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How a Santa Cruz print shop using sustainable practices has achieved national success

Presented by Community Printers
Andy Bacon, project manager at Community Printers, demonstrates how a machine folds & glues certain print pieces.
(Kevin Painchaud)

You may have driven past Community Printers’ unassuming building on Soquel Avenue in Eastside Santa Cruz numerous times. While its exterior displays a modest storefront, its interior is anything but. Massive printing and cutting machines take up most of Community Printers’ 20,000 square feet of facilities, as dedicated workers expertly flock around to produce everything from pamphlets to informational posters to even board games (some past favorites include the cooperative-model games Space Cats Fight Fascism and Baby Beluga).

“It’s actually unusual for a shop of our size to have the diversity of tools that we have,” sales manager Ross Newport says. “Some of that was shaped by the geographical isolation of being in Santa Cruz. We couldn’t necessarily send out work to be done by other people, so we had to become independent to be able to do those things ourselves.”

Community Printers' shop located on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz boasts over 20,000 square feet of equipment.
(Kevin Painchaud)

Community Printers first began in 1977. In a printing class held next door to Louden Nelson (now London Nelson) Community Center, a group of kindred souls embarked on printing projects – political ones, matching the times – for causes they felt passionately about. Almost 45 years later, Community Printers has cemented itself as the largest commercial printers on the Monterey Bay, serving local clients across Santa Cruz County and the Bay Area, as well as national accounts.

Community Printers’ mission aims to transcend the limitations of traditional printing methods, focusing on sustainable and eco-friendly print products. “We were buying recycled paper when it was a real pain to find, and now we’re a regional and national leader on issues of sustainability in printing,” says Newport. “People call us all the time looking for ideas on more sustainable ways to design a print piece or package.”

That led to a national customer base.

Rob Borella, prepress operations, works on printing vibrantly colorful pamphlets.
(Kevin Painchaud)

“We started off serving local community organizations and nonprofits, but that came with certain limits as to how we could grow,” recalls Newport. “When we started finding ourselves with more and more opportunities to do commercial work, we hired representatives in the Bay Area and Monterey to establish a presence for us there. As a result, we picked up more regional and national accounts.”

Among Community Printers’ national accounts:

  • The SEIU Service Employees International Union, which represents almost 2 million workers in over 100 industries;
  • Political action committee MoveOn. Additionally, during the 2020 presidential election, Community Printers h to provided MoveOn a visually powerful eight -foot-tall letters spelling out “UNDECIDED” while votes were still being counted, with the idea to remove the “UN” once the President-elect was officially named.

Community Printer’s’ Zoetrope: All-Story has been one of its highest profile. Francis Ford Coppola founded Zoetrope: All-Story, in 1997. The Quarterly literary magazine publishes short fiction stories, one-act plays and essays on film and has won four National Magazine Awards in Fiction.

Newport emphasizes the symbiotic nature of the relationship. “All-Story strives to completely redesign a publication every time you go to print a new issue,” says Newport. “A shop like us who’s constantly addressing different customer needs ends up becoming a better fit for a national publication like that.”

The award-winning issue of Zoetrope: All-Story, designed by guest art director Jeff Bridges.
The award-winning issue of Zoetrope: All-Story, designed by guest art director Jeff Bridges.
(Zoetrope: All-Story)

All-Story’s managing editor Anne Ray reaffirms the unique nature of the partnership. “They’re so great at being able to listen to what our guest artists’ ideas are, familiarize themselves with the artists’ work and then come up with recommendations to help bring their vision to life, all while keeping us within budget.”

Anne Ray, managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story
Anne Ray, managing editor of Zoetrope: All-Story
(Zoetrope: All-Story)

Ray makes it clear that the decision to have Community Printers serve as All-Story’s exclusive printer was quick and clear. “We loved that they were a smaller press with people we could actually talk to who had such artistic backgrounds. They have ideas we don’t have and knowledge we don’t have. Their whole skillset is rooted in production, but they’re also artists.”

Community Printers brings artists’ expansive expertise to the design process, helping them make curatorial decisions on the physical layout of each issue. “Sometimes, our artists are unsure how to articulate their ideas,” Ray adds. “They’ll have these very general instructions for us and we need to help shape that into something. From a production standpoint, Community Printers collaborates with them by suggesting possible types of paper or cover treatments to help create something tangible.”

Andy Bacon, project manager at Community Printers, says such credit is due to the collaborative efforts of the entire CP team, which now numbers 25. “The success of Community Printers lies directly with our dedicated employees,” he says. “The quality of hard work being done back in 1977 simply attracted higher-end customers over time who wanted that same level of service and dedication which our workers brought to the business.”

Andy Bacon, project manager at Community Printers, looks over a mock-up of an upcoming board game.
(Kevin Painchaud)

Although Community Printers often finds themselves competing with the largest printers in the world for national accounts -- including RR Donnelley -- it is often its commitment to sustainability, and attention to detail, that has won contracts. They’ve found ways to reduce plastic in product packaging for everything from marijuana to men’s underwear.

“People tend to have a fairly limited idea of what sustainable print looks like,” says Newport. “The further back in the process that you can get, the more significant changes you can make.”

Newport also makes it clear that the mission for sustainability is not just for show. In 2018, Community Printers was chosen as the printer for the Global Climate Action Summit hosted in San Francisco back in 2018, where it provided more than 700 4x8 boards as well as a 10x75-foot step and repeat wall made entirely out of recycled paper. After the show, Community Printers took the boards back to reuse as packing materials, as well as donated the boards to schools and museums to use for various projects. The team even used the recycled boards to create furniture for the front office of their Sign Shop.

Community Printers created 6-foot-tall trees made out of recyclable Falconboard® for a Greenpeace demonstration
Community Printers created 6-foot-tall trees made out of recyclable Falconboard® for a Greenpeace demonstration in San Francisco.
(George Nikitin/Greenpeace)

That Sign Shop is a unit solely dedicated to producing impactful signage and is located just a block away from the rest of their facilities. A particularly memorable sign project involved creating 6-foot-tall trees out of recyclable Falconboard® for a demonstration hosted by Greenpeace, an environmental justice organization (pictured above).

Customer satisfaction is key to its success and sustainability to its mission.

“People can see the possibilities of the material and also understand that this is not just a rhetorical commitment,” says Newport. “This is our real, genuine promise to sustainability.”

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