Pushing the boundaries

The iQ Oval in Meesha's print shop
The iQ Oval in Meesha’s print shop

The art of screen printing as we know it has been around for more than a century. For years the technique has remained fairly traditional, but one textile printer in Leicester is working hard to produce perfection through simplicity with the use of a pioneering oval screen printing press. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey finds out more.

If you were to step back 25 years in time oval screen printing presses would have been common place in many print shops. However, over time carousels became the norm and the oval took a bit of a tumble. In recent years much time and money has been invested into improving and revolutionising the oval screen printing press.

Meesha Graphics in Leicester is one of a handful of businesses in the UK that has recognised how this improvement in the oval can benefit business and has taken steps to remain at the forefront of the industry.

Eye-catching artwork

Founded in 1986 by Raj Patel, Meesha Graphics has grown to become one of the largest textile printers in the UK. Raj is a graphic designer and illustrator by trade and his passion lies with creating eye-catching pieces of artwork through dye sublimation, embroidery and screen printing.

Over the years Meesha Graphics has worked with carousels from both M&R and MHM Direct GB, before investing in a 22 station MHM iQ Oval in November 2014. Impressed by the quality of the machine a second one quickly followed. These oval screen printing presses were some of the first to be installed in the UK. This investment has not only allowed Meesha to get ahead of other screen printers in the industry, but has also allowed Raj and his team of graphic designers to become even more creative with their innovative designs.

“We have the desire to produce unbelievable imagery which captures the imagination. The iQ Oval has allowed us to do this,” explains Raj.

Raj keeps his cards close to his chest when it comes to discussing the level of his team’s creativity, as he doesn’t want to divulge trade secrets. Raj and his team of talented screen print technicians are able to produce stunning screen printed pieces which are being described as 3D screen prints. This technique truly produces works of art not seen anywhere else in the industry.

Exemplary detail and accuracy

Not only does the iQ Oval allow Meesha to produce this kind of print, but the unique registration system the iQ Oval has built in also enables Meesha to create designs with high levels of accuracy and detail.

Each pallet arm has an individual drive motor making them completely independent of each other. Every station also has its own independent registration point, providing perfect registration accuracy 100% of the time. “This is the most revolutionary thing to happen to any screen printing press in years,” says John Potter, managing director of MHM Direct GB. This level of accuracy means that Meesha is able to produce intricate designs with high level of detail, something which previously would have been very difficult to achieve.

Another reason that Meesha invested in these machines was space. Carousels have the problem of being circular in shape, meaning a print shop has to be of a certain shape in order to accommodate the machine. As Meesha’s workshop is rectangular in shape, the way the iQ Oval has been designed means they both fit perfectly into this area. The iQ Oval can be configured to work around corners or around awkward pillars and posts, without compromising on speed or precision.

In addition carousels are not modular, so once an investment has been made in the machine the only option a printer has if they want to grow is to sell and replace. The modular capabilities of an oval enables more stations to be added as a business wants to grow and expand. Those who invest in the iQ Oval don’t need to start big as they can initially invest in a 10 station six colour press before working up to a maximum of 56 colours with 60 stations. Meesha is yet to add more stations to its set-up, but when the time is right the iQ Oval offers this flexibility.

Meesha 1Brilliant features

As any screen printer knows safety in the print shop is paramount. The iQ Oval’s unique iDS drive motors stop immediately when they sense an obstruction. This eliminates the need for safety barriers and makes this screen printing press safe and easy to operate. “I always have peace of mind when my operators are using this machine. I no longer need to worry about the potential of an accident. Safety is one of the most important factors when running a business,” says Raj.

Another aspect that Raj finds particularly useful is the ability to wheel flash cure units in and out. “This is just brilliant,” he says. The iQ Oval also provides printers with the ability to load and unload garments from the corners and ends of the press. This creates the possibility for print shops to print two jobs simultaneously. The optional high-lift facility that Raj enjoys allows the operator to create additional loading and unloading stations at any position by simply raising individual print heads out of the way.

Taking all of these aspects into account, Raj adds that: “MHM builds machines from a printer’s point of view. Other screen print manufacturers have built machines from an engineer’s point of view. This is evident in all of the design features of the iQ Oval.”

Skill and creativity

However, the iQ Oval is just a conduit for Meesha to produce its prints. Without the talented team producing the exemplary pieces of artwork that it does, Meesha would not be the screen printer it is today. Raj is highly complimentary of his team of graphic designers. “We like to push the boundaries of what is possible like no-one else in the industry. They are very creative and this is what helps Meesha Graphics to reach the next level. We don’t aim to be big, just to produce the greatest artwork. This is where our passion lies” he says. This high level of skill and creativity is also appreciated by Meesha’s customers.

Since investing in the two iQ Oval’s Meesha has found that it is able to attract a different type of customer. “We have found that retailers are very interested in the varied work we can produce with the iQ Oval. We can currently use up to 14 colours, but still have lots of flash and cooling stations to create special designs and high build pieces,” says Raj. The iQ Oval allows Meesha to react quickly to changing fashions within the retail and promotional sectors and in return enables customers to receive fast turnaround times.

Unknown-40From its 40,000sq ft premises in Leicester, Meesha Graphics prints approximately 30-40,000 T shirts a week using the iQ Oval. Raj estimates that approximately 60% of what Meesha prints are designs created in house, while the remaining 40% are clients’ designs. Customers include high street chains such as River Island and Arcadia Group, as well as online retailer ASOS.

As with any industry, it’s the quality of the relationship a customer has with its supplier which makes the difference, and both Meesha and MHM recognise this. Meesha Graphics works closely with MHM to provide feedback on the machinery which helps in any future projects. And MHM in return is on hand to provide advice, technical support and general assistance whenever it is required.

Sunny Patel, marketing director, is excited about having MHM machinery in house. He said: “Our advancement in printing techniques and graphic design is only strengthened by our partnership with MHM. We have a fantastic relationship with the team at MHM right from management level through to the engineers and technicians. They have been very supportive of our needs as a forward thinking print shop.”

Raj adds: “MHM evokes passion in its customers and makes people believe in the industry. The company has done so much for screen printing in recent years.”

And what’s more during the visit, both Meesha Graphics and MHM hinted at the possibility of a digital oval machine in the very near future which will make mass customisation of printed textiles possible – so watch this space.

Check Also

Twinning across the ages

We live in an age now where it’s not uncommon for children to wear mini …

Exploring a new field

Country is the latest collection by Regatta Professional. Launched in the autumn last year, this …