Posted on 6/10/2015

​Balancing the art of being both high and low tech

When my grandfather, Bob Utley, returned home from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific in 1945, he joined his older brother Wheeler in forming Utley Brothers Printing in Detroit, Michigan.

Now 70 years later, my younger brother, Ashley, and I are the third generation running the family-owned business, now in Troy.  In fact, for the first time in 40 years, Utley Brothers is run by brothers again.

The kind of printing that the original Utley brothers used was and still is called, letterpress printing. Today it is the antithesis of new technology. Letterpress printing is labor intensive, slow and inefficient. When more productive forms of printing came on the scene in the 50’s and 60’s, letterpress was set aside. Utley Brothers Printing stayed current with technology trends in our industry through the decades; with the vast majority of our capital expenditures in the past decade being spent on manufacturing equipment to meet the needs and expectations of the market place. 

Many leading printers offer similar value to their customers. So we asked: How could we differentiate ourselves? Could we balance high-tech capability with something else?  

In a mass-produced and digital-world, a growing number of people are learning to appreciate the craftsman-like qualities that go into producing a well-made tangible product — along with a good story. I think that’s one of the reasons companies like Shinola can successfully sell watches in a world of iWatches and smartphones.

We launched Atlantic Press, the letterpress studio of Utley Brothers a number of years ago with the same appreciation for finely crafted made-in-America products. In the studio, we get to share the beautiful craft of letterpress printing during public and private events where our love for history and letterpress printing fills the air like the smell of ink. The events are both sensory and experiential as guests are invited to design their own stationery using wood fonts my grandfather collected 70 years ago and then watch a craftsman print a set on decades-old machinery to take home. 

Impressing people is increasingly difficult with most things, much less printing. But the cool-factor vibe of the events is matched by the tactile nature of the printed process and product.  Guests to our events are encouraged to take photos and share their excitement and experience on social platforms which allow the craft to be enjoyed by even more people. An Instagram photo at a recent event resulted in us getting to share letterpress on the Detroit television show, “Live in the D” on WDIV.   

Quick building tours during our events also give us an opportunity to highlight our higher-tech forms of printing while at the same time sharing the nearly lost art of letterpress printing that our company was founded on 70 years ago. 

For more information about Utley Brothers Printing, visit

About the Author

Andy Harrison | Utley Brothers Printing


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