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Full Circle Press: Where art meets the printed word

Cory Fisher
Staff Writer
Full Circle Press printer Ethan Cameron runs a Heidelberg Windmill press Thursday afternoon.
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

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Full Circle Press

Letterpress printers since 1991



Run your fingers over the fine paper and meticulously textured design of something printed at Full Circle Press and you’ll see why Judith Berliner loves her job.

“People aren’t makers of things anymore,” she said. “There’s something very rewarding about making something with my hands that I can actually present to someone.”

On the rare occasion that a client comes out to the small Full Circle Press pressroom, located down a long, dirt Grass Valley road, often they don’t want to leave. They seem to want to linger among the vintage Heidelberg presses, take in the smell of ink and bask in that certain brand of utilitarian beauty, where everything has a purpose.

The unique custom printing business, known for its letterpress — and its attention to detail — produces a variety of high-end commercial products, including awards, certificates, menus, postcards, announcements, invitations, bookmarks and much more. Many orders also call for other custom features, such as foil stamping and embossing.

With a reputation for meticulous craftsmanship, it was no surprise that Full Circle Press was asked to print the invitations and inspirational text for the memorial of Steve Jobs, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc.

“There is a renewed interest in letterpress printers these days,” said Berliner. “Much of the equipment of the past is gone. So many of the jobs we’ve done, such as the one for Steve Jobs, have been an honor.”

In addition to Apple, Full Circle works with many high profile clients from around the country, including the likes of Pixar Animation Studios, The French Laundry, A Day in May graphic design studio and The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento. Word of mouth has been the company’s primary mode of advertising.

When not busy at her desk lining up printing jobs (up to four a day are completed on site), Berliner runs her presses with a grace that only decades of practice can bring. She intimately knows every working part, every sound, every idiosyncrasy. Working the aged Heidelbergs has become second nature, ingrained. It seems to have seeped into her bones — and possibly her DNA.

Her father, Harold Berliner, opened a printing shop from his Grass Valley home in the late 1940s after earning his law degree at the University of Notre Dame. He eventually relocated the shop to North Pine Street in Nevada City, the current site of Friar Tuck’s restaurant. He went on to serve as Nevada County’s district attorney, when he co-authored the Miranda rights, the now-famous “right to remain silent” warning given by police to criminal suspects in police custody. In addition to printing greeting cards, he also produced and sold plastic cards printed with the Miranda warning, which were circulated to law enforcement officials throughout the country.

While he loved the law, he loved being a print craftsman and his eight children even more, said Berliner, who, as a young teen, was taught how to run the press.

“I was just 14 – and my job was to run the hand-fed Chandler & Price printing press,” she said. “My dad got the whole family involved in the business. One of my oldest sisters was the shipper, the other was the bookkeeper. I just wanted to go down to the river and party with my friends.”

But by the time Berliner hit her mid-20s, she realized she had a love for printing. She landed a job at a large printing company in Sacramento, where she was the pressroom’s only female. She stayed for more than a decade.

“There were 29 guys and me,” she said. “I learned how not to cry — I really earned my stripes.”

Finally, with 12 years of large commercial printing experience under her belt and two young children in tow, Berliner moved back to Nevada County and started her own company, Full Circle Press, in 1991. Due to the reputation she had earned in Sacramento, many customers followed her.

“Clients in Sacramento would ask, ‘What happened to that girl in the pressroom?’” she said, with a laugh. “There were very few letterpress shops at the time and it was becoming more and more popular. I got in with the right people at the right time. When I started Full Circle, it was just me running the press and answering the phone.”

On Thursday, the company hosted a small gathering in celebration of its 25th anniversary. At her side was Berliner’s beloved staff, which includes Beverly Dittberner, Ethan Cameron, Liz Thiem and Briana Reijnen — otherwise known as her work family, or “wamily.”

“I absolutely love my team — Full Circle Press is not just me,” said Berliner. “It’s all of us together.”

Looking forward, Berliner would like to bring in small groups for workshops, especially those who have a fondness for printing and design.

“A workshop would bring people together to see the entire process and remind them of why they do what they do,” she said. “At the end, each member would have something to take home with them.”

Beyond their cherished craft — truly a disappearing art form — Thiem says it’s the work climate Berliner has created that has made the staff so devoted to their jobs.

“I love sitting at my desk talking to ‘big dog’ clients around the country and looking out at the trees,” she said. “We all work really hard and really well together. Judith has her father’s smarts. She’s fair and gives us the freedom to run with our own creativity. She trusts us, but most of all, she inspires us.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.


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