Robert Waitts Remembered with the FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award
Foil & Specialty Effects Association
On April 29, 2014, the family of Robert (Bob) R. Waitts, founder of Crown Roll Leaf, Inc., accepted the FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor. Waitts passed away in 1998, but his career accomplishments guarantee a lasting effect on the holographic and diffractive image industry.
Advancing the industry
Recognizing the enormous market potential of stamped foil, Waitts followed his instincts in 1971, took a leap of faith and founded Crown Roll Leaf, Inc. The four-employee "shop" ultimately grew into a $68 million dollar global manufacturing enterprise with more than 200 employees.
"Bob was a salesman for Quick Roll Leaf in the late 1960s and very early ‘70s for Eddie Quick," explained his son, James. "That was the extent of his roll leaf experience before he started Crown. He enjoyed selling, but he wanted to do more than that."
In the foil stamping and embossing industry’s infancy, hot stamping foils were mostly made of gold and silver metallics. Waitts expanded the Crown Roll Leaf product line so that it included a rainbow of metallics, thus creating major opportunities for new business.
His son, George, attributed much of Waitts’ drive to his commitment to the customers served by Crown Roll Leaf. "Bob had a love for the industry, and he wanted to be innovative enough to give the customers out there more than just gold and silver," he said. "He believed through innovation and imagination, any particular look that was wanted for a piece could be worked out. He wanted to give the customers and designers the tools to make things that were unique and would sell."
That new array of colorful metallics inspired the ongoing development of other exciting products, including gloss and matte pigments, tints, pearls and special-effect foils, which he adapted for new applications, such as packaging, labels, trading cards, trophies, frames, wallpaper and even clothing.
Waitts also opened a door to two of the industry’s most successful innovations – holographic diffraction grating and hologram products. The evolution and explosive popularity of those foil products, which are used on paper and plastic consumer products and promotional materials, as well as in security applications, only were possible because of his commitment to research, development and reinvestment in his company’s technology.
"He had so many great ideas," said his wife, Maggie. "He saw things in his head, researched the things that would make those ideas possible and made them happen. He loved learning." Maggie explained that the creation of diffractive gratings was due to Waitts’ commitment to learning. "Bob went to California and to Europe to learn from people who were making holograms. He studied books about math to understand the angles and shapes, and then he put the art department together to make the designs of those shapes. He understood – before anyone else could see past the novelty – that with holograms, you have to make a million of one image to make any money, but with diffractive gratings, you could use a 250-foot roll and put it on anything."
Waitts also was responsible for the industry’s first 50-inch embosser. "There were a couple of things driving that development," explained George. "Bob felt we could supply more product to the industry by doing it on wider equipment. At that time, everything was being produced as a factory roll or master roll in a 24-inch size. It also was more efficient and cost-effective to produce, so we could offer it at a better price and grab more market share." Today 50-, 54- and 56-inch embossers are the norm.
The National Geographic project
In March of 1984, a 2½x4" holographic image of an eagle appeared on the National Geographic cover, pioneering the use of holograms in a large-circulation magazine, according to the magazine’s website. Industry rumor stated that the job had been a disaster from a production standpoint, with more than 80-percent waste. In 1985, when National Geographic needed holographic materials for its cover story on "The Early Man," which featured a larger image area, Crown Roll Leaf stepped in, in partnership with American Bank Note Holographics, New York, NY.
"We had been working to develop an embossable holographic base," explained George, "and we were close in developing our base, but it wasn’t exactly there. However, my father got together with American Bank Note to talk about the second cover. He knew we could do it efficiently and get it done right."
Working with Kenneth Haines, who George described as "the finest holographer in the world back then," the National Geographic cover project moved forward. Haines developed an image using 3D technology; Crown Roll Leaf developed the base and embossed it; and the stamping was done by another company on a Heidelberg Windmill. A description of the November 1985 cover, courtesy of the MIT Museum, is as follows: "Embossed in the cover is a rainbow-colored hologram on foil showing the fossil skull of a child, looking to the right, with a long crack across the forehead."
"That skull is 4 inches wide by 5¼ inches long," said George, "and as a stamping job, doing something of that nature was unprecedented. It was considered the first commercially successful holographic job in the world, and it created such a discussion in the industry."
A lasting impression
Bob Waitts’ work in the foil stamping and embossing industry furthered enormously the technology, the product lines and the diversity of markets. He generated substantial awareness of the creative possibilities for foils, and he raised the bar for quality and service.
"My father loved the industry," explained George. "He found it fascinating that anything that could be decorated could be hot stamped. He believed that working through chemistry and physics, anything could be accomplished. And, by offering a good product at a reasonable price with good service, he could compete with anybody in the world."
Today Crown Roll Leaf, Inc., one of the industry’s largest manufacturing facilities in the United States, annually produces over 350 million linear feet of hot stamping foil, offering more than 2,000 products, including holographic patterns, C-ThruVision™ Patterns, Pixel-Grafx™ Foils, custom and stock holograms, to customers in 60 countries. It is not exaggerating to say that Waitts’ work had an impact on hundreds of millions of people, from those working in the foil stamping and embossing business and the industries they influence to the global consumers attracted to glittering packages on the retail shelf. For all of this, Robert Waitts was awarded the FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award in memoriam.