Noteworthy Newsprint: Designing a Photography Mailer

Noteworthy Newsprint: Designing a Photography Mailer

Nathan Strandberg is a Minneapolis-based photographer and co-owner of the design boutique, Eight Hour Day, that’s known for its eye-catching work for museums, megastores and magazines. “Our goal,” he said, “is to create work that’s honest, that’s conceptually interesting and visually stunning.” A philosophy that’s evident in his recent design collaboration with editorial photographer, Shaun Fenn, on their photography mailer.

Photography mailer
Direct mail printing

When Everything Old is News Again

When fellow photographer and friend Shaun Fenn first reached out to Strandberg to design a new mailer featuring rowing images he’d shot in 2017, the assignment appeared pretty black and white. “Shaun had seen an unbound, newsprint piece on Instagram that had been printed by The Newspaper Club that he really liked,” Strandberg recalled.


“Then he sent his black and white crew images, which had a really cool, classic vibe to them and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right, these would be perfect for a newsprint-style piece.’ Seeing the two together sparked his imagination and mine.”

Black and white printing

Here Comes the Bad News

But as Strandberg and Fenn soon discovered, agreeing on the photography mailer concept was the easy part. “We had no idea we’d have the challenges we did,” Strandberg said. Using actual newsprint had to be abandoned because the reproduction quality wasn’t there.


Fenn’s original printing choice, The Newspaper Club in the UK, had to be scratched because the quantity was too small – only 3,000 – and shipping costs were too high. Enter: Smartpress’ Saddle Stitch Booklets and array of online printing services.

Custom spreads

Papering the Walls

When it came to the design, Strandberg recalled, it was quintessential Fenn. “He selected and sent me 20 images and said, ‘Make sure you use every one.’ It’s the way we usually work. It’s really the only direction he ever gives. He trusts me to pair the shots, to bring them together cohesively through a visual narrative and tastefully brand it.”

“Looking back, it’s really all the direction I needed,” Strandberg said. “Shaun’s pictures tell such a great story. I just had to weave them together and make sure each page could live on its own and be recognized as a Shaun Fenn piece, so if someone wanted to grab a sheet and pin it up in the office like a poster, they could.”

Direct mail ideas
Design your own mailer

Classic Shaun From Start to Finish

“I would love to say that we did something fancy, but we didn’t,” Strandberg continued. “Everything was driven by Shaun’s original desire to do it on simple newsprint. It’s why we went with the 9″ x 12″ unbound format, why we originally pursued printing it in the UK and why we ultimately opted for an uncoated paper.”


Customized booklet printing is what a premium online printer like Smartpress is all about. With stock options, finishes like UV coating and Soft Touch laminate, plus paper weights and bindings to choose from, no idea is too big or too challenging.


“As I said, Shaun was in love with the look he’d first seen posted by The Newspaper Club,” Strandberg said. “And he was determined, but the quantity and the number of pages that Shaun was printing didn’t make it viable. So we took another route, sourced newspaper printers, even opted for a nicer paper and finally found our way to Smartpress,” he explained.


“In the end,” Strandberg said, “by going with an uncoated stock, doing a hard proof, and then going through it one by one and lightening up the spots that were a little too dark or too shadowy, we got to a great result.” And from the looks of Fenn’s posting announcement on Instagram, he thought so, too, with the caption: “Back up the mail trucks! Warn all the creative desktops. Fenn Crew mailer incoming!”

Print Details

Saddle Stitch Booklet

Folded, Not Stapled, 80# Text Uncoated Smooth - White Cover, 80# Text Uncoated Smooth - White Interior Pages, 9x12 Portrait Format, 24 pages

create yours