For the love of print

We take a trip down the winding roads of Kendal to experience a traditional paper mill, with a touch of technology

23.08.13 | Opinions

By Vicky Pinnington

Hero James Cropper Mill

As designers we’re fortunate enough to work on a wide variety of projects across a range of media, but my personal enjoyment comes from working with print.

For me there’s nothing like holding the final piece of print after hours working on a project. It’s the distinctive smell of print and the tactile craft of paper that for me makes it more physical and tangible than digital design. However, people keep predicting the death of print.

The design team took a trip to the James Cropper Paper Mill in Kendal to find out what makes paper so special and see if we could prove that print still has it’s place. This small but unique mill full of character and spirit is where GF Smith‘s iconic Colorplan range is produced. For many years this range of premium coloured papers has been indispensable for many designers, noted for its select and versatile range.

 James Cropper sign

For a company who started in 1845 making purely brown paper the dedication and enthusiasm of James Cropper Speciality Papers now means they have over 50 colours in the GF Smith range making them one of the world’s foremost paper makers.

I’ve always thought of paper making as a long, laborious greatly industrial process however it’s not what many expect. Arriving down a narrow country lane, blended into the countryside the mill is in a world of it’s own… literally! A miniature village of houses, with a church and a school built for the workers.

Having spent years perfecting the process, the mill now has the “perfect combination of the latest computerised technology with traditional craft principles”. This was easy to see whilst making our way around the mill from invisible chemical treatments preventing against transmission of diseases like MRSA to the robotic forklift trucks expertly manoeuvring reels of papers around the factory floor. Although not always visible to the naked eye when looking at paper, technology is used in abundance in its making. 

Admiring the craft techniques

 For the size of the mill, the thing that struck me was the sheer scale of production with a small order considered to be two tonnes! The factory floor filled with reels of papers in a rainbow of colours and embosses. Despite the sheer scale, a personal, bespoke service is maintained allowing you to create papers tailored to suit your individual needs. One of the specialties at James Croppers’ mill is the ability to accurately create papers colour matched to objects, fabrics, liquids… even peat has been known to be mixed into the papers to produce a unique range for clients! Its a well-used service with 10 new colours are added to their ranges every week resulting in over 12,700 shades in their spectrum. 

Reels of paper colour the factory floor

My own personal highlight of the day was witnessing the dedication and enthusiasm to expertly draw upon years of skills and knowledge to create the right dye and weights of stock.

After the visit I think we all concede there is something special about the simple beauty of paper. Thanks to Jane Crowther at GF Smith for organising the visit.

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