Keep calm and print retro

Article written by

Dara Jegede

Written on 09/03/2015 | Posted 2 years 11 months 12 days ago

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Berwick works on a lino cutting project Berwick works on a lino cutting project

A phenomenon more common in fashion and design, trends are often recycled and recomposed as aesthetic preferences evolve with time. A similar scene has unfolded in the printing sector as more of the industry's populace veers towards or maintains traditional techniques, such as screen-printing, relief printing and good old-fashioned hand-crafting.

Retro, today, is synonymous with concepts that transcend the boundaries of time and style. Interior décor has bred a resurgence in antiquated motifs, with designers offsetting modern minimalism with the trusted and homely touch of days gone by. Likewise, objects emulating yesteryear easily satisfy our nostalgic dispositions, especially in the present industrial climate where the technological capabilities of mass production have somewhat eliminated personality and originality. The trend, it seems, is that many are finding inspiration in the past.

Little epitomises this trend better than Keep Calm and Carry On, a company based in Surrey, UK, which has been sating punters' nostalgic cravings for such goods since 2007. Having acquired a number of the few remaining original WWII morale-boosting posters, it replicates customised versions of the iconic typography on mugs, posters and shirts for buyers. The discernible allure in this classic, clear and simple message is indeed its simplicity and timelessness.

After starting as a screen-printing business, the company now provides print-on-demand services, harnessing short-run capabilities of digital printing. This is one area where digital ink-jet printing undoubtedly trumps many traditional techniques, in that one cannot work to the same scale when both volume and variation is required.

Screen-printed design by Handprinted 

On the flip side, this very act of customisable mass-production is what draws many away from some modern processes and back to traditional techniques. While we wistfully engage with resurrected retro conceptions, eco-consciousness has inspired markets with local handmade products that do little to harm the environment, and bear a 'Made in Britain' seal. This rise in demand has in turn spurred more people to create artwork and items to sell through small-scale garage-based ventures or small businesses such as Handprinted, based in West Sussex.

"If each artist and designer makes and handles each print or fabric by hand, my belief is that better work can be produced and to a higher standard. Perhaps this means that everything will be made to a smaller scale." "With screen-printing, the hand of the maker can be evident in each print," comments Holly Newnham, creative development executive at Handprinted. "This is something that still has value in today's 'technology age' – if not even more value, due to the de-personalised nature of mass production. Recipients of your work can appreciate the rarity of each piece and the time and effort that has gone into its creation." 

Crafting a business

Print-maker and illustrator Andrew Berwick offers homeware and stationery products, created using lino-cutting, through the hand-printed and handmade business he set up after graduating from university in 2012. "Lino-cutting is a process I use a lot in creating my designs as I enjoy the mark making, techniques and often unpredictable nature of the medium," he says. "Its bold, graphic style and simple use of a limited colour pallet lends itself well to screen-printing, which I use to print and make my fabric and paper products.

"Screen-printing is a way for me to produce my designs on a larger and more productive scale, and was the natural progression for me in developing my range of products."

Berwick prefers the authentic feel of a more analogue approach

An obvious advantage to printing his designs in this way is that Berwick's work is immediately distinguishable amongst other similar products in a mass-produced market. People are purchasing a unique cushion with each sale, for example, as well as buying into the personality and originality behind the creation process, from design to finished print. Aside the novelty of articles created in this manner, the craft presents many with an entrepreneurial path into a competitive market.

At the other end of the spectrum, large companies are employing the same mechanisms to complement their industrial operations. With a portfolio of around 1,300 different products, and producing approximately two billion envelopes yearly, manufacturer Blake employs various mechanisms to complete its diverse portfolio, from a reel-fed press for large-scale jobs to individually handcrafted envelopes, where the company benefits from the experience of generations of hand-folding skills to create bespoke products.

"Everyone wants that little bit of uniqueness that is tailored by hand and shouts quality," believes managing director Michael Barter. "We are in a world where people want to differentiate themselves. This can be shown in something as simple as party invitations, wedding stationery or upmarket mailings."

By combining modern and traditional production techniques, Blake recorded a 40 percent increase in turnover for its bespoke division in 2014 and is aiming for an equally positive result in 2015. Meanwhile, Keep Calm and Carry On, seven to eight years on from its inception, has maintained its solid position and demand for its products remains unmoved.

One thing about trends is that they run their cycle and develop into fresh new ideas. This cyclical process allows for innovation in design, ensures that every dog has its day and that digital process does not monopolise the market. Print in 2015 is largely geared towards scale and customisation, with manufacturers contending in the marketplace over the finer points of picolitres, feeds and speeds. Yet, under the radar, old-style outlets continue to expand and sustain an upward trajectory.

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