A Journey of Knowledge
FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award 2010 Recipient: Ed Hughes

by Kym Conis
Foil & Specialty Effects Association

The transfer of knowledge is a powerful tool, particularly when driven by passion and skill. For industry veteran and master engraver Ed Hughes, sharing knowledge has been a joyful role, rather than one of responsibility or duty. In the three-dimensional realm of engraving, his journey of education has played out with artistry and zeal, spanning more than four decades in the print finishing arena.

From finishers and engravers to artists and designers, Ed Hughes has devoted his professional life to promoting foil stamping and embossing as a premier finishing solution throughout the world. His relentless efforts to share knowledge across the board between industry sectors has been an essential contribution to the growth and well-being of the industry at large. Starting with his apprenticeship at Hallmark and continuing through his valued work with Universal Engraving, Perspective Engraving (his own company), and now Metal Magic, Hughes has helped to build a fundamental support system on which diemakers across the country rely to fulfill the needs of print finishers from coast to coast.

On behalf of the hundreds of young apprentices, engravers, CNC operators, and master etchers who have trained beneath him, the Foil & Specialty Effects Association is proud to honor Ed Hughes with the 2010 FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award.


I always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. – Ed Hughes


The beauty of art can be found anywhere, even on a dairy farm in Grogan, Mo. For Hughes, art has always been in his blood, citing his father as having a great influence on his passion throughout his childhood. Out of high school, Hughes was accepted to the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri. In order to help pay for tuition, he tried to get a job at Hallmark as an artist but the greeting card giant was not hiring artists at that time. Instead, Hughes was asked if he would be interested in becoming an engraver. “I had no idea what that was,” he chuckled. “I thought I would be making molds for candles or something.” This tide of events would soon prove to be a fate of fortune.


The interview process was rigorous and, out of nearly 100 applicants, only two were hired as apprentices – one only lasting two weeks – and that wasn’t Hughes. “I was hired in 1965, just one year after Hallmark stopped using the hammer and chisel,” Hughes recalled. “Hallmark was the only company training engravers with an air grinder; they were the first company to do that.” Thus, Hughes landed his first engraving job and started his journey – one that would often land him at the right place at just the right time.

With sandpaper, clay, scrapers, and an air grinder in hand, Hughes trained right out on the production floor amongst some 30 other engravers lined up in cubicles. Working with Hallmark supervisors, including Jack Mayer and Seth Whirle, the new apprentice began to learn what it takes to become not just a good engraver but a masterful one. “The key to being an engraver is that you have to engrave something to look three-dimensional but also, the engraving must replicate the texture of what is being sculpted,” Hughes explained. “For instance, an orange must feel like an orange and a oak leaf like an oak leaf. It’s more than aesthetics; it’s texture as well.”

During his tenure at Hallmark, Hughes recalls many privileges in which he had the honor to partake. “Not only did I get to work as an engraver but if a die got damaged on press, I was the one to go see if it could be fixed. If it could not, I would have to re-finish it all by hand,” said Hughes. This was great training for emergency cases and forced him to learn to alter a die while in a production environment – great knowledge that Hughes would later pass on to those he trained. He also participated in a few projects for Mr. Joyce Hall personally, which he considered a great honor. “In my career, I’ve gotten to work on six different U.S. Presidents’ Christmas cards. I am very proud of the many things I was able to do at Hallmark.”


Whatever knowledge you have, you have a duty to share that knowledge. That’s what keeps the industry healthy.” – Ed Hughes


In 1973, Hughes was offered his first training job at Greenspan and Kushland in New York City. “Hallmark asked if I would be interested in moving up there to train the engraving operation on how to use air grinders.” Hughes seized the opportunity and spent the next three years sharing his knowledge as an employee of Greenspan and Kushland. When the time came soon after for Universal Lustre Leaf (formerly Dirby Laboratories – a foil manufacturer in Westwood, N.J., that was owned by Hallmark and sold to Glenn Hutchison and Tom Cusemonio) to start an engraving department, Hughes was top on the list.


And so in 1976, Hughes weighed the opportunity versus the risk and decided to move back to the Kansas City, Kan. area (very near to his home and family). “I was the first full-time employee hired in the engraving department at Universal Lustre Leaf. We had a pantograph operator that came in to work with me when needed and Manager Billy Proctor produced all the brochures and foil sheets on the Kluge while I did all the engraving,” recalled Hughes. The foil was manufactured in Westwood but was slit and shipped in Kansas, which made sense since Kansas was centrally located. Die orders soon began to pick up and the need to hire additional engravers became apparent.

During this strong period of growth, Hughes trained many engravers, some novice and some experienced, in the art of sculpting. “As time went on, I showed them shortcuts to help them along,” said Hughes. Quality and speed was the key: “We had to be able to satisfy customer needs. I had strong skills in knowing a variety of ways to use different burrs that would allow you to accomplish more in less time with the same quality.” Hughes also firmly believed in polishing and texturing instead of sandblasting or adding texture to hide a flaw. Perfection soon became one of the hallmarks that would set the bar throughout his career. “This is how I trained everyone. Sometimes you end up learning how to do things out of necessity in order to get things done in a reasonable length of time – techniques that would expedite the process,” said Hughes.

Eventually, the manufacturing segment of Universal Lustre Leaf was sold (to Crown Roll Leaf) and branched off into two segments: Universal Engraving, Inc. (UEI) – the engraving side – and USE Foils (the foil distribution side). Hughes became a vice president right off the bat, and within three years of moving into its new home at 9090 Nieman Road in Overland Park, Kan., the engraving company quickly filled up 26,000 feet of space.


“Much advancement in die technology has come to light during the last 45 years that has shaped the industry as we know it today.” – Ed Hughes


“We were doing terrific things (at UEI); we were making a lot of dies and we also started selling etching machines, chemicals, and metal,” said Hughes. “We started the seminars way back when we were located on Kansas Avenue. Glenn (Hutchison) and I did parts of the seminar and Kenny (Ashcroft) took care of the attendees and all the arrangements.” Geared toward pressman and operational management, the one and a half day seminars were like none other in the industry being conducted at the time. They consisted of classroom time where participants learned the basics of foil stamping/embossing techniques, foil and die composition, etc.; press time where makeready and tricks of the trade were demonstrated; and time at UEI, where Hughes got to work his magic.


Explaining the foil stamping and embossing process from a standpoint of what worked and what didn’t, Hughes covered information on embossing effects; thickness of counters and how to choose the correct one; paper selection; considerations when making a die; and much, much more. Hughes elaborated, “We showed them how to do pour makereadies since we had the Kluge press. Although many of the larger companies (particularly carton companies) were using pre-cast counters due to larger, multiple-up jobs, pour counters were a great process to learn in the case of emergencies.” A pour counter is softer and more forgiving and would get the job done in a pinch – a logical, practical process that would enable the pressman to finish the job. “We put on a seminar like none other and I made many friends.”

During Hughes’ lengthy career, much advancement in die technology has come to light that has significantly shaped the industry as it is known today. “Pre-cast counters, the idea of pour counters, and Bakelite duplicates were just a few of the many technologies developed by Glenn. I developed a process of rounding and etching, especially type, to give it a nice, crisp edge or bite so on certain papers when embossed, the image would hold its memory,” said Hughes. “One thing, too, that we did at UEI was to bring copper into the industry. Back then it was always magnesium and zinc – some brass, which was too expensive for flat stamping.” Substantial time and effort were spent in bringing the etching of copper dies to the industry, as well as refractive etching – a process that allows movement through a series of etched patterns, either standard or custom, that remains vastly popular throughout the industry today.

When the time came to bring in a CNC engraving operation, Hughes was instrumental in getting the operation up and running. With a team consisting of a hand modeler, computer technician, artist, and hand finisher, the team went into R&D. “When we brought in the manual, it was all in German. One of our art personnel understood a bit and through some outside translation, we got the process running – although very tough at first,” said Hughes.

So much was learned about the CNC process in those early years (1980s), such as making the actual cutter and lining it up for the best possible way to engrave the die, putting different types of bevels on the dies, and angling the metals to create three-dimensional effects. Hughes was quick to point out that the art of engraving directly correlates with the ability to program the CNC machine. “No one knows sculpting better than engravers and they are the best at programming the equipment,” said Hughes. “There still is a need to know paper, depth, and how to ‘pop’ the paper in the best way. I truly believe that not everyone gets the entire picture; that is the skill set of the master engraver. But if the CNC operator has experience and education in sculpting, he can better program the machine.”

A place will always exist for the hand modeler, Hughes believes. Instead of fifteen, though, that may be reduced to one or two. As the programs keep getting better, the hand modelers will continue to move to CNC. But for prototyping, internal use, finishing off dies, and of course, creating that highly sculpted, special engraving, the hand modeler is irreplaceable. “There are some things that CNC just can’t do right now … eventually yes, but not yet,” said Hughes.


“My philosophy in sales was to find something on every trip that would help the customer make money.” – Ed Hughes


Hughes started to move into sales in 1989 at UEI. His uncanny talent for solving die problems while in production coupled with his knowledge and experience in diemaking, were the perfect skill sets to complement his sales trips. “I didn’t set out to merely sell engravings and counters,” said Hughes. “I set out to be creative with each customer I visited – every time. I tried to help each one find something that would make them money. This was my philosophy.” And with that in mind, he was quite successful. “I tried to improve the processes – give them creative ideas for something they had never used before,” said Hughes. Furthermore, he provided his customers with ways in which they could sell the processes that, in turn, would yield greater benefits.


After 34 years in the industry, with management, production, training, and sales experience under his belt, the time was right for Hughes to go out on his own. With wife Pat (who also worked at UEI as its art director and specialized in refractions), Hughes moved to Las Vegas in 1999 to start his own engraving company, Perspective Engraving. “We did a lot of research on what location would be the best place to set up shop. We must have looked at 50 different cities and Las Vegas came up as the number one city for potential growth.” Business was good and Perspective Engraving grew mainly by word of mouth.

After a few years, Hughes met up with Charlie Brown, owner of Metal Magic, Phoenix, Ariz., and after developing a sound working relationship based on trust and mutual respect, decided to join the Metal Magic team in Phoenix. Nine out of thirteen Perspective Engraving employees made the journey in 2002 – a move that continues to be fulfilling to this day. “I seem to be attracted to visionary companies – from Hallmark and UEI to Perspective Engraving and now with the team at Metal Magic,” said Hughes. “I admire people who have great ideas and concepts and have enjoyed working together to accomplish some wonderful things within these organizations.”

Now in sales and customer service at Metal Magic, Hughes draws upon his vast industry knowledge to do what he does best – educating customers, CSRs, designers, and pressmen. “I’ve always believed that you take care of your customer and I put the customer first – not the employees,” said Hughes. “This,” he admitted, “gets me in trouble from time to time!”


“Speed and quality – that’s what it takes to be a master engraver.” – Ed Hughes


When asked what it takes to become a master engraver, Hughes replied, “To break it down, a master engraver has the ability and knowledge to look at an order and take it from beginning to end and do every aspect of it. He has the ability to see if it is going to be successful or if there is going to be a problem, before the engraving even begins. A master engraver has the ability to quote a die efficiently and accurately. He has the gift, talent, and knowledge to do every job in engraving.”


Some are more efficient than others but none are more efficient than Ed Hughes. His artistic gift in engraving combined with his passion to spread that knowledge to others in the industry has truly been the hallmark of his 43-year career. “I believe in knowledge. I’ve been so fortunate to receive knowledge, whether in production philosophies, sales philosophies, processes, or procedures. Knowledge is power and whatever you possess, you have a duty to share that knowledge. That’s what keeps the industry healthy and alive.”

Charlie Brown, Metal Magic, sums up Hughes’ contributions best:

Over the past two decades, the foil stamping and embossing industry has transformed from a mechanical trade to a highly technical and computer-aided trade, thereby creating a severe gap between the old fashioned pressman and film output and the New Age direct-to-plate prepress and highly computerized finishing press. Ed Hughes has devoted his professional life to minimizing that gap by sharing knowledge between the old and new. He has served as a liaison for industry professionals to learn how foil stamping and embossing dies can be used more effectively, and ultimately create the best impressions possible. Without his knowledge transfer, the New Age prepress operators and CSRs of today would be challenged with a lack of knowledge as to what is possible for pushing the limits on new ideas and concepts for outrageous foil stamping and embossing.