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Modern times

Aug 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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From lobby to loading dock, Modern Postcard (Carlsbad, CA) lives up to its name. Cofounder and senior vice president Jim Toya-Brown design-ed the 75,000-sq.-ft. facility to foster an open working environment. The glass and concrete exterior signals that this is no mere manufacturing plant, an impression that is reinforced by the lobby's hardwood floors as well as the dramatic sweep of the massive staircase that leads to the company's administrative offices.

Sunlight floods the pressroom, which boasts three Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL) presses: a four-color Lithrone 40RP; six-color Lithrone S40 perfector with coater; and the latest arrival, an eight-color Super Perfector with double coaters. On the digital side, the company has two HP Indigo presses: a 5000 and w3250. But the more you learn about Modern Postcard, the more you realize the presses — and even the postcards — are subordinate to a larger goal: adding value for customers. Marketing manager Fred Hernandez emphasizes the company is not a printer. “We're a premium provider of direct marketing services and products,” he says.

According to the company's promotional materials, many printers can print postcards and a lot of mailing houses offer fulfillment services. What makes Modern Postcard different is “the passion we bring to developing solutions that will help your business grow.”

Hernandez says Modern Postcard is determined to avoid the commodity trap. “That's a price game,” he says, referring to a well-known, Web-based printer. “We have no interest in that. Our bread and butter is showing people how to market.”

In February 2007, Modern Postcard hosted a three-day conference in San Diego, “Marketing Days,” where 225 attendees heard 30 speakers address topics ranging from multichannel initiatives to generational marketing. Breakout sessions included corporate, small business, and direct mail design tracks.

“It rivaled any DMA [meeting],” says Hernandez, noting that plans are already underway for the 2008 event.

Toya-Brown's spare but elegant architectural blueprint is emblematic of Modern Postcard's production approach. Each process, from online postcard design and ordering options to printing and onsite mailing and shipping services, is designed to minimize turnaround times while maximizing service and quality.

“Every job touches a production team that handles it from start to finish,” explains Hernandez.

Modern Postcard traces its roots to Iris Group, a company specializing in real estate photography. Steve Hoffman, owner and cofounder of Modern Postcard, founded Iris Group in 1976 and until 1993, the company flourished in this niche. By equipping teams of photographers with identical equipment and uniform instructions, Iris Group established a reputation as a consistent producer of top quality work. The company gradually expanded into producing high-end brochures for real estate and architectural clients.

Ironically, Hoffman initially hesitated to get into the postcard business. In the days prior to desktop publishing, postcard production was a labor-intensive process that required painstaking and costly color separations. But a soft real estate market, coupled with the emergence of Adobe PhotoShop in the late 1980s, convinced Hoffman to take the company in a new direction.

Hoffman believes digital technology is essential to deliver excellent registration and color. Modern Postcard was an early CTP adopter and currently has a Kodak/Creo workflow driving Trendsetter AL and Lotem 800 platesetters.

The company's first press was a Komori four-color Sprint followed by two four-color Lithrone 26 machines. The small-format and halfsize presses eventually gave way to the company's three 40-inch presses.

A few years ago, most of Modern Postcard's work was 4/1. As demand grew for multicolor two-sided work, the company began investigating perfecting presses. Modern Postcard installed its LS-640P in 2005 and realized a 35 percent reduction in makeready times.

Color jobs are printed at 240 lpi; a 175-line screen is used on the backside of 4/1 cards. All jobs are printed on “Inspire,” a premium 12.5-pt. brilliant white card stock developed exclusively for Modern Postcard.

“We engineered our own stock for better rigidity,” explains Hernandez. “It ensures the cards can withstand the rigors of mailing while also ensuring we are within our postal rates.”

The three-shift, 300-employee company supports 50,000 active clients nationwide and will print almost half a billion cards this year. A typical job is 2,000 cards, but Modern Postcard has produced jobs ranging from 250 to millions of postcards. Turnaround times range from 24 hours to five days.

Modern Postcard was profiled on an episode of “Small Business School” ( seen on PBS and other channels. Created by two small business owners, Bruce Camber and Hattie Bryant, the series' goal is to show viewers how entrepreneurs started and grew their businesses.

The Modern Postcard show, “California Kaizen,” includes interviews with Hoffman, Toya-Brown and other team members. “Steve is a process guy, and Modern Postcard is a process enterprise,” Bryant told viewers. “Much of the power and success of this operation [is attributable] to constant analysis.”

Katherine O'Brien is editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Stacked or straight?

Komori's (Rolling Meadows, IL) Lithrone LS40SP Super Perfector offers a compact footprint, five-minute fully automated plate changing across 10 units, minimal gripper changes and an output that's competitive with web press productivity.

Why choose a stacked vs. straight perfector? “Each style has its own strengths,” says Doug Schardt, Komori's sheetfed product manager. “The advantage of our stacked press, the Super Perfector, is that it doesn't mark.”

The 4/4 press doesn't flip the sheet to print the second side, and, without transfer cylinders to contend with, potential marking problems are eliminated.

Schardt says stacked perfectors offer many of the efficiencies of web presses while occupying significantly less space. He adds, “The Super Perfector is ideal for a shop big enough to dedicate a press to a certain type of work.”

Straight perfectors are best suited to operations that need more flexibility. A stacked 5/5 press is locked into that configuration, says Schardt, but a 10-color straight perfector offers more flexibility.