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Part 2 of The Paper Cuts Series

Color Swatches

Though the design industry has changed in many ways just since the 90’s, printing is still a thriving and vibrant source for connecting with consumers, and paper is the key. For this series, I’ve interviewed some of the best printers, paper reps, and designers to give their insights into how paper can strengthen your brand.

The latest interview features John Cockrell, Jr. the owner of Enovation Group and Fresh Press, two exciting new concepts in digital and on-demand printing. John grew up in the printing business, but his journey outside the industry has armed him with a wealth of knowledge to put his own mark on more than just paper. His eagle-eye focus on precision drives his unique approach to printing, paper and the future of both.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Technically, I’ve been in the printing industry for 30 years if you include dinner table discussions and summers in the bindery. Directly, I’ve been involved in the industry for 8 years. Enovation Group was launched in 2003 as a digital printing company focused on combining print and technology to meet the needs of an on-demand marketplace. At first, we were going to take over the world with variable data printing, but over time we realized our core expertise involved creating workflows that made printing easier for marketers and HR departments. I’m obsessed with trying to make printing a job on our digital presses as easy as printing to a network printer. We’re getting closer every year.

What first drew you to printing?

I avoided printing for the first 22 years of my life, which worked out well because it gave me time to explore a few different industries. Once I committed to working in the industry full-time, I was intrigued by the ability to combine creativity, business acumen and craftsmanship. It really ended up being a perfect fit. I would be miserable in an industry that didn’t allow for a creative outlet.

Do you prefer working with a designer and paper rep in the early stages of project development?

Earlier is always better, regardless of the involved parties. We don’t always have that luxury with digital printing — so many projects are last-minute and rushed. It’s a fun process to be able to collaborate with multiple people in order to create exactly what a designer envisions. Seeing a concept come to life is very gratifying and truly represents the craft. Plus, it usually ensures a better finished product.

Do you keep papers stocked in-house?

In digital printing, it’s necessary. Offset usually allows for the luxury of ordering paper just-in-time, but digital forces people to print a majority of projects on house sheets. We carry Neenah Environment (Smooth – Ultra Bright White), Galerie Art Silk, Galerie Art Gloss and Finch Fine as house sheets. Quality paper makes a huge difference in the end product. Many printing companies don’t seem to understand this concept and base decisions solely on price. I’m willing to pay more dollars per thousand to carry a quality sheet that results in a great product. As a result, I base my decisions on:

How well does the sheet run through our presses?
How does the sheet finish – will it crack, scuff, etc.?
Does the sheet provide a maximum amount of ink adhesion?
Does the sheet maximize quality and value without pricing our products out of the market?

Paper can be everything in digital printing. The wrong sheet can slow productivity in both the pressroom and bindery.

How has your role changed over your career, and what’s affected that role the most?

Cockrell Enovation

When Enovation was a separate company, my primary role was to make sure we sold enough to make payroll. I was more directly involved in sales. Since we combined with Cockrell Printing two years ago and became Cockrell Enovation, my role is primarily marketing and discovering new opportunities that will secure our company’s stability in the long-term future. The largest impact on my role involves how print is constantly changing, which is influenced by:

How people order print – an increase in the amount of orders placed online
Who is ordering print
– your buyers are not as sophisticated as in the past

The overall economic climate

We won’t survive as a general commercial printer, so we must constantly work to position ourself to meet the above influencers. Our client base is constantly changing as well. When we formed Enovation Group, a large portion of our sales came through advertising agencies and freelance designers. At that point, my role involved marketing Enovation Group to fit the needs of the creative — quick turns, high quality, thinking outside the box. This shifted completely over the last three or four years as competition increased and we made moves to move away from the identity of a commercial printer. Now we deal mostly with direct clients, primarily due to our focus on web-based print and marketing applications. While print is the output, we are positioning Cockrell Enovation as a technology firm that assists marketing departments with workflow and accountability.

Can paper define a brand, and how so?

Paper definitely defines a brand. It’s frustrating to see this overlooked because paper and print work together to stimulate your senses — which should be a major consideration when companies work to define a brand. You have to think about how a particular stock reacts with the printing process and then how it feels when it is touched by the consumer. It’s one of the easiest methods that can make a company stand out from its competition.

What are some of the trends in ways agencies/designers are printing with paper?

It’s a bit chaotic right now. Agencies are still specifying paper but the economic climate is forcing the end user to look after every dollar. As a result, it’s usually the first thing to change after the initial quote. Text and cover is still very popular because it’s seen as going back to the basics, even though it’s actually more expensive. On the other hand, end users aren’t specifying at all…it’s simply “make it cheap and make it quick.”

The same goes for additional services. We aren’t doing near as much with foil stamping and specialty finishing as we were 3-5 years ago.

For us, the trend is web-based automation. Companies are looking to have everything organized and accessible online for easy ordering and the ability to push the costs onto franchise locations or other end users.

What are common myths about digital printing that keep designers, agencies and end users from specifying paper on a print project?

Many of the myths are actually truths from clients being burned in the past. Old digital equipment was all toner-based, so all products printed/looked the same regardless of the stock — it was simply melted toner on paper. Fortunately, with technology from HP, we’re using actual ink that gives you the same benefits of offset printing where the qualities in the paper work in tandem with the inks.

Have you seen any examples of paper stock enhancing or hindering the impact a printed project?

Every day. Why paint a sheet that isn’t designed to hold solids? You lose the true purpose of the sheet. It’s like putting A-1 on beef tenderloin. Some things are meant to be left to their natural state, and certain paper stocks are made exactly for this purpose.

Do you have a favorite stock that you love to work with?

I have two:

  1. Neenah Environment Ultra Bright White — it’s a great text/cover sheet that has a subtle texture and prints amazing on the HP. It’s very versatile and works great with solids, photos, or simply text.
  2. Ivolaser — it’s a relatively unheard of text/cover sheet from Gruppo Cordenons but it probably prints better than any other HP-approved sheet I’ve seen.

I like sheets that people don’t tend to think about. I feel that it makes our products a bit more unique compared to the competition. It’s part of our brand. You want to be able to immediately recognize your product instead of having a commoditized look.

Tell me a little about Fresh Press.

Fresh Press

Fresh Press ( has been live since March, and in the works for about two years. It’s an online stationery site targeted towards 26-45 year old women that have a high perceived value of printed goods (personalized note cards, invitations, etc). It is also a direct reflection of my focus to find opportunities to sustain long-term growth in new areas of printing technologies. Printing companies have so much underutilized technology, and I wanted to find a way to start using some of our resources in a different way in hopes of creating new markets.

The current commercial printing market is broken. There’s a ton of capacity and too many people dropping prices to absurd levels just to keep business. So, with Fresh Press, I wanted to create an identity that drove digital printing volume without the traditional model — sales reps peddling for orders at low profit margins. It’s forced us to look at things as a retailer versus a manufacturer. I hired an intern two years ago to begin researching the industry and build a marketing plan. She is now in charge of running Fresh Press. It’s fun, and it gives us an opportunity to create demand and fill press time in a non-traditional manner. It’s also been an eye-opening experience learning the art of SEO and running an online business. We’re far from a Mark Zuckerberg Production, but maybe one day…

Which paper stock would you be and why?

I told this to my wife as a joke — Ikono because it’s still very attractive but no longer available on the market. This is how your life changes once you reach 30 and you’re married.

But being serious, I would say Classic Crest — I’m conservative and traditional…nothing too fancy but at least have a bit of color when I want to branch out.

What do you foresee as the biggest area for growth in the printing industry?

Online print management. We quickly realized where we had a niche, and combined this with our vision of making ordering print as easy as sending a file to a network printer. Many printing companies are achieving this by setting up retail sites (VistaPrint, etc). I don’t think that’s a good fit for us and I would prefer to avoid selling our product as a commodity. As a result, I want to push our model of online print management to help us be a better overall resource for a company. Rather than being a stand-alone website, we’re providing more of a service that helps organize business processes. It takes more effort, but it’s definitely better for our clients as well as Cockrell Enovation.

Printer's Loop

If you’d like to find out more about Cockrell Enovation, Fresh Press or reach out to John with any printing questions you can contact him at, or visit the websites at or Be sure to follow Fresh Press and Cockrell Enovation on twitter @lovefreshpress and @printingenuity, and become fans on facebook of Fresh Press and Cockrell Enovation.

Check back next month when we talk to Portland logo design superstar Jeff Fisher for Part 3 in The Paper Cuts Series.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve helped clients add a touchy, feely side to their brands with paper.

The winner decided unanimously by everyone who voted is Garbage, “Stroke of Luck.”

Thanks to everyone who voted, followed and supported this effort over the past year. I’ll post details of posters for sale in the coming weeks, as well as more details about Synesthesia the book inspired by the sketch of the day project.

It’s been a few weeks since the final sketches went live, and I thought it seemed like a great time to put up the final poll. Cast your vote from the list below, or feel free to write in your favorite if you don’t see it in the list. You can vote until August 27th at midnight.

Here’s links for your convenience.
Garbage, “Stroke of Luck”
In Memory of Man, “My Sweet Cathexis”
Perfect Circle, “Orestes”
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, “The Mighty Sparrow”

Thanks for everyone that followed this crazy project for the last year, and a I’d like to give a big thank you to everyone who commented or voted. The book is currently being organized. Be sure to check back for updates, and to learn about my new year-long project which will be unveiled in September.

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