ROCKFORD, Ill. — Heather and Kerry Steines are rule breakers.
They mix font sizes, spacing and pictures — a no-no in the world of traditional letterpress printing — to bring modern ideas to an industry that's been around for more than 500 years. The press and perhaps its most famous byproduct, the Gutenberg Bible, were created by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century.
Most people consider letterpress printing an outdated trade. These 26-year-olds see opportunity. They believe they can use modern technology with the printing machines of the early 1900s by marketing the services to the competitive local special events industry.
The Steineses bought Printers Specialty Services in November from former owner Tom Wise. It's now part of Heather's family's business, CCSI International Inc., a manufacturing company based in Garden Prairie that makes everything from swimming pool enclosures to pet wash stations.
Wise still works for the company in the old Atwood industrial building, 2500 N. Main St. He opened Printers Specialty Services in 1971, and it's been a full-time business since 1993.
Most of the company's work still involves specialized trade printing, such as pamphlets, prayer cards and ticket stubs. Wise takes on the tasks other printers can't, from printing sequential numbers on event tickets or company names on brochures.
Printers Specialty Services has 11 working machines. Old-school printing businesses today typically have one or none, Heather said.
The Steineses launched a separate company — Spoken For Press — to expand and market the creative side of their business.
"We're still trying to let people know that we exist," Heather said. "Letterpress is all over Chicago but sort of dies at about Schaumburg. It is a dying art in general, but we're bringing some new life into it."
Wise for years resisted technology like computers and cellphones, and he still teases the couple about their attempts to modernize the business (it has a website now, for instance). He said business suffered when the recession hit, so more marketing is necessary to stay afloat.
The Steineses started researching letterpress printing about four years ago, when they were planning their wedding. Though they ended up making their own invitations, their interest in letterpress never waned.
About five months after their vintage-themed wedding, Heather started taking a letterpress class in Evanston, and she and Kerry eventually bought a circa 1890 Chandler & Price letterpress machine. It was complicated, and they were intimidated. Enter Wise, who for 18 months taught them the art of letterpress.
Then Wise started asking the couple when they were going to take over his business.
"Tom (wanted) to work and not have to worry about things," Heather said. "Tom's still the head printer here and still doing the trade work he's known for."
But Wise likes to rib them about not learning the trade well enough. Kerry still works at General Mills, and Heather helps run CCSI, but they hope letterpress printing becomes a full-time job.
True to form, Wise didn't take too well to their modern print designs, mixing fonts and pictures, but he's slowly being converted.
"The sky's the limit as to what we can create," Heather said. "People come to us with ideas, and we can help them design what they need."
Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com