Posted 11 October 2018

Inside G . F Smith’s Hull-based factory: A tour of their most desirable paper services

At Lecture in Progress, we’ve lost count of the amount of times that G . F Smith’s distinctive bright-red paper-sample book has cropped up in studio shoots. Ever present on desks and bookshelves, there’s a good reason why they are the go-to choice for the most fastidious print designers. Founded by paperphile George Frederick Smith as a family company in 1885, the paper merchant soon became synonymous with quality. Alongside the standard offering of paper, it has developed an array of products and services, all built from understanding the needs of the designer. But what does it take to produce to this standard? As brand partners and longtime supporters of Lecture in Progress, the team at G . F Smith invited us up to their factory in Hull to get a closer look at some of their most popular offerings. With photographer Morgane Bigault in tow to capture the ride, we discovered the cutting-edge and age-old processes that put them a cut above the rest.

G . F Smith’s distinctive paper sample book
Inside the Hull factory
Outside G . F Smith’s Hull-based factory

Cutting and Boxing

Step into the main warehouse at G . F Smith’s Hull-based factory, and one of the first spaces you’ll be met with is dedicated to their cutting and scoring services. This is where you’ll encounter stacks of their distinctive and brightly coloured card, all awaiting their transformation; alongside mocked-up samples that range from a clever slot-together sculpture to precisely constructed boxes. A mix of older and newer machines stand side by side, and pretty much everything is hand operated.

What we learned:
For smaller runs, the team use a machine that uses CAD (computer-aided design) files to produce designs. Then for larger orders, a bespoke cutter is created in wood and metal, with the process taking a few days to complete. And a newly added service includes ‘kiss cutting’, a technique that entails only cutting part-way through material.

All of these possibilities mean the team can produce anything from stickers to flat-pack mechanical boxes (with no need for glue), and in most cases, you’ll also have the opportunity to receive a sample ahead of the final article.

What it’s best for:
Creating gift or display cards and bespoke packaging in all shapes and sizes. If you have a bright idea and access to CAD software, G . F Smith can probably make it for you!

Hand-operated cutting equipment for larger runs
Custom-made cutters for larger runs
Machine cutting
Hand-operated cutting equipment for larger runs
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Custom-made boxes, created in the cutting department

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Mechanical boxes, created in the cutting department without need for glue

Embossing and Debossing

The meeting of old and new is a consistent theme through the entire factory. One of the original embossing machines can still be found on the ground floor – an impressive and grand structure that no doubt dates back to the company’s early years.

What we learned:
Heavy metal rollers are what gives the paper a distinctive 3D texture – with 25 effects to choose from – including the refined and grainy, to the exaggerated and leathery. You can even create a double-embossed effect, where two sides have differing textures – a service that was first made available in the 1930s, and still uses the same machinery.

What it’s best for:
All things paper... This can make the world of difference and add a luxurious finish to everything from packaging or a business card to folders and Make Book covers.

The roller of an older embossing machine
Embossing and debossing machinery
Embossing and debossing machinery
Embossed G . F Smith paper

Machine and Custom-Made Envelopes

Manned by caring, diligent and particularly work-proud staff, G . F Smith’s envelopes are divided into their ‘standard’ sizes, and custom forms – both created in equally mesmerising fashion. Then in another, quieter zone of the factory, there’s also a separate clan of expert envelope makers; a talented group of four to five workers who craft the company’s bespoke designs.

What we learned:
For the regular shapes, the envelope paper is cut down to size manually, and then hand-fed into old-school machinery that completes each piece. There are a variety of sizes to choose from, including their own, specially developed standard shape, plus the option of peel-and-stick or gummed – all of which come delivered in their own box.

Meanwhile, in the separate area dedicated to bespoke, handmade envelopes, the wilder and more imaginative forms are put together – from the elegant and narrow, to the super-sized.

What it’s best for:
Sending out thoughtfully packaged invites or postal updates to your network that won’t get lost on the doormat; or creating a complementary sleeve for a print project.

Envelope making machinery, and diagrams for handcutting
Envelope cutting by hand
Envelope-making machinery
Bespoke envelope making, all created by hand
Bespoke envelope making, all created by hand
Envelopes are delivered in their own boxes
Embossed envelopes

Layer Up

Duplexing and tripling is the process of fusing (in official terms, press-laminating) two or three sheets of paper or card together. The result is extra-thickness, but, more importantly, it also means you can have multiple colours in one sheet, then have it bevel cut (creating a slanted edge) to show them off.

What we learned:
If you’re a fan of weighty paper products in multiple colours, this one’s for you. Starting at 175gsm, you can take a single sheet right up to a massive 2000gsm.

What it’s best for:
This finish turns pretty much any paper item into something that anyone would want to keep, whether it’s an invite, business card or presentation. It also makes great mount board for framing.

Triplexed paper
Duplexing and triplexing machinery
Duplexed and triplexed paper
A finished example: Business cards with a duplexed effect

Make Books

Available since 2014, G . F Smith’s Make Book is a culmination of many of the factory’s impressive and labour-intensive capabilities. These are custom books, made to order and created between specialist departments across the factory – from a dedicated photo lab to the expert bookbinding workshop.

Make Books boast an almost infinite amount of possibilities when it comes to colours, textures, sizes and finishes, and make for a beautiful portfolio, photo book, and everything in between. We followed the entire process a single Make Book undergoes, observing the painstaking detail that goes into each step – all created by hand, too.

What we learned:
Starting with the printing, each photographic page is then cut to size, creased, bound together, dusted and pressed, before being ‘baked’, or heat set, to seal. After that, the whole thing is pressure set to hold together in a compact, perfectly formed book.

This first stage all takes place within internal photo lab within G . F Smith’s Hull facility, ensuring that all printing is of the highest standard, using rare Silver Halide technology and Fuji Professional Crystal Archive DP2 photographic paper.

The printing equipment used in the photo lab
Inside the photo lab, where a Make Book’s pages are printed
Inside the photo lab, where a Make Book’s pages are printed
Inside the photo lab
Heat-setting equipment inside the photo lab

All covers and endpapers (the first and last two inside pages) use G . F Smith’s famous Colorplan paper, with a choice of 50 colours and eight textures. And then finally, the covers and spine can be personalised with a variety of papers and finished with foiling, laminate and embossing, to make it your own.

What it’s best for:
Creating perfectly printed, hassle-free and expertly put-together books, no matter what your vision or design.

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

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One of G . F Smith’s resident bookbinding experts puts together a Make Book in the workshop

Foiling machinery, used for Make Book covers
The foiling process
The foiling process
A finished example of a Make Book
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A finished example of a Make Book

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A finished example of a Make Book

Sampling and Dummy Service

In one of the cosier corners of the factory, a compact, fastidiously organised room, reminiscent of a library, offers up wooden shelves stacked with more varieties of paper than you’ve ever seen. From weighty and shimmering (including the new Gmund range, complete with real gold in the mix) to the beautifully marbled, this is where the samples requests are handled.

What we learned:
Print is a tactile game, so it’s only natural you’d want to feel a product before ordering, and this is something the company is really dedicated to. In addition to sending out samples of any paper you desire (generally by the next working day), G . F Smith is also one of incredibly few paper merchants to offer a full dummy service.

This means you can get a free test version of your order (usually returned within four days) to make sure you’re happy with it, before sending a larger number to print or fabrication. A dummy is always created with the same level of care as the final, so you get to test the weight, colour, texture and feel of your designs for free, ahead of sending off a final order.

For paper samples, if you send a request on a weekday before 4pm, you’ll receive it the next working day. For dummies, these can usually be returned within four working days.

What it’s best for:
Peace of mind before printing or placing a large order!

Inside the samples room
Inside the samples room
Inside the samples room
The Gmund paper range

Make Frames

Similar to Make Book, Make Frame is G . F Smith’s custom framing service, with all elements made especially in-house at a specialist workshop in the Hull warehouse – from the glass-cutting to the mounting and frame-making.

What we learned:
G . F Smith offer 18 different frame colours to choose from, with the option of elevating the whole thing with a box frame, all handcrafted by an expert team.

The makers and framers here are incredibly skilful and open to ideas, so this is the opportunity to display your work in its very best light, and match the content with a bespoke, complementary frame and mount.

What it’s best for:
Ordering beautiful frames, all from within your browser, delivered within seven working days.

Glass-cutting in the framing workshop
The Make Frame-building process inside the framing workshop
The Make Frame-building process inside the framing workshop
The Make Frame-building process inside the framing workshop
Inside the warehouse
Inside the warehouse
Inside the warehouse

As a brand partner, G . F Smith has supported Lecture in Progress since the beginning. You can discover more about their services at gfsmith.com

Photography by Morgane Bigault