By Emily McDaid
Brands that want to look ‘hipster’ are trending towards a low-tech look (while being driven by cutting-edge tech behind the scenes, obviously).
A local Belmont Road-based startup is banking on this trend, by creating Northern Ireland’s only printed design with an actual letterpress (the machine newspapers were made by in the 1800’s).
Bill & Coo Paper Co was founded in January 2015 by Karla McNally. She said: “I worked as a graphic designer in the US and Canada and noticed a greater appreciation there for handmade craft.” She was well-placed to notice that; she grew up with a Hiedelberg printing machine in her family home. (You can buy an industrial-sized one on eBay for £100,000.)
Karla continued, “No one back home was doing any hand crafted design with a letterpress. But it was becoming increasingly popular in North America. I got an Adana TP48, made in the 1950s in England, and took a course in Dublin, and another in Louisville, Kentucky.”
“I named my letterpress Atlas,” she said, in what was, for me, a marvellous example of how whimsy needs to be incorporated in design mentality.
Karla is part of the organising committee behind Belfast Design Week, and she showcased Atlas during an open day event, where these pictures were taken.
A true child of technology, new tech is, of course, incorporated in Bill & Coo’s design process. The letterpress works best for single-colour printing. To make modern designs requiring more than one colour, Karla creates a design in Illustrator (or similar software) and has a polymer plate created and sent out to her. Her supplier, Lyme Bay Press, can turn around the polymer plates in a day. When used with the letterpress, the plate allows Karla to use two different colours of ink. The plate is reusable whenever her corporate clients need the same logo or branding, for another print run.
“This process marries a digital aspect with a handcrafted finish,” Karla said. “But it’s important that every print is still different. I feed every page into the press by hand, so the output is different every single time. Every page is unique.”
There is a strong history of letterpress media in Ireland. The original Proclamation was on printed media, and its ability to be circulated has been attributed with having a central role in shaping the image and meaning of the Rising. The National Print Museum in Dublin has an exhibit devoted to letterpresses, which Karla said is fascinating.
What sorts of prints do you make?
“Atlas can print anything up to size A5. Menus for restaurants, note cards, business cards, corporate materials, anything at all,” Karla said.
How do you sell your wares?
“I sell directly to my customers and a lot of them are overseas. Here in Northern Ireland, we need to place more value on handmade, homegrown items, with a modern design.”
What’s next for Bill & Coo?
“We’re delighted to have opened our new studio on Belmont Road and look forward to expanding our wares from here,” she said.
Do hipsters want a low-tech look?
“I think there’s a desire to counteract our fast-paced, screen-based modern culture with designs that have weighty, traditional textures,” Karla concluded.