Last week I had the pleasure of visiting The Surface Print Company, based in Clayton Le Moors, near Accrington, Lancashire. The very well established company has been in production since 1990, producing high quality wallpaper through a range of processes for numerous prestigious clients, including Designers Guild, Colefax and Fowler, Liberty Prints and Neisha Crosland.
The Surface Print Company is a family run business, with the Chairman John Watson, setting up the company in 1990, with over 60 years experience in Wallpaper manufacturing in the Lancashire area, which is renowned for its production. His son James Watson, and daughter Abigail Watson, also work within the business, being the 4th Generation of Watsons to work within the Wallpaper industry. I was kindly welcomed by Abigail Watson, their Marketing Director on my visit, as well as their Commercial Manager, Shan Merriman.
I talked to Abigail and Shan about the history and culture of their company. They employ around 100 staff, many of which have worked in the wallpaper industry for over 40 years. All staff are highly skilled in their area of work within the business, being trained within specific techniques of wallpaper printing and production. The majority of the employees are from the local area, with many instances of multiple family members being employed also. The company also has a commitment to recruiting from local colleges, such as Accrington and Rossendale College and Blackburn College. The employees are a mixture of male and female.
The company produce wallpaper for high end international clients, shipping internationally daily, and attending trade fairs in Germany, Paris and New York. They also established an in house design brand 1838 Wallcoverings, the title of which references the design of the first Surface Print machine, created by Charles Potter in Darwen to print calico. The beautiful wallpaper range is inspired by the family archive of historic designs.
The Surface Print Company prides itself on producing high quality wallcoverings, and this is evident as I walk round the factory and view examples of their clients designs being printed via a range of processes. Many of the wallpapers employ 1-3 processes to produce sophisticated design and subtly textured wallpaper.
Shan Merriman showed me around the extensive factory, beginning with the Digital Print suite which is sealed off from the rest of the roller printing areas. There are three very large digital printers to print wallpaper at different widths, all of which is carefully tested, measured, cut and packaged at each stage by specialist staff with a very keen eye for detail and colour.
In the central factory area, you can see images above and below or the central proofing, packaging and cutting area. Here I met staff who watch the wallpaper travel through the machine at a very high speed, looking for any incongruities before cutting in rolls and packaging.
The Surface Print Company specialise in surface printed wallpaper, which creates a natural, hand painted effect. They developed The Sur Flex machine, and have three Surface/Sur Flex machines, one of which that is able to print up to 12 print colours onto a grounded substrate at 52cm and 70cm width.
Wallpaper designs from clients are engraved into rollers, which sit within the surface printing machine, pressing the ink into the substrate, as it travels through the machine. The packaged rollers from individual designs are stored across the factory, as they will be required when the wallpaper is reprinted in the future.
The Surface Print Company also have a wide range of processes including foil, holographic and flock/bead wallpaper printing. They also three Air Knife Ground Machines which create an all over colour base to the wallpaper before printing details onto the substrate by the Surface, Flexo or Flock Machines for printing. Shan showed me a range of wallpapers that used numerous techniques to combine a sophisticated overall visual.
Below are samples of the 1838 wallpaper Faversham, which was waiting to be colour mixed by a team of colourists. This wallpaper is digitally printed with the base marbled pattern, and then a second layer is printed in glue with the roller and flocked in black through the Flock/Bead machine.
It was fascinating to visit the factory and learn more about their wide range of processes to create very detailed and beautiful surfaces for wallcoverings. It was also interesting to learn about the mechanics of the digital printing and roller printing. The Surface print method can print a roll very quickly, in approximately two minutes, however the preparation time and cost to engrave the rollers are more significant. In comparison, preparation for digital printing is simpler, apart from sampling, however the printing process takes longer.
Thank you to Abigail Watson, Shan Merriman and The Surface Print Company for their time and welcome.