Today we’re highlighting the duo behind INK MEETS PAPER, Allison and Jamie Nadeau! Allison is here to share their story with us, including how they split work as a partners, their design process from developing concept sketches to getting ready for pre-press, and why they focus solely on letterpress printing. In line with their motto “Text less. Write more.” the INK MEETS PAPER studio serves as both a letterpress studio and also hosts calligraphy classes. Welcome, Allison! –Megan
From Allison: We’re Allison and Jamie Nadeau, co-owners of INK MEETS PAPER. Prior to running INK MEETS PAPER full time, I was a copy editor, and Jamie was an interaction designer at a software company. Our love of art and creative expression has always been a part of who we both are (and we’ve worked on various creative projects together). INK MEETS PAPER initially started as a side/hobby project back in 2006, when I designed and printed custom stationery and invitations for friends and family. The love for the craft of letterpress printing came in 2008 with a class at a local art gallery/studio in Charleston. After spending so much time behind the screen, we realized how refreshing it was to be so hands-on and involved in the physical process of creating a printed piece. That same year, we purchased a 1,000+ pound Chandler & Price platen press.
As we became comfortable printing on antique equipment, we started to explore more segments of the paper industry (stationery/greeting cards, wedding invitations, custom printing for others). In particular, the idea of connecting people with handwritten correspondence really resonated with both of us, and we saw greeting cards as an accessible way of encouraging people to text less and write more. With that passion for the handcrafted and the handwritten, we launched the INK MEETS PAPER wholesale line in 2010.
Our studio is located in the Park Circle neighborhood of North Charleston, SC. Our building was a former convenience store, and it was just a big open space when we first signed our lease. Along with painting the exterior, we also added a glass-walled pressroom and a few other walls to further divide the space into different work areas (inventory/shipping, computer/desk area, retail/showroom, and a big flex space in the middle). One of my favorite parts to our studio is the enormous windows at the front—they let in so much natural light, and it does wonders for making the whole space feel bright and cheery.
Letterpress printing is our only focus, and we’ve really been able to become comfortable with that process. I love the constraints it provides, and we’ve both grown stronger as designers since we started letterpress printing. Our greeting card line is known for hand-lettered and illustrated details paired with fresh and original sentiments. We’re decidedly not snarky, and lots of inspiration for our card sentiments comes from relationships (often our own), and the sweet or quirky phrases that come from those. Our company is a big proponent of the power of the handwritten note — we believe that with each card sent, the world gets a bit more love and humanity. Our motto is “Text less. Write more.”
Jamie and I are both full time at INK MEETS PAPER, and we also have a part-time employee. We’re a small, but mighty, team, and I’m consistency amazed by how much our team accomplishes. A typical day starts with coffee (of course!), and we’re usually all in the studio by 9 am. Our employee packages and ships any new orders, and then restocks inventory and works on other studio tasks. Each final card is assembled by hand — slipping it into the cellophane sleeve and affixing a product label.
I start most mornings by responding to emails before reviewing the print queue for the day or tracking the progress of other projects, whether internal (like a new greeting card release) or external (a custom wedding invitation suite). As both our creative director and printer, I have the opportunity to be involved in each of our projects through from start to finish. Balancing time between production and design can be a bit challenging at times, but it’s very rewarding to see a vision come to life when that first print comes off the press!
Jamie handles the operations and technology side of our business, as well as managing all of our branding. She reserves mornings for the most mentally taxing tasks of the day, which can range from long-term business planning and strategy to technical operations for our websites and spends afternoons on projects ranging from pre-press work to graphic layouts.
We both agree that a big challenge is growing the business while also running the business. We wear so many different hats that maximizing efficiencies is super important, and we’re consistently trying to make our systems and processes better. And this is where we also rely on technology to keep everything running smoothly.
While I’m the creative director, our design process is very collaborative. After deciding what card categories (birthday, encouragement, etc.) we’re including in a release, we have a brainstorming session to come up with various sentiments. I keep a big folder of ongoing ideas, so we’ll also see if any of those really resonates. We work really hard to be both authentic and heartfelt (without being sappy). With greeting cards, people really gravitate towards what a card says. Even though all of our cards are a blank on the interior, the exterior message gives them a starting point for writing their own messages. From there, we pare down our favorites and look at how they feel for the collection as a whole.
Next, I start simple concept sketches — all of our cards start with actual physical artwork. We introduced colored paper stocks to our line last year, and I also reference those paper swatches when sketching. I want to make sure that the design not only works with the sentiment but also the paper stock it’s on. All of our designs are hand lettered and hand drawn. Lately, I’ve enjoyed pairing more abstract patterns with simple, understated lettering. We’ll review the sketches and slowly the new release begins to take shape. From there, I’ll begin producing the final artwork that we’ll scan into the computer for any clean-up and color work. Since letterpress printing is done one color at a time, I produce the final, scan-ready artwork in black ink but divided by color.
Refining the color palette is probably the hardest part — there are so many beautiful colors! I typically gravitate towards blues and greens (probably the result of living on the coast). To make production run more efficiently, we have a master file for all the Pantone colors that we use in our line. This makes it easier to choose colors and reprint, since we reprint all cards that contain a certain Pantone color simultaneously. Any new ink colors are documented, and we’re constantly looking at our greeting card line as a whole to ensure it feels focused and cohesive.
We’ll hold another design review focusing on color and overall artwork. We also make a printed mockup of each card design. Even though it doesn’t remotely compare to seeing/feeling the actual letterpress-printed piece, seeing the design to scale is really important. Jamie and I are really comfortable giving and receiving feedback with one another, and we know the other person will offer a completely honest critique. Any changes are made, and we start the pre-press process in order to make a photopolymer plate for printing. This is also the time where we assign SKU numbers and item names, as well as document the ink and paper colors used.
Production is the next step, and this is where it really starts coming together. I plan out our production schedule based on Pantone color (including any cards that we’ll also be reprinting). Big stacks of paper are trimmed down on our vintage paper cutter in preparation for print. Inks are mixed according to a formula specified in the Pantone guide. Color by color, each sheet of paper is hand-fed into the press. After everything is printed, I send each card through the press to be scored (which allows the paper to fold without cracking). Most of our cards are two colors, which means they go through the press three times before heading to assembly and inventory.
Printing the finished cards aren’t the final job though. All new designs need consistent product photography for our wholesale website and soon-to-launch retail site. We also discuss an overall marketing plan for the new release and ensure we have styled photography shots to accompany the plan. Along with the digital updates, we also design printed supplements for the spring/winter releases and then produce a new print catalog each May.
All photos courtesy of INK MEETS PAPER.
Want to be featured? Reach out to Megan at megan[at]ohsobeautifulpaper.com for details.