Print is Not Dead

7 Minute Read
Print in a digital age

We all know it - that smell of a freshly bought book. As you open the first page, you bend back the spine, nestle in, and prepare yourself for the adventure that lies within. Or perhaps you leave your newly purchased book of stunning photography on the coffee table to become a centre piece for shared conversations, tea and biscuits with friends. A good book has the power to move you, to change you, to stay with you forever. However, in recent years, it feels as though screen-based media has come to dominate much of the precious time we once set aside for reading. In a world where our Instagram feeds are growing and our attention spans are shrinking, print media has a unique challenge as it seeks to stay relevant. But we are optimists. Print is not dead. We caught up with friends of the Ozone Family, Alison Branch and Anthony Burrill and discussed how they are keeping print alive.

Alison Branch

Alison Branch is co-founder and managing director of Park Communications, a multi award winning printing business with a passion for sustainable processes and top-quality service. We asked Alison about what’s keeping print alive in the digital age.

Tell us a little bit about Park Communications. When was it formed and why?

My business partner Heath and I formed Park Communications in 1991. With 12 years of experience working within the industry, we recognised that there was an opportunity for a printing business that delivered excellent service. The business is built on the foundations of quality, service, technology and consultative thinking. We focus on delivering award-winning print work using sustainable processes. 26 years later, we work with corporations, leading brands, galleries, creative agencies and independent magazines, and have a team of 125 staff! Our services include page creation, litho printing, digital printing, binding, large format (display) printing, fulfilment and mailing.

Over your 26 years in business, you must have witnessed numerous printing trends come and go. How do you get a feel for what ideas, processes or new innovations might be coming up next?

There has been a massive amount of change since I first entered the industry. It is essential to keep up to date with trends within our customer base, to learn about new innovations and to use modern technologies. This is the only way to ensure a product and service that matches customer needs, but it also helps to keep costs down and prices competitive in a sustainable way. We keep up to date with trends and innovations by talking to customers, attending events, seminars, conferences, trade shows, reading relevant research and keeping close to equipment manufacturers.

What are some of the key ways that people can be influenced to engage with print media?

Print now has to compete with digital media, so it has to offer things that cannot be achieved with digital media. Some of the key areas where print has the edge are:

  • Making it attention grabbing – size, colours, materials, bindings, and finishes all matter.
  • Appealing to the senses that digital can’t – for example, tactility, sounds and smells.
  • Working with print means you can take the benefit of double page spreads to convey lifestyle or impact.
  • Inducing relaxation – print can be a relaxing break from our heavy online life.
  • Research has shown that we retain more detailed information if we read from paper rather than from a screen.

In the digital era, how are you re-inventing ways to communicate in physical form? Tell us about some interesting projects you’ve facilitated.

One really special project for us, was “Immortal”. We were asked to produce a box set of photographic prints for sale at the exhibition of Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones, leading artists in the worlds of beauty, fashion and music. Print quality was of utmost importance for this project, so we integrated three extra colours in to four colour images (i.e. we printed the images in seven colours). This helped to ensure that we accurately conveyed the electric colours and vibrancy of the original images.

What would you say is the key factor in keeping the printing industry alive? Are there any emerging trends that are facilitating regeneration?

The marketing and advertising industries are finding that online content may not be bringing the required level of response or brand loyalty. We all get bombarded with digital communications and messages. This means it is hard to capture the audience’s attention with digital communications. Digital printing technology (which utilises printing from digital images) is an important development in the printing industry because it allows for shorter, reduced budget communications and allows communications to be personalised or tailored to a reader. A wider range of creative finishes and bindings are also now available, and more efficient manufacturing technology has reduced the cost of longer run litho print.

Anthony Burrill

Anthony Burrill is a graphic artist, print-maker and designer known for his persuasive, up-beat style of communication. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York and has been exhibited in galleries around the world including the Barbican Art Gallery, the Walker Art Center and the Design Museum, London.

Tell us about your journey so far as a graphic designer and printmaker.

I graduated from the Royal College of Art in the early nineties. My work then was concerned with lo-fi production techniques, simple typography and bold colours. I’ve always worked independently, pursuing my own ideas and developing my distinctive approach. For a while, I worked in advertising, making campaigns for brands and events. However, I was also producing my own printed matter and posters. Gradually, the work I made for myself became popular and I was able to move away from working solely for commercial clients. I now have a good balance of making my own projects and accepting interesting and worthwhile commissions.

I’ve always loved the tactile qualities of print, it’s something I really respond to. I like the “chance” aspect of working with analogue techniques. It’s fun to make work that surprises you. I’ve explored lots of print techniques – especially letterpress and screen print. I like the physical aspect of making work, it’s much more satisfying than simply pressing “print” on a computer.

Have you witnessed a resurgence of awareness and interest in traditional print processes? What do you think has provoked this?

Letterpress has become much more popular over the past 10 years, and it’s good to see the resurgence of a beautiful technique. We’re all looking for some meaning beyond our smartphones. Traditional print processes are physical by nature and somehow magical. It’s always fun to show people how I work and it’s fascinating to see how the machinery is used to print words onto paper. Part of my work is communicating the process and explaining how the work is made. It adds depth and interest to the work.

Do you think print and digital are friends or foes? Why?

I think they’re very good friends. Print likes to stay at home, but digital likes to get out and meet people. Digital brings print out of its shell and helps it make new friends.

If both digital and print has its place in communicating messages, how do you decide which medium is best suited?

It depends on what you are saying and who you are talking to. In my world, print and digital work together happily. I’ve got a story to tell about my approach to work and how I make it. It’s interesting to watch an analogue process – machines turning, ink being spread, it’s all good stuff. Watching somebody compose a tweet or reply to an email doesn’t have quite the same appeal. You’ve just published a hardback book of your own! Tell us some of your favourite moments from the project. I enjoyed the whole process, from putting together the initial treatment with my editor Elen Jones, to writing the text and developing the design with A Practice for Everyday Life. Finally seeing the months of work come together as a finished book was very exciting. It’s good to see it out in the world and being enjoyed, it helps people to understand my work and why I make it the way I do.

And finally, what’s now / next?

I’m currently preparing work for a group exhibition in Berlin, I’m travelling over there to work on a new set of prints with my friend Patrick Thomas in his amazing print studio. There’s also another book project coming up over the next few months. I love the variety of the projects I work on, there’s always something new to explore or a place to visit, I’m constantly inspired to make work and curious to find out what’s going to happen next.