When we were designing our Holiday in the Alps posters, we knew we wanted to team up with someone special to bring them to life. Enter the “Gourmet Print & Design Shoppe” Mama’s Sauce, whose crack team silk-screened the limited edition posters we have available online through the holidays.
Mama’s Sauce, founded by Nick Sambrato in Orlando, Florida, in 2008, works with graphic designers and creative agencies around the world, and we consider the young company one of the most creative printers in the business. Patrick Moore, one of two graphic designers here at Jeni’s, says, “Mama’s Sauce is known for doing really fun projects, and what they do with a design always adds to it. They just take it to the next level.”
Via email, Brooks Chambers, Mama’s Sauce’s director of sales and marketing, recently chatted about the young company’s approach, techniques, and philosophy.
Where did the name Mama’s Sauce come from and what does it mean to you?
The name came upon us in the middle of a late-night print session several years ago. Back then, all the printing was happening in a living room and all the inks were mixed in a kitchen. The guys were taking a breather from the press. They got to talking about the future of the business and the idea of building this little two-person operation into something really special one day. (Founder and CEO) Nick (Sambrato) caught a glimpse of a cobalt blue bowl full of chunky red ink that had been been botched while being mixed with a big wooden spoon. Being a good Italian fella, he suggested the name we bear to this day.
The name actually means a whole lot to us now, because it’s a perfect representation of our philosophy, approach, and personality. As much as we’ve grown, our work is still driven by hands-on work that takes a lot of care, attention, and, well . . . love. We’d like to think that graphic designers can drop their artwork off with us and breathe easy knowing that their work is safe with Mama. After all, she loves it just as much as they do.
What sets Mama’s Sauce apart from other printers?
No one else in the universe gets more excited about good design printed well than we do. It just wouldn’t be physically possible. I’ve seen grown men and women get misty-eyed over even opacity with perfect registration more times than I can count.
I’m not sure how other shops approach the day-in, day-out problems every printer faces, but I know that we train every single employee to point all of their talent and effort toward what makes prints look better.
It’s kind of hilarious how few decisions are driven by profit margin around here. A great example is deciding which papers to keep in stock. In the industry, it’s fairly standard to get a hold of a few decent papers that your distributor can get for you at a good price and keep them as your “house stocks”. This is basically your house wine; it’s not the best, but it’ll do for the folks who don’t much care either way. We just don’t have papers like that. It’s not that we’re snobs; it’s that we looked through swatches of what was out there and just picked the stuff that made us giddy when we touched it.
We’ve always worked like that, for better or for worse. Maybe we’d make more money if aimed for wider profit margins, but I don’t think it’d be worth it. Folks work with us because we get excited about making good stuff with good ingredients just like they do.
Why is it important to do everything by eye and hand?
I don’t think it’s important to do something by hand or by eye for it’s own sake. It’s important to do it right and to do it as well as you possibly can. When it comes to letterpress and silkscreen printing, there are steps in the process that have to be done by hand if they’re going to be done right. It’s just a very physical process.
For example, it’d be easy way easier and faster to use an ultra-accurate scale to mix all of our inks by weight using only the formulas provided by Pantone, but then the colors may not interact just right on an off-white paper. If the paper has a little bit more yellow in it, that’ll need to be accounted for in the mix if we want the designer’s vision to come through. Tools are great, but they don’t know jack about what looks good.
If there’s a step in the process that doesn’t have to be done by hand, we usually don’t do it by hand. The main thing is to remember that the work we do will be held by hands and viewed by eyes. That’s the ultimate judge and the litmus test of our success. Do I like holding this? Do I like looking at this? Ultimately, taking moments throughout the process to touch and see the project keeps us on the right course.
How did our design stack up?
When this project came down the pike, we were already big fans of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. An electric surge of enthusiasm swept through our ranks when we opened up the files and took a peek at this artwork. They weren’t especially challenging because they were designed well, and the Jeni’s team brought us into the process early on to get our input. You guys were really receptive and enthusiastic about the process, which makes for a better product.
Design-wise, we fell in love with these things. We’ve all been struggling to pick our favorite from the series. I can’t pick between Pumpernickel and Cloverton. We really appreciate the way that this artwork returns to the heart of poster design by focusing on simplicity, legibility, and large swathes of tasty colors.
How important is using the paper itself as one of the colors during the screen printing process? Is this something you guys encourage?
This is one of the most important things that flat stock screen print designer should embrace. We’re big believers in trusting a process rather than fighting it, so when we see a beautiful design with a deep brown background, we don’t want to grab a piece of white paper and cover it with brown ink. Why not use a piece of paper that was actually manufactured to carry that color in its every fiber? Screen printing inks have the unique advantage of being opaque, so printing a bright yellow on top of a deep brown (like we did for the Pumpernickel poster) isn’t that big of a problem.
The big mental leap for a designer is to let the means of production become a source of inspiration in the design phase. Nearly every time someone sends us a design with over 50% of a particular covering most of the art, we recommend they take a look at the papers we offer and pick a colored paper for their background. At that point, the print isn’t just a piece of paper that we hid with gallons of ink; it’s an art object that highlights the talents of the designer, the printer, and the manufacturer of the paper with equal clarity.
What have been some of Mama Sauce’s favorite projects?
Our client list is one of the most inspiring and humbling things in the world to us . . . Recently, we’ve gotten to collaborate on a few projects with Dana Tanamachi; Monotype; Johnny Cupcakes; 55 Hi’s; Tattly; Lost Type Co-op; and Aaron Draplin. (Draplin) has been using us for a project that pays tribute to the Space Shuttle program. It’s really cool that he’s using us for that, because the Space Shuttle launches took place just a quick trip away from here. Kinda sentimental about that one. The posters we printed for Dana Tanamachi were really breathtaking because, A) her talent is second to none and, B) the posters were printed on wood (walnut and oak, to be specific). Pretty freaking rad.
It’s really stinking hard to pick favorite projects because so, so many of our clients are designers that we were über-geeky fans of just a year or two ago. Now that we’re friends and collaborators of theirs, we’re just trying to play it cool and not lose our minds every time one of them sends us their newest design.