When Steve Morton, Sales & Marketing Director at design agency Principal Image came together with Peter Jones and Steve Ashworth to form a reprographics company 25 years ago, Nelson Mandela had just been freed from imprisonment, East and West Germany would soon be reunited and most of the UK would rejoice as Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister later that year.

1990 was a big year globally and for the Altrincham-based brand specialists, Principal Image, it heralded the start of an exciting journey that would see the company grow and adapt as technologies evolved and client demands changed.

Developing a printing heritage

Back in 1990 the newly formed company was called Colourfast and the three original directors brought their technical knowledge of the print industry to the fore, building a strong reputation in the North West as leading suppliers of reprographics to printers and advertising agencies.

The offices were less than salubrious on what was a run-down industrial estate at Trafford Park, Manchester but over the next few years the business flourished. In 1993 the first employee came on board and Colourfast invested £200,000 in a scanner with the fourth director, Dave Birley, joining the team. As the company broadened their service to include digital scanning clients such as British Gas, MBNA and Norwich Union came on board, and the team honed their skills as specialists in catalogue and brochure production and print.

Technology drives a change of name

In 1995 the dot.com boom started and the likes of eBay and Amazon launched for the very first time. It was around this time that Colourfast bought their first Apple Mac. Steve Morton remembers this exciting phase in the company’s growth:

‘It’s hard to imagine now that up until this point we had no computer experience at all. It was a terribly steep learning curve and involved the retraining of the full team. The whole market environment began to change which was daunting and exciting at the same time.’.

It also meant that customers began to invest in technology moving aspects of their print in-house. The company had to adapt quickly and employed two graphic designers renaming itself as Principal Image.

It was at this time Marshall Berrisford joined the team and made an immediate impact developing a cutting edge design team. Previously a customer for 7 years with Staffordshire Tableware, Marshall brought with him a wealth of design and packaging experience and quickly became design director.

The print and design house added Wedgwood to their client list and they began to reap the rewards of a long standing relationship with Baggeridge Brick who became their biggest design customer.

Technology continued to advance rapidly and when a client, Dunlop Adhesives, asked for a website in 2000, Principal Image rose to the challenge.

Steve recalls, ‘We had no idea how to build a website or how to price for one. I remember asking for a volunteer from the design team who immediately went out to the Trafford Centre to buy a copy of Websites for Dummies!’.

A celebrity client for Principal Image

The design team continued to grow and in 2001 Principal Image won a very flamboyant and high profile client, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. At the height of his career appearing on the famous BBC programme, Changing Rooms, Lawrence was looking for someone to design packaging for his own range of tableware.

Principal Image again stepped up to the mark and created a flamboyant, purple packaging design that Lawrence was so delighted with he developed it into his own branding. Principal Image went on to redesign his website and even branding for his boat, winning an award for ‘Best Celebrity Website’ along the way.

Out in the Country

In 2004 the director team made the difficult decision to split the business into two separate companies. Dave Birley formed one; taking with him the reprographics side of the business, and Steve Morton and Marshall Berrisford retained the design team and the Principal Image name to specialise as a graphic design agency. With their shared passion for innovative design they relocated the design team to the idyllic Cherry Tree Farm in Altrincham.

Growing from strength to strength

Principal Image hasn’t looked back with a design pedigree that spans traditional print and exhibition design through to product design. In 2005 the company expanded to include a full time web design team and most recently developed the website for Wedgwood’s Worldwide Hospitality division.

The team have established themselves as award-winning packaging design and production specialists with clients such as Royal Doulton and Portmeirion Pottery also benefiting from their experience and creative designs. With their strong background in reprographics Principal Image has also carved a niche in catalogue production having produced Hallis Hudson’s catalogue for the past 12 years. When asked what Principal Image’s secret to success is, Marshall answers:

‘We have become brand guardians for our customers which allows them to rely on us completely to protect and develop their corporate identity and branding. We have grown through our customers growing their business. For example our product catalogues have positioned our clients as market leaders with three of our customers tripling their business as a direct result of their brand positioning.’.

As social media and mobile marketing take centre stage, Principal Image continues to combine traditional skills with the latest technologies to meet the demands of new trends and client need. This hidden gem out in the countryside with a client list to die for is ready for the next exciting chapter. Watch this space!

As part of our 25 year celebrations we are giving away a Principal Image Brand Health Check to 25 businesses. The lucky winners will get a detailed evaluation of their existing branding and invaluable recommendations on how to develop it further. Contact us on 01565 830 213 to register and good luck! Winners will be drawn on 6th April 2015.