The knowledge is the well known test for London’s licensed Black Cab drivers proving that they know their way around the capital, its sights and hotels and the fastest way to get from A to B. In short, passing the Knowledge proves you know everything about London’s streets.
Gavin Martin Colournet has the equivalent for printing, a business that can print litho and digital, can source non print items and is not afraid to take on any project.
These will result in top quality print for anything from a business card to plinth book, says Mark Cameron, one of the East End company’s three directors. This prowess has resulted in the company winning the top accolade in the Antalis Creative Print Awards this year for a book produced for property developer Ballymore.
Winning the award comes as the company starts a campaign to raise its profile among agencies and brands looking for print with a distinctive edge. For even though the company has built a strong reputation in this sector, the constant churn of new design businesses means it needs to address potential new clients while reassuring its existing customer base.
And that is extensive. There are rows of print samples around the room that doubles as office and meeting room on the first floor of the building that is home to Gavin Martin Colournet in Bow, London E3. At one time this area teemed with print busi- nesses: “They used to say that this was the world’s greatest concentration of Heidelbergs outside the factory” says Cameron. Now redevelopment, kicked off by the 2012 Olympics, means that factories are being converted into residences.
Gavin Martin is not immune. It is moving to Woolwich early next year, in time to celebrate its 50th year in business. “We started as a typesetter in 1968,” he says. It was time when phototypesetting, cold composition, was replacing hot metal and sheetfed litho was slowly usurping letterpress.
The first incarnation of the business was located in West Norwood, adding a Shoreditch sales office as print work increased. Around ten years ago the sales office moved east to the main factory, though sales director Gary Bird is rarely on site, preferring to work out of a brief case with a mobile phone between meetings with clients.
“Along the way we have gathered a reputation for producing high quality books,” says Mark Cameron. Every project, he continues, is different and brings its own challenges. “We are not a commodity printer. The customers we deal with still want to push the boundaries of design work and want to posi- tion their products at the top of the tree.”
The company did not intend to become a book printer. Nor does it consider itself to be one; it does not work for the main stream book publishers, for example, and it will never handle a Booker nominee.
However, as case bound books have become the ideal marketing tool for high value property, vehicles, catalogues and similar top of the market publications where the value of what is being proposed needs equivalent marketing materials, Gavin Martin has been there. It has even delved into photobooks.
Cameron pulls out a commemorative tome produced as a record of an A-list celebrity’s 40th birthday. These are not casual snaps from someone’s phone, but posed and informal images taken by top line photographers of the beautiful people invited to the birthday bash in the south of France. Following the event, each of the 400 guests received the hefty souvenir, carefully wrapped and hand delivered. He does not say what the cost was. He was not invited, however.
Nor does he explain what the particular challenges of this project were. “Every project will have its challenges,” he says. “Designers want to push the boundaries.”
At the extreme, possibly, is a plinth book for the Four Seasons residential apartments in Trinity Square near the Tower of London. Two versions were needed, one in English and one in Chinese, to sit in the foyer of the development either side of a 3D architectural model of the finished building. And these books are 600mm across the cover, leather bound with endless spreads of London life and living. As a publication it is about selling the dream to prospective buyers.
For the printer it was a succession of challenges. The matching of the images, the printing on the XL105 in such a way that the pages opened easily, and the leather bound cover. The size and weight of the book meant that a standard cover would respond to humidity over time and an unwanted curl could be introduced. The solution was the addition of a non exing layer between two pieces of greyboard. It worked and now the hefty 25kg books will open as they should.
For the Antalis award winner, part of the challenge was matching the corporate PMS109U yellow on the cover, through the book and on the edges of the paper. Inside the designer had wanted a silk screen printed effect. The illustration, of people living around the Embassy Gardens development, were originally posted to Instagram pages. The printing company needed to work on these low resolution images to make them suitable for print and to even out the quality.
“We had to do a lot of work on these,”Cameron says. “We committed to producing two sets of full book proofs; the rst set out of the Indigo and then proofed again on the XL105. We ran another book on the litho press at which point we were almost there.”
The first book had a companion volume, more about the project than the people living there, which received the same treatment. “It has the same feel, though slightly more pages,” he says.
It was the first work that Gavin Martin had done for Baltimore, taking three months from the start of the printer’s involvement to its conclusion with 2,000 copies of each book delivered.
The printer focuses on the press work. Its colour coating XL105 is maintained in strict balance. The company has found that optimum print quality for this set up of inks, plates and blankets is achieved at 9,000sph.
Though with short runs the order of the day, it rarely needs to run faster than this and fast makeready is more important. The company has built up a huge library of paper profiles, especially for uncoated papers, that will produce the optimum results with the press set up like this. It is about consistency: it could not proof on press otherwise.
In turn this can help inform the people it works with, either designers or direct clients. Each wants the project to be the best it possibly can be, hence they will frequently choose specialist papers, from France, Italy and Japan as well as Scandinavia. “They want to spend the money they need for a bespoke job. But they are also all working to a budget,” he says.
The trend towards limited quantities of impactful print rather than high volume low cost is helping Gavin Martin. It demands a high customer service element, becoming involved at the earliest stage of a project possible.
The company's reputation also means that its suggestions, regarding paper, formats and so on, are listened to. “We are able to manage expectations,” Cameron says. “We are not afraid to make the call and customers allow us to do that.”
It will work with the organisation to achieve those ends. If it means printing four batches of 250 books through the year rather than 1,000 in one batch in order to help the customer’s cash ow, this can be done.
And it will continue to be down when Gavin Martin Colournet moves to Woolwich. It has agreement with its landlord to move before its lease expires in order to accelerate redevelopment of its site and will move early next year.
The move will allow the business to reassess what equipment is needed going forwards. Under serious consideration is the HP Indigo 12000 HD B2 digital press. “It will give us many more options in future,” he says. Likewise UV curing is under consideration, as much for the associated energy savings as for any perceived improve- ment in quality.
Crucial too is the work that it has been doing to educate young designers and creatives into the possibilities of print. There are three seminars a year, currently taking place in Bow, where it plants seeds for the future. “Some of those that come along will be in senior roles in futures and we hope that they will remember that three years ago they were at one of our seminars,” he says.
There will be less excuse for forgetting in future. The business has taken to social media, it has revamped its website, includ- ing a lm following the journey of a set of proofs from the factory to the client passing a selection of well known London landmarks. There are also quirky but relevant mailers as information or invitations, that will strike a chord with the customers.
“We thought about chasing more general commercial print work, but realised that was not in the culture of our business. We are neither too big nor too small for out customers and this is a deliberate choice. It means we can focus on their needs and produce what we describe as Cherished Print.”
Gavin Martin won the 2017 Antalis Review with the Embassy Gardens book where part of the challenge was matching the yellow on the cover and through the book. It is typical of the hard cover book projects that the east London printer is becoming involved with.
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"We have gathered a reputation for high quality books" says Gavin Martin's joint managing director Mark Cameron. The emphasis on quality is paying off for the business. Its XL105 is not pushed to the limit on speed, but is used for producing machine proofs as much as for production runs.
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