Studio On Fire Steamroller Printing

A Print Fair: Studio on Fire’s Grand Opening 

Friday, July 29, 2016
1-7 p.m. 
825 Carleton Street
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55114

Food and beverages for sale by local vendors. 

By Camille LeFevre

Just over a decade ago, graphic designer Ben Levitz set up his first antique letterpress machine in his basement between the boiler and the litter box—and began transforming the artisan print business in the Twin Cities. His new venture grew into Studio on Fire—which specializes in the art of “pressure-based printing… letterpress, foil stamping, engraving, all of which use pressure,” Levitz explains—with a client roster including agencies and design firms around the world. 

Levitz moved his operation, and the 1950s-60s era presses weighing thousands of pounds, to a warehouse basement in Northeast Minneapolis. When the building was sold, he says, “We put into motion something we’d wanted to do for a long time: Own our space.” A former semi-tractor service garage, later used for an adult arts program, on Carleton Street in the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) was just the ticket. 

“This part of the Twin Cities is perfect,” Levitz says. “The vintage 1940s building, with its raw structure of huge steel girders, high ceilings, concrete floors and large operable garage doors fits us. We’re also on-grade, with plenty of space for our heavy equipment. And we now have windows with light and views to the neighborhood, which has plenty of amenities attractive to our employees,” including microbreweries like Urban Growler and Bang Brewing, restaurants like Foxy Falafel, and the Raymond Avenue Station on the Green Line light-rail line a mere block away.  

While moving Studio on Fire’s 15 employees and dozens of heavy-duty machines Levitz had an idea: “The building would be a great place to add a retail component.” He talked with long-time friend and client Dan Anderson at Dogwood Coffee, who lives in the CEZ’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. “You have lots of coffee shops in Minneapolis,” Levitz cajoled Anderson, “but not one in your own backyard.” 

Anderson and Levitz looked over the building and decided to create a Dogwood outpost with windows looking into Studio on Fire’s production facility. Now clients, visitors, neighbors and coffee shop aficionados can grab an espresso and watch the pressure-printing machines and their operators at work. “It’s sort of like a tap room,” Levitz explains. “People literally get a window into the physicality of what we do.” 

During Studio on Fire’s family-friendly grand opening on July 29, “A Print Fair,” which is part of CEZ’s 2016 “We Make It Here” series, people will also experience—with all of their senses—the company’s beautiful, tactile work, which encompasses business cards, packaging and invitations. The day’s events include projects on presses for print giveaways and a steamroller with large moveable type printing a poster on the sidewalk outside. 

“So much of what we do has a sense of touch, but it’s also visual, so people experience it with more than one sense,” Levitz says. Pressure-based printing creates “an optical tactility via sculptural impression or imbues the material (oftentimes cotton, not wood fiber) with hot foil creating a bright metallic sheen. These aspects enhance the value of artisan print craft.” 

While most of the printing industry has gone to bigger, faster and cheaper, Levitz adds, “we make things people want to touch, feel, enjoy, look at, and hang on to for a while.”