Print vs digital: for most of us, the worlds of paper and pixel are separate and opposed. Doomsayers in the newspaper and magazine industries would have it that digital is well on its way to driving print to extinction. In their industry they may have a point. But for Richard Penny of Ripe Digital in Corsham, Wiltshire, 20 years working at the intersection between the two technologies has instead proved that digital has much to offer its print big brother. TechSPARK caught up with the printer and tech enthusiast to find out more.

A play on the names of its founders, Richard and Peter Hannen, Ripe was founded in the early nineties following time spent printing pieces for family and friends.

Bath was a deliberate choice for establishing a digital print business: “At that time and up until around 10 years ago, Bath had the most design agencies in the UK outside of London”, Richard explains. Initially establishing itself as a reprographics company in 1994, 10 years later Ripe changed course to adopt liquid ink printing, which over small print runs creates much higher quality images than conventional Xerox processes.

Today the studio uses a HP Indigo Press 5500 and has considerably expanded horizons. Thanks to the internet, Ripe now services clients on a national and international scale. Occasional jobs come from Bath; local clients are often design students in the city and at UWE in Bristol, who work with Ripe to print course materials and maintain a connection when graduating to their first agency.

South West crews

Richard and the team are enthusiastic about the South West tech community and being in the Bath-Bristol network has led to interesting opportunities: “From connections made in different groups, I’ve met Mark Zuckerburg in London and Kevin Rose, who founded Digg,” Richard says. “I’ve also worked with Ryan Carson, who has since moved to the US and is doing big things with Treehouse.”

Tech projects are something of a hobby for the entrepreneur – he recently built a BMX starter gate using a Raspberry Pi – but they are also something that have proved essential throughout his studio’s lifetime. Ripe were early adopters of Voice over IP (VoIP) for the business’s telephony, partly due to their collective love of music. An intelligent system meant that the music playing while they worked would be turned down automatically to make the call audible.

officeshot

The Ripe Digital team: (From left to right) Peter Hannen, Rik Penny, Matthew Hall, Julie Remington,
Clive Humphries, Nathan Wilkins and George Penny. Oh, and Molly the dog.

Richard also built the Ripe website from scratch and developed a custom database program for the studio to ease the team’s workflow. The system, having automatically generated a quote for a customer, provides information on subsequent job status, urgency and timescale, updated in real-time for all of the Ripe employees.

“When we began working, other printers were scared of computers; they resisted them, and those companies went by the wayside. It’s important to understand how computers work when you’re immersed in digital printing.”

 

This hands-on tech approach has, according to Richard, been key to the company’s survival and growth. “When we began working, other printers were scared of computers, they resisted them, and those companies went by the wayside. It’s important to understand how computers work when you’re immersed in digital printing.” It’s seems an obvious point but this has allowed Ripe to get the best from their tools.

Map my fun

On the projects which pushed this print-digital understanding furthest, a targeted promotional campaign for Ripe itself is Richard’s favourite.

“One of the ones I’m happiest with was when we moved to our current site. We used Google Maps to perform a datascrape of all our existing clients and plugged this into a database to create a personalised roadsign image with the name of each client and the distance from their office to our new one. On the back of each print was a PURL for a Google Map of the route between their business and our new site.”

Print art

Working as they have has put Richard and the team at the print-digital crossover in a practical sense. On the conceptual side, Richard points towards the studio’s collaboration with the Royal College of Art on ‘Control: Print’. Examining the changing role of the creative and the print technician in producing printed material, the project required Ripe to work with respected artists to ‘consider the future of ink on paper’.

The chosen creatives included pioneering computer graphic artist Mark Wilson and Vaughan Oliver (of 4AD Pixies fame) who produced hand-finished images for Ripe to overprint onto. Hand-bound in 50 unfinished books, the results demonstrate perfectly the litho-quality which comes from the liquid ink technology used by Richard and his team.

The future promises more of the same for the Wiltshire studio. On 3D printing Richard is ambivalent, seeing large engineering firms and cheaper home printers the most likely areas for the technology to take off. Finding a means to make the process profitable is the key challenge, he says. For Ripe Digital, the future is liquid ink on paper, and constant refinement of studio processes to keep in line with developments in the digital world.

Thanks to Richard for taking the time to talk to us; for more of the studio’s work, follow him on Twitter or head to ripedigital.co.uk.

Callum Dunbar