in,” Alice said.
Discovering Digimarc Tech
Alice testing the pH levels of ink to ensure consistent levels while printing.
Alice first worked with Digimarc technology as a member of the school’s chapter of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts, discovering how to add the covert codes to the club photos for the technical journal. “I found it very interesting how this technology has some similarities with QR code, but works with such little contrast,” she said. “When I learned Digimarc could be used for recycling sorting efficiency, I became passionate about doing a project and learning all I could about this technology.”
This passion led her to formulate her scholarship-winning research project, and to collaborate with a number of technical experts at Digimarc, including a color scientist and print industry veteran.
Her research was technical in nature, looking at such things as the interaction of digital watermarking and spot colors, but she adds, “the overarching goal of this research was to show that digital watermarking, if widely adopted, can be used to make recycling sorting more efficient. This follows with what the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative is trying to accomplish. Watermarking capabilities would make a huge difference in the real-world setting of recycling.”
Inspiration & Glimpse of the Future
Though she remains in school, Alice is already keeping a close eye on industry knowledge to remain fresh and up-to-date. “One source of packaging inspiration that I turn to is Packaging Strategies. This has helped me stay informed on current packaging market trends.” She also recommends the site’s podcast, Packaging Perspectives.
And when asked what she believes will dominate the industry in the years to come, she doesn’t hesitate to answer. “The biggest development I see in the print packaging industry is a more conscientious focus on sustainable practices,” she said. “I have also seen more and more print production companies emphasize their commitment to green practices. This is because the consumer mindset is growing more aware of how we can better protect our planet for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Spot colors being printed on white polypropylene film
at the Cal Poly Graphic Communication Dept. Printing Lab.
And as a person who grew up backpacking and camping with her older siblings in the Pacific Northwest, Alice knows there can be nothing better than entering a profession that will shape how packaging materials are reimagined, and ultimately recycled.
As Alice finishes her senior year at Cal Poly, she carries with her a spirit of gratitude knowing she has found herself on the right path. “I’ll forever be grateful I chose a major that has taught me to use creative thinking in leading projects backed up by a base of print production knowledge.”
Find out more about the Cal Poly graphic design program, as well as how Digimarc’s sustainability solutions can help forge a better future.