We were lucky enough to be able to visit theprintspace at their offices in East London, where they showed us their range of printing materials that they have available for their clients. Photographers and graphic artists come to them to realize their images in print. They told us what they do to help their clients all around the UK, and even around the world.

PortraitPro: Do you want to tell us about the kinds of mounting you do?

Rebecca: Yes I do, here’s one I made earlier!

PortraitPro: It’s a shame this isn’t televised!

Rebecca: We have quite a few different options. We do things like card; card is good if it’s going to be framed. It’s always good to mount if you’re going to be framing something. If you’re going to get something framed with us, we do that automatically. If you had just card mounted on the wall, that isn’t going to last forever. It’s a good temporary solution.

Then we have foam board. If someone’s got a show or sometimes, they just want to put it up for a day or a weekend, foam board is fine, but it doesn’t last forever. If you knock it, it can dent quite easily. This is a really, really good one. This is Foamex.

PortraitPro: That’s a lot heavier than it looks!

Rebecca: Yeah. We do that in 3mm and 5mm and in both black and white. It’s not too different in price either, from the foam board.

Sebastian: That’s better for longevity; if you were to look at a permanent space. This is the minimum we would recommend. This lasts a long time and it’s really inexpensive. It’s a good starter product.

Rebecca: Definitely…we do all of our exhibitions with Foamex. It’s really popular. You can use Velcro on this as well, stick it all around and then stick it straight on the wall. It’s really handy.

Then we do MDF. With MDF we can paint the edges, either: black, white or just plain wood. The only thing with MDF to be wary of is that the bigger it gets, the heavier it is. If you’ve got something really big it might be better to go with Dibond or something like that. It’s nice though, you really feel like you’ve got something to hold on to, it’s chunky.

Sebastian: I’ve just been helping a customer; she’s having a 2m by 1.5m MDF for her degree show. Very heavy!

Rebecca: Then we do aluminium. Aluminium is one of my favorites. It works really well with things like Metallic. It’s really nice and modern. It’s really robust as well. And you can have a baton on the back so it stands away from the wall.

Dibond is really nice. It’s aluminium, then Perspex, then aluminium. So it’s a little bit lighter.

Sebastian: Aluminium can get really, really heavy when you get bigger.

Rebecca: It’s really, really rigid.

Sebastian: [Dibond is] probably the most rigid we’ve got. Even the aluminium, obviously, if you drop any of them they are going to dent, even aluminium can be quite fragile.

Rebecca: These can have a seal on as well. If someone’s got something that’s going in a restaurant or somewhere where children will touch it, that’s good. They only really work with matte and gloss c-type papers. If you’ve got something like Metallic, you don’t really want to put a seal over it because that’s going to take some of the effect away.  A lot of the c-types are really durable anyway. Even if you got a little bit of mud on it, say, you can get a cotton bud, a little tiny bit of water, not too much, and just rub it really gently and it will come off.

Sebastian: The seals do make it a little bit flatter, the image. There’s always a trade-off for the protection. Not necessarily advisable for home use or just general use, it’s not necessary.

Rebecca: This is Acrylic Reverse. These ones have Perspex over the top of the image and you can have different backings, Perspex, aluminium or Dibond. If you have Perspex you can polish it as well.

PortraitPro: How long does it take to get work printed?

Rebecca: We have a really fast turnaround as well. Our printing turnaround is 2-4 hours, obviously depending on the number of images. If you have hundreds it might be a bit longer. We’re open 9am-7pm Monday to Friday, so we’re not open over the weekend. Mounting takes 5 working days and framing takes about 10 working days.

Sebastian: It’s such a nice process to frame and mount. It’s just beautiful to get something like this in the end.

PortraitPro: So tell us more about theprintspace, you’ve been around 5 years, is that right?

Sebastian: 2007, so almost 7 years.

PortraitPro: How did theprintspace start?

Sebastian: So, before [us] the market wasn’t really diverse in terms of price. The way it worked was, you would sit with someone else who would prepare your file and you wouldn’t really know what happened with your file. In the end you paid what they charged and there was a big mark-up for the time to sit with somebody. Stuart, the founder, his brother is a photographer and they were just tired of that process. You didn’t get your file back, so if you wanted to get the same thing done again, you would have to go to the same printer and you didn’t really know what happened to your file.

So we said “we want to liberate the photographer” in the same way as PortraitPro, liberate them to do the work themselves, and give them the tools to do it themselves. In the beginning we called it DIY printing. That doesn’t exactly capture what we do because it sounds like we don’t want to help, we do want to help, but we want to enable people to be free to prepare their own file. By being able to prepare their own file, we don’t have to sit with them and they really only pay for the product.

PortraitPro: And essentially you end up with a sort of digital negative? You know exactly what’s been done and you can print the same thing again.

Sebastian: Exactly, and you have control. We really changed the market in that way. Some of our competitors have only recently thought about that whole process. There are people who really don’t want that whole sit-down service because people are more competent with things like Photoshop. People are much more proactive now. That’s what we want to foster and that lets us pass on that discount compared to the traditional labs.  That’s the whole idea. Everybody here, everybody that works for us, we’re all photographers, and we wanted the same thing. Stuart started it, but we continued it on. It’s all about community. In a way, you could say that the customers lease the machines. We have technicians but the customers really pay for the materials and the time it takes to print and that’s all. That’s what’s special about theprintspace.

PortraitPro: You’re now a lot busier than you were 5 years ago. Do you think that’s to do with being in busy East London?

Rebecca: I don’t know, because we get a lot people from everywhere, don’t we? Right up in Scotland and even really tiny islands.

Sebastian: Actually I think we were one of the first labs that did the web ordering thing. That was also changing the game again, although of course now everyone else does it too. You don’t have to actually come here to be our client. But, actually, we’re happy to be part of this community. It’s always nice to have this personal touch. We’re looking at expansion but we’re still looking to keep that community. For example our student community, we really value that. The whole thing is enabling, that’s especially important for photography students because they’re graduating into a really difficult time, especially now. We really want to support people to stay in that creative field and continue their craft, much like you guys.

Rebecca: A lot of our clients are through word of mouth. For example, people that have come here as students, then they recommend it to their friends or younger year students, then they come back when they’ve finished Uni. It’s really nice.

PortraitPro: You also have a very active blog, a lot of which is about saying to the world “We’ve found this artist and they’re great”   

Sebastian: Oh my God, isn’t it stunning to work in this place and see all the work? You just sit in front of the printer and see all that work, and it’s amazing.

Rebecca: It is amazing, we’re really lucky. You meet all the people that collect it. These cool people that have done this amazing work.

Sebastian: We sometimes just go to the print queue and contact people and say “do you want to be on the blog?” In the past we’ve done group exhibitions or exhibitions for people that we really believe in, and since they’ve found their foot in the industry and been able to move on from there. We’re not trying to be the Tate Modern but eventually, hopefully, the people that start here can be in the Tate Modern.

Rebecca: Some people have done really well from it, gone really far. It’s really nice to see.

PortraitPro: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had to print or mount?

Sebastian: The first thing I can think of is Paul Shearsmith. We did a print for him, he took a photo of his antique car and he wanted it printed life-size. So we printed it life size and he had it mounted on MDF and then we had to laser cut it to the contours of the car. So it was literally a life size mount of his car. That was incredible.

The exhibition that has just come to a close was beautiful because we printed so big. Being able to print and mount something so big and put it on the wall was stunning.

Rebecca: We get so many different things, crazy things become normal.

Sebastian: The thing is, this sounds so cheesy, but the beauty is that because of the price, everybody can print and so you get a really vast range of stuff. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, but it doesn’t matter because it’s an experiment.

PortraitPro: You’ve also got a Marketplace section of your website, how did that start?

Sebastian: That was 2 years ago and, again, that was based on wanting to give our customers a place other than Ebay to buy second-hand equipment. So it’s really for clients amongst clients, we know them so there’s that trust. It goes really well. I’ve bought so many things there! It’s really based on trust. That’s beautiful, it just governs itself.

PortraitPro: What’s next for theprintspace?

Sebastian: We’re looking at expansion. My goal, because expansion is inevitable, is to create this community anywhere we go.   I always want us to be approachable.

PortraitPro: Thanks for having us to visit this week. It’s been really interesting to see what you do for your clients, and how your business has developed over the last few years.

Check out theprintspace for printing your artwork and photographic images. Whether you’re a wedding photographer or a student, they will have a range of options to help you.

Make sure your people look great before printing with PortraitPro, and why not see how Smart Photo Editor effects will be enhanced, with the range of papers and other media they have for your artworks.

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