Real and Beautiful: South Carolina’s R&B Printery

R&B Printery is a letterpress haven to husband-and-wife team Robin & Brannon Carter. From down-south roots, clean printed impressions, pops of punchy color, and a whole lot of letterpress love, the South Carolina duo’s work continues to inspire. We catch up with the creative couple to talk shop, honoring their printing mentors, and the allure of pulling open vintage drawers of metal type for the first time.

FROM REFRIGERATION INSPIRATION BOARD TO TAKING THE PLUNGE My wife Robin and I were already on a journey to discover a creative outlet that we could adventure into together when we happened to open an issue of Southern Living Magazine and read an article featuring 9thletterpress out of Florida. The old vintage press, stacks of clean paper, and colorful inks intrigued us.  At the time, I really had no idea what letterpress printing even was!  We tore out the article and hung it on our refrigerator for inspiration.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

A few months went by as we continued searching and talking about what would inspire us.  One day standing in front of the refrigerator, I looked at that photo and said, “I wonder if there is anyone around us doing letterpress?  Someone we could take a class from. See what letterpress is all about”. After some internet searching and a few phone calls to local artists, we discovered that there was this old guy in Spartanburg, South Carolina (at the time we were living in the next county over) teaching the art of letterpress.  We looked him up and signed up for his introductory to letterpress class.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

We took the Intro class.  Then signed up to take his Letterpress 2 class. Meanwhile, we discovered that the printing studio where he worked was part of an artists’ cooperative.  The printing studio was amazing!  Drawers full of old vintage metal and wood type, century old printing presses, and everything you’d need to have fun printing, all ready to go!

So, having no real background in art, other than childhood art classes for both of us in high school, we took the leap, signed up to be members of the West Main Artists’ Cooperative and set out to become real letterpress artisans!  Oh, and that old guy became our mentor and cherished friend.

We ended up moving just to be near the presses when we officially launched R&B Printery!

PRINTING IN THE PALMETTO STATE Our printing studio is in the basement of the West Main Artists Co-op in Spartanburg, SC.  The Artists Co-op hosts creative spaces for 50+ local artists in an old renovated Baptist church building turned gallery and studio space just two minutes from the heart of downtown Spartanburg.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods. Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

As member artists of the co-op, we get to mingle and share creative space and ideas with some amazing artists.  From other printmakers, to fine jewelry, ceramics, glass works, fiber arts, painting and water colors, to music, photography, and videography, the co-op is home to a breadth of creative talent.

The city of Spartanburg, the only city in the United States with this unique name, has a vibrant art community centered around a Downtown Cultural District, featuring an array of outdoor art, including a new Lighten Up Spartanburg walking light bulb outdoor exhibition featuring 28 light bulb sculptures.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

We work out of the co-op for print production and our home studio (which is just a mile away – bought for that very location!) for design, inventory, and shipping.

PRINTING MENTORS The late Mr. William “Bill” Wheatley (that old guy we mentioned earlier), was our mentor for several years and helped us through the beginning stages of learning the technical aspects of printing with vintage presses and equipment.  Sadly, he died in 2015 but his legacy lives on as we try to continue what he started.  Wheatley worked tirelessly to build a printing space that could move beyond simply housing old stuff to be admired, to creating a living, breathing print studio that could run as a fully-functioning print shop.  We still miss him.

We love Instagram for its ability to find and follow amazing letterpress artists. InkMeetsPaper, Waltzletterpress, Sunnymullarkeystudio and PhilipHunterBell are just some of the amazing artists that we follow and are inspired by.

DESIGNER + PRINTING TEAM We are a husband and wife team living, working, and creating in the Upstate of South Carolina.  We both grew up as creatives.  Robin, in a house surrounded by a family and a lifestyle that nurtured the creative spark.  I grew up from an early age drawing with a pencil through my early high school years, even taking AP Art.  Our natural giftedness for art was set aside for both of us as we became involved in other school-related activities.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

But, the small flicker of that creative spark is what brought us to letterpress printing.  I love getting my hands dirty with activities such as positioning type in visually appealing arrangements.  I also handled the digital design elements for our custom clients.  Robin has always been drawn to hand lettering.  In college, she was the unofficial banner maker for her sorority, hand painting most of their event banners.  Hand lettering our line of letterpress greeting cards is now a major design focus for Robin. You can watch a short video of us working in our studio.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

We both hold Masters degrees in biology and have worked as professional teachers.  Robin also has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. So, we both bring this need to protect the environment into our printing.  We consider ourselves first, an eco-friendly letterpress printing studio.  Our line of greeting cards uses a 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled, 110# card stock manufactured in Germany and sourced locally here in the United States. Our in-house envelopes are also 100% PCW recycled and our clear card sleeves are made of a corn-based bio-plastic that is compostable and 100% biodegradable.  We recycle papers and makeready materials through our production and packaging process, reusing and reclaiming scraps for other purposes.  We also use soy-based inks, and collect discarded and reclaimed inks to keep them out of the landfill.

FULL TIME FUN WITH A DASH OF PART-TIME PLAY Brannon has just recently, about 6 months ago, been able to devote all of his official “work” time to R&B Printery.  Robin still teaches online high school, but devotes her time away from the classroom to designs, local artist markets, and social media. Maybe one day, we’ll both be free to pursue our creative side together full-time!

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

PRINTING FEATS I think one of the biggest points of excitement for us is to look back at some of our very first designs and prints.  Cards we thought were amazing and that people would just love to purchase and put in the mail.  To look back now, four years later and wonder “what were we thinking!”.  Some of our early prints were terrible!  But looking at where we are now, that we’ve been able to persevere the highs and lows of starting and running your own small business, and to see that we can now truly print some wonderful letterpress pieces that our clients love, this just makes us ecstatic!  We hope 4 years from now we will still look back and think the same thing about what we are producing today as evidence of continued improvement and ongoing growth!

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

Another accomplishment we are proud of is that we’ve designed and built custom displays for participating in handmade markets and pop up shops.  Our newest display is only a few months old but we debuted it at the prestigious Indie Craft Parade in September.  It was a feat of engineering to build something modular so it would fit into our car while still being eye catching to draw in shoppers.  We are super proud of the way we built in the ability to run a video of our process on loop with our iPad Pro as a part of the display.  It’s proven to be a wonderful way to introduce new clients to our process and discuss ways we can print something custom just for them.

MEET THE PRESS FAMILY As I stated earlier, we were lucky in finding the West Main Artists Co-op and being able to benefit from all of the hard work of those who built the printing studio from scratch.

Our main workhorse press, that we started on and still use today, is a vintage 1906, 8×12 Chandler & Price old style.  We are lucky to also have access to a manual Vandercook proof press that we use for some custom projects.  We also have a newer 10×15 Chandler & Price Craftsman style that we’re in the final stages of getting operational.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press is our go-to provider for everything photopolymer.  We use the Boxcar base + photopolymer plate system and have found the team in platemaking to be extremely knowledgeable when questions arise.  It feels like we have a team of people working for us when we send off designs to have made into plates.  Every once in a while, I’ll get a call from platemaking to check on a rendering aspect of our design which we greatly appreciate.

The Boxcar videos on setting the roller height of our presses using a roller gauge were extremely helpful early on.  The blog and articles at Boxcar and the discussions posted on Letterpress Commons have been invaluable during the learning process.

SHOP TIPS I write and mark all over my boxcar base during makeready and setup.  Periodically, I need to clean up my base and start with a clean slate.

Brannon Carter and Robin of R&B Printery create handmade and letterpress printed goods.

I’ve found that Mr. Clean Magic Erasers do an AMAZING job of bringing my Boxcar base back to life.  Two minutes and a Magic Eraser and it looks like I’ve bought a new base!

WHAT’S NEXT Our biggest goal for 2018 is to expand our name recognition in our community, the Upstate of South Carolina, and across the State.  We are printing projects for clients all across the U.S. but we want to let people in our own state know that they don’t have to go far away to fill their letterpress needs.  We’re right here, close to home.

Immensely huge round of thanks out to Brannon & Robin of R&B Printery for giving us a look into their lovely printing world! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *