Get a Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of The Smallprint Company
Say hello to …
Hannah & Chris Barker from The Smallprint Company.
Tell us a little about yourself and your company …
My husband and I run a letterpress print company, The Smallprint Company. We produce small runs of hand printed and hand finished cards, gift tags and prints. We also do commissions – everything from business cards, birth prints, birthday invitations and wedding stationery.
Describe your typical working day …
Chris is the printer and he is either in the studio working on the Mac, creating designs or printing. The printing involves setting the type and images in the chase (a metal frame) which requires a lot of patience! He will then ink up the press and individually print off a run which can be anything from a couple to maybe 500. This always involves a number of test prints to iron out any issues and to bed the ink in.
I run the day-to-day business when I’m not at my part-time marketing job. Working on the administration, marketing and finances, as well as generating new business. On a typical day, you’ll find me glued to my PC but what I’d really like to be doing is getting inky in the studio!
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing has to be making the client smile! We love working creatively, realising designs from sketches through to the final print, watching them evolve. Chris loves playing with the metal type and turning it into a balanced image. We also enjoy attending the fairs and doing demonstrations; meeting people face to face and explaining all about letterpress.
Do you use any specialist techniques?
Our specialist equipment is the vintage press and type which we have to source, often through eBay, which makes for an eclectic collection! We also have a light box to produce photopolymer plates, which means we can print digital images. The techniques used are about as traditional as you can get in printing. It’s a very tactile and involved method. You’ll never have the finished quality of a digital print but that’s the beauty of the medium.
What would you like to do next with the business?
We’re developing the wedding aspect, with new designs. We would also like to create a website specific to that purpose. We are looking for new premises and a bigger press – perhaps a studio-gallery space where people can visit us and interact. 2014 is going to be an exciting year for Smallprint!
What tip would you give to someone starting a business?
Don’t rush into things. If you already have a job, stick with it. Use the time to ‘test trade’, establish yourself in the market, work out what sells and what doesn’t. Test trading is invaluable and gives you the chance to work out what you’re doing and where you’re going – we learnt so much in the first year. Promote yourself: we’ve found social media very helpful. Remember what it is that makes your business unique and update your business plan regularly. Above all, enjoy what you’re doing!
Your Products …
What is your personal favourite product in your collection?
Hannah: ‘Cute as a Button’ hand-finished greeting card.
What are the most popular products in your range?
Our ‘Ey Up’ (shown at the top of the post) and ‘The Best Tonic’ greetings cards.
Are you working on any new products at the moment?
These are our most recent designs:
What products do you want to introduce next?
We have lots of ideas – more gift tags (we’re experimenting with die cutting), badges and stickers maybe, and expanding the wedding stationery.
Your Inspiration …
What inspired you to start your business?
We have been considering a business venture together as long as we’ve known each other but there never seemed the right time. After Chris’s third redundancy we were beginning to feel that there must be something else out there. One evening we were watching a documentary on BBC3 about letterpress in the US and two hours later we were on ebay looking for a press! We haven’t looked back.
We met at art college, Chris has many years experience in commercial print and design and I have a publishing production and marketing background. We’ve also been involved in Green Door Printmaking Studio, exhibiting and taking part in print exchanges worldwide. Our personal and professional interests inform our new business hugely.
What inspires your products?
Humour: funny phrases, friends and family. Often a card has been designed with someone in mind, which then becomes part of the range.
What other card and gift designers do you admire?
We have always tried to find interesting cards and the design has always been important to us. Commercially we enjoy Caroline Gardner cards but it was the cards printed by Archivist Gallery (found in Paperchase) which really got us thinking. As they are each hand printed you are buying a little piece of art. We have many of them framed at home and this was the inspiration for The Smallprint Company. I have to admit we buy a lot less cards now but I can hardly ask the printer to produce his own birthday card!
What business brands inspire your business?
Again, Archivist Gallery inspires us, as well as Hand & Eye Letterpress. If we could one day have a studio like theirs we would be very happy indeed. Our good friends Green Door Printmaking Studio (run by mother & daughter team Anna & Pan Johnson) have to have a special mention. We have watched their print studio business develop over the last few years and without their inspiration and friendship, I doubt that we would have taken the plunge and be where we are today.
Thank you Hannah & Chris!