Studio On Fire founder and owner
With a name like Studio On Fire, how can you go wrong? That’s what founder and owner Ben Levitz thought and he was right. His “Design and Letterpress Workspace” boasts a global clientele and 75% of its business originates outside of the local area.
“What blows my mind is we don’t do sales calls. We’ve built the business by doing great printing for an international base of designers,” explains Levitz. “We put our work on our Blog and website and business comes to us.” Surprisingly, Levitz, a Communication Design major who graduated from CVA in 1998, never did any printing as a student.
But why letterpress, that tactile mid-15th century process developed by Johannes Gutenberg and used widely until the second half of the 20th century? Levitz was attracted to its high relief, hands-on process and he likes the idea that letterpress is now a niche rather than mainstream printing process. He started the business—really a hobby—in his basement in 1999 with one 1920s hand-fed Chandler & Price letterpress. Now, a decade later, Levitz oversees a team of eight, including two CVA grads, and a phalanx of nine letterpresses. A recent addition is an impressive 1960 Heidelberg Cylinder press that accommodates, notably, a sheet of paper as large as 21 X 28 inches. In the summer of 2010, staff and presses all moved into a spacious 6500 square foot studio in NE Minneapolis.
SOF’s reach is far and wide. They’ve completed a New Zealand company’s business systems project and have printed stationery, business cards, wedding invitations, holiday cards, calendars, CD covers, coasters, and posters for individuals and businesses as far flung as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, New York City, San Francisco, and Vancouver. A short list of clients includes the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atomic Playpen, Medtronic, MPR, Harley Davidson, and Porche.
In addition to employing excellent printers and designers who truly understand the process, and its challenges and limitations, Levitz attributes SOF’s success to its goal of always maximizing a client’s budget. “We do what makes sense for the letterpress. We help inform the designer about what design and what production will work best within their budget,” explains Levitz. Levitz makes it clear that SOF does not try to be everything to everybody.
The future? “I hope to expand our abilities as a company within the letterpress niche, bringing in more design and identity work,” Levitz replies. As good as it is, Levitz, both the optimist and realist, frequently reminds himself, “SOF is only as good as the worst piece in our portfolio.” A studio visit proves that worst piece is very good.