Sultans of screen print set the bar

Pune Metagraph and Ace Printers are no strangers to produce cutting-edge screen printing jobs. Both companies are pushing the envelope into new areas. A PrintWeek India report with inputs from Shripad Bhat.

15 Nov 2011 | By Staff Writer

Until recently, screen printing was considered to be an inherently inferior form of print for a variety of reasons, especially the manual mdoe of operation. Offset print on the other hand was considered to be best suited for cost-effectively producing large volumes of high quality prints in an economically sound manner that requires little maintenance.

Screen  printing’s history is chequered. The process, which involves the forcing of thin ink through a screen a of woven fabric, has been in use since long to produce prints for common man. Of late, screen printing has re-invented itself to become the new kid on the block. It is now used to add value-to-print products.

Many players in the screen printing business or those who have incorporated screen printing into their businesses accept the medium’s influence. The stunning decals, the artistic point-of-sale ads or the perfumed wedding cards have all won wide popularity.

According to Bhargav Mistry, managing director of Grafica Flextronica, "As screen printing technologies start to become more mainstream, not only will applications being created become more popular, it will also increase the demand for newer applications. It’s exciting times to be working in the field of screen print, both for the printers and us as manufacturers, who will have to employ new technologies and techniques to experiment with, for users of their equipment."

PrintWeek India profiles two printers, who have been successful screen printing businesses, in this issue.

Pune Metagraph
Around 25 years ago, Ashok Musale, a young entrepreneur moved to Pune after he discovered that the aluminium label printing business started by his father, the late Manohar Laxman Musale, at their Andheri unit in Mumbai was becoming unviable. Musale’s father was the then CMD of the Metagraph group.

Since then, Musale (junior) has steered the group under a new name, Pune Metagraph, which specialises in industrial labels, name-plates and automotive decals and dashboards, to splendid success.

Pune Metagraph has been at the forefront of continuous updating of their screen printing portfolio capabilities in creative ways just to keep pace with the ever increasing desire for technological improvements to remain competitive in their marketplace specialisation.

Musale, now the chairman and managing director of Pune Metagraph, says: "In India, many people still think that screen printing is a job done within 10x10-ft room. It’s not always like that. Screen-printing is a high-end technology. Automobile industry is a major sector from which we can get quantitative business. But to cater to such market you require big set up, proper knowledge, latest complete lab testing facility and skilled manpower. Indian screen-printing  industry is now at par with global standards."

Pune Metagraph is a one-stop show for labeling solutions, providing service and quality production at justifiable cost and with required time. "We offer labels on brass, metal, paper, plastic, special paper, polyester, copper and vinyl, our customers need not go elsewhere for all their label needs," says Musale. "We add exterior adornment to cars and bikes and we have a firm belief that a job well done shall command a fair price. Selling on price is never done and never will," he says.

In the decals market, there are about six to seven players and according to Bhushan Musale, the managing director of t Pune Metagraph, his company is at par with others, if not better. The company uses a fleet of advanced screen printing machines and equipment and ‘craftmanship’ to produce eye-catching decals in multi-colour decals for two- and three-wheelers (utility vehicles).

Pune Metagraph presently uses solvent inks and most of the overcoats are solvent-based. Musale admits that environment is a big issue and wants to go further and improve its environmental credentials. "One of our quality objectives is to move into UV technology sooner or later," says Bhushan, but laments saying, "But there is no UV technology which gives lasting outdoor life to our products (minimum five years).  It failed the weathering test conducted in our full-fledged lab (only few companies in India have this facility) which is equipped with Zenon Arc weather-o-metre."

But the company has put measures in place which will minimise solvent’s effect. "We have a positive pressure room to neutralise the effects of solvent. And in addition, we have created green pastures around the complex so that employees get good air and soothing effect on the mind."

As part of its social responsibility towards environment, the company has accredited itself with ISO/TS 16949:2009 and ISO 14001:2004 this year. Plans are afoot to achieve the OHSAS 18001 certificate and to comply RoHS requirements.

Ace Printers
Mumbai-based Ace Printers adopted UV technology in 2000 with great risk at a time when the market for this speciality service was not so favourable, or even non existent.

As the firm kept on experimenting with UV techniques, its customers too slowly got ‘exposed’ to UV effects, the demand started showing a positive sign. "Today, Ace is known to many offset printers in Mumbai and places like Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, because of its unparallel expertise," claims Kamlakar Wadekar, managing director of Ace.

The firm has now carved a niche for itself by emerging as an expert in UV spot and special effects like sand, texture, shrink, reflective, gloss and matt effects.  The firm offers ‘drip off’ effect using screen process, a first as claimed by the firm and speciality printing like ‘rub and sniff’, fragrance UV, thermocromic UV, photocromic UV and hydrocromic UV maintaining utmost secrecy.

"These special effects are incorporated in commercial printing, packaging, decorative printing, greeting cards and wedding invitations," says Wadekar.  And for Ace, making finishing a core competency has paid rich dividends. It has won 11 national awards since 2004.

Perhaps Ace Printers is the only printing house in India with such a solid set up – two fully automatic screen printing machine (cylinder press) with inline UV and four semi-automatic screen printing machines with UV – offering only value addition service (print finishing) to offset / packaging printers in and around Mumbai. It has 20 employees and operates from a 2,000 sq/ft site.

Kamlakar is optimistic about screen-printing technology. "Screen Printing technology cannot be outdated it seems since it has its own uniqueness. There are certain jobs which  cannot be printed through any other process than  screen printing.  For some jobs, screen printing has the upper hand. I see really a good future for screen printing."

However he cautiously says: "Customers of screen-printing process have very high  expectations. They approach the screen printers when they think other processes of printing will not  meet their requirement. This necessitates good ‘quality’ of raw material to be used by the processors to achieve the desired results," Kamlakar says. "For a screen printer, ‘quality’ means understanding the customers needs and making him aware of what you have to offer him in a best possible way."

"For me quality  begins with understanding the requirement of customers, anticipating  problems  before hand, have a right cycle of production,  have right materials like inks and other consumables and know the right source to get it on time, and of course not just right but up-to-date technology to produce best desired result, training at all levels in the shop floor, keep track of the developments taking place in the market, attend industry exhibitions and seminars in screen-printing in India at least if not possible to go abroad," Kamlakar points out.

"Screen printers should keep samples of their work and show it to print buyers or their creative agency, graphic designers so that they can get exposure to the wide variety of possibilities of screen printing. I  suggest the screen printers themselves should print all their publicity materials including their visiting cards with special effects. This can create curiosity and open doors for business. Screen-printing, if explored to its full potential has vast applications. Customers and print buyers should be made aware of UV’s capabilities so that they can enhance their print".

"UV is a specialised  job. Only those with a sound knowledge coupled with a sense of high creativity should venture into this area,"  Kamlakar cautions. Print finish through screen printing process goes a long way in supporting the creativity of the print buyers as it gives the ultimate effect which is not possible by any other process."

(with inputs from Shripad Bhat)