Posted on Monday, February 20th, 2023
Ian McLellan’s roots are in the printing business, but getting into trade show displays eventually led him to the sign business. He has a degree in visual communications and for 12 years worked for a commercial printing company that did a lot of work for major jewelry companies.
Shop name: Hill House Graphics
Location: Bristol, Rhode Island
Shop size: 1200 sq. ft.
Staff: Ian and Tina
Two Epson S-40600 printers
Summa D1 54-in. plotter
Graphtec FC9000 54-in. plotter
30-by-48-in. ez Router CNC router
Adobe Creative Suite
Facebook: Hill House Graphics
While a trade show where one of these clients had booth space, he realized their trade show graphics were poor. He suggested the company he worked for buy digital printing equipment and start offering trade show graphics to their clients.
A few years later he worked out an arrangement to take that equipment and handle the large format printing. In 2010 he set up shop in his basement with a HP5500 wide format UV Printer and an old Graphtec Signjet JX1300 that had been converted to a plotter only. Hill House Graphics was born.
“By 2012,” says Ian, “I bought a Roland VP-540 and started building the business. I was a divorced dad who had primary care of my 5-year-old son and needed to work from home. Somehow it all fell together on its own.”
Today he does a lot of large format graphics production printing, working with corporate clients and installers. The clients have contracts with major retailers, and he provides the printed graphics they need for their displays.
“But I also get to do some work for local small businesses,” he says, “and I enjoy that a lot. It’s creative rather than technical, so it’s a nice break from turning out prints. I get to do the design and production. On the larger projects, I subcontract the fabrication that I can’t handle in house. Then I handle the finishing and installation.”
Last year, his son turned 16 and Ian decided it was time to grow the business. One of his clients had He sublet 1200 sq. ft. of unused production space from one of his clients, bought an Epson S-40600 printer and Summa plotter, and increased production.
“In October,” Ian says, “my significant other, Tina Fidas, left nursing full-time to help me focus on the business. She takes care of the books, works with vendors, keeps projects—and me—on track. Last December we bought the bulk of the equipment from a Cape Cod sign shop that closed, which boosted our capabilities further. Our sales are growing every month and we are taking on ever-larger projects.”
Ian is 53 and works around a fairly significant health issue. Almost six years ago he was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and went into renal failure. He ended up on kidney dialysis.
“I had to decide what I was going to do, and I decided to just keep on working. We kick butt 6 days a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to shop work and design, they I am on dialysis the other three days from 6am to 10am.I don’t have a kidney yet, but I’m still hoping for it.
“I keep my head and my faith in the right place, and we’re excited about the growth of the business. That all helps.”
Freezer door wrap
“A long-time client, Martin Beck, raises Grass-Fed Beef on Cloverbud Ranch in Portsmouth,” says Ian. “He came looking for a logo and sign that looked like a ‘tobacco barn ad’ for their new Pinzguar Cattle Breeding Program.
“We started off by searching through a cool vintage font bundle that we bought for a project about a year ago and let it roll from there. We built the file in Adobe Illustrator and imported layers that we created in Photoshop, including a photo of peeling paint on a wooden wall, which became the base layer of the graphic.
“We added a picture of the prize bull grazing and put in small fun details like gouges in the boards and even bullet holes. The use of transparencies and Photoshop layers in the illustrator file gave the entire sign the muted and old faded look that we wanted to achieve.
“To make the project a bit more fun, we cut brand marks from PVC board and spray painted them with black hammered finish paint and convinced our client to lend a sun bleached cow skull with horns to be wired up to the rustic- looking post and beam building to complete the look. It was a fun and unique project.”