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‘Old school printing’ is alive and well in Tullamarine

Monday, 11 September 2017
By Print 21 Online Article

Blair Cariss has a traditional attitude to running his commercial printing business. His practice is informed by a conviction that an ‘old school’ approach to the trade is worth preserving..

The second generation offset printer runs an Epson proof for every job that goes through his Tullamarine factory. That a four-colour offset letterhead or any print job must be proofed is a telling indication of how this serious commercial printer relates not only to his customers, but also to the printing trade itself.

Blair Cariss spends a lot of his time on the road delivering print to his customers. Coming up to five years in sole control of the 40-year-old eponymous printing company he bought from his father, Michael, making deliveries is part of his understanding of what being a commercial printing is all about. He could send the print out by courier, of course, instead of driving to say, Bendigo, Ballarat and country Victoria, but he relishes the opportunity of meeting customers face to face, of deepening the relationships that he considers to be the basis of his successful business.

For the tall, bearded, trade-qualified printer, taking time to ensure his customer is satisfied and feels valued is part of paying attention to old school rules. Cariss places high value on this level of personal service as well as on ensuring that the offset print he delivers is second to none in terms of high quality printing. Back at the factory, he believes in keeping production as straightforward as possible, investing in new equipment when required, such as a Horizon StitchLiner 5500 bookletmaker from Currie Group, while keeping his distance from digital printing in favour of small offset. As a father of young children he has his eye on the long game.

One of the things that sets Cariss Printing apart from other print businesses of its size is this attitude to digital. Despite a modern automated Heidelberg suprasetter in the prepress department, there are no digital printing devices on the factory floor, in fact he doesn’t even have a photocopier in the office. And Cariss has no interest or intention of buying one, preferring ‘old school’ offset printing methods.

He points to his 11-year-old, five-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster 52P as a press that can compete and win against digital engines for most commercial work. Apart from the fact that it’s completely paid off and owes him nothing, he claims that at the price he buys plates, print runs as low as 200 are quite competitive with digital.

“When it’s a longer run length there’s no comparison. And then there’s offset quality too,” he says. “You can’t beat that with digital.”

He rejects any suggestion that he is bound by tradition, or that he is anti- technology, claiming the company is set up to function in the best possible way. Apart from the SM 52 5P there is an old GTO, the first press his dad bought when he started the business in his garage as well as the original Heidelberg Platen. There’s little automation on the SM 52 with ink and water balance arrived at through trade knowledge and skill. Cariss maintains he keeps waste to a minimum other printers would envy.


Stepping up to invest

Cariss Printing, an eight-employee operation, is set up to run without the constant attendance of its owner. “It’s important that the business continues to operate when I’m away. It might be an issue that I’m seen to be such a large part of the company, but it has to be able to do without me,” he said. “My staff are brilliant and they basically run the day to day operation without me allowing me to step away outside the business instead of in it. Of course, I am available when they need me but I don’t have to be here all day every day”

This ensures he can take off to trade shows such as drupa and keep up to date with the advances in printing technology. His latest acquisition is a Horizon Stitchliner 5500 from Currie Group that he bought at last drupa in Germany in 2016. The investment brings the latest in finishing automation and booklet making to the business. It speeds up production, allowing Cariss to turn around printing at a rate comparable with many digital operations. Word of mouth, that benchmark of recommendations has also seen him pick up some trade work recently.

The Horizon StitchLiner is one of the most successful finishing products delivered by Currie Group. The finishing line produces professional finished products at a speed of 5,500 booklets per hour. A newly designed VAC-1000 twin collating tower, jogger, saddle-stitching, folding and three-knife trimmer flow allows a wider range of paper stocks and applications. It also can stitch a two-up A5 landscape book cutting the run in half. According to Bernie Robinson, managing director, Currie Group, the combination line is the perfect technology for short run digital houses meeting short turnarounds and also the longer run commercial businesses like Cariss.

At a time when there are grave fears for the health of small-to-medium sized, owner operated, commercial printing companies, Blair Cariss stands as an exemplar of how to make the ‘old school’ business model operate as a thriving enterprise.


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