Sheds, Myspace, dodgy carousels and tattooing: Images spends an afternoon with Will and Ziggy from Monster Press
“It was a custom carousel, really terrible, that we bought from an old man in a shed,” laughs Will Petersen as he recalls how he and his business partner Ziggy Hill started off in screen printing. Ziggy was 17 and was studying art at college when Will, then aged 20, was kicked off his art and media course for going on holiday to Australia rather than turning up to college for three weeks.
Ziggy had talked to Will about screen printing before and as Will had “nothing to do”, they gave £1000 to the man in the shed and took the carousel back to yet another shed, this time in Ziggy’s parents’ garden in Fleet. Before they left, the man gave them a half-day class in screen printing. “He taught us how to screen print really badly, basically,” grins Will. “He had his screens in a box with a hairdryer and had a washout made of a big container. When he told us how to do gradients he didn’t mention anything about halftones, he just said you had to go into Paint and use the spray paint thing and that you had to do it by hand! Yeah, that started us up really well…” They initially cured all their prints with a flash. “It was really terrible,” confirms Will.
Despite the less than auspicious start to their screen printing careers, Monster Print is now a busy, successful business that has carved out a niche for itself. Thanks to the online social network wonder that was Myspace, Will and Ziggy quickly found work in the beginning. “We whored ourselves out on there to any bands who would let us print stuff badly,” says Ziggy, his voice completely deadpan. They quickly learned how to print, and soon realised that most of the problems they were experiencing were to do with equipment, not a lack of skill. “You think you’re doing something wrong, and then you realise it’s down to the press,” explains Ziggy.
The power of the press
When Ziggy’s parents moved to Saudi Arabia, the hunt began for new premises. Their criteria: a three-bedroom house with a double garage within a hundred miles of Fleet. They ended up in Westbury, Wiltshire, bought a Vastex six-colour press and instantly saw an improvement. “It made a big difference,” says Will, with Ziggy adding: “It’s probably one of the best brands you can get.”
The house wasn’t ideal, explains Will: “It was really small and it was too easy to be distracted. We were washing stuff out in the shower and the garden.” They then moved the business to the industrial estate in Westbury that they are still on now, although they are looking to move to slightly larger premises near Bath and Bristol, where all the staff live. They started off in a small, 600 square foot, studio, then after a year and a half moved to a nearby studio that was twice the size. They bought a second press and soon found they were printing all day and answering emails all night, and so they employed someone to help out.
It’s nearly nine years since they started and they are now in their third, much larger unit on the estate, where they have been for the past two and a half years. There are seven people working in the business, although it was eight until their relabeller took maternity leave recently. For a seemingly incredibly laidback pair, they’ve built up a thriving business in a competitive industry – no easy task.
Interestingly, while they could easily keep expanding the business, they are adamant that they don’t want to do this, interrupting each other in their need to get their point across. “I don’t understand why you’d hire more people to do more work to pay more people to be stressed,” says Ziggy. “We want to keep it small: one press with a couple of guys doing good work rather than five presses and a 24- hour shop,” adds Will. “I just don’t get it.” “We don’t need millions of pounds, not that anyone ever earns that in T-shirt printing, but we’re good on the wages that we’re on,” continues Ziggy. “Most people when they go into a company are ‘Bigger, better, bigger, bigger, more, more, MORE!’ – but nah.” “We’re cool with how we are,” finishes Will.
It’s an attitude that is backed up by their set hours of 9-5, Monday to Friday. It appears that Monster Press truly is a company where a good life-work balance has been achieved without denting the bottom line.
Finding their niche
The company’s clients are independent bands and clothing companies: “We do all the orders that the big companies don’t want to do,” says Ziggy. They tend to do the smaller runs, and are well-known for it now, with Ziggy pointing out that they are always either busy or really busy. “We don’t pay for any advertising,” says Will. “We just post whatever we think looks good on Instagram and that’s pretty much it. We were using Facebook but it’s dead now. We have 8,000 followers but a standard post will only get a couple of hundred views, unless you pay for it.” They also have a blog that is updated when they have a spare moment, which is once a month or so, Will explains, at which point a slightly perplexed Ziggy interrupts with: “We have a blog?!” He happily confesses to banning himself from the office a few years ago, leaving Will and another member of staff to deal with that side of things. It’s a division of labour that appears to work well.
Most orders tend to be for runs of about 500-1,000 pieces, which is why they’re enthusiastic about their MHM S-Type Xtreme 10-colour press that they bought earlier this year, along with some new production management software. “We got it because we thought – and we were right – that it would be user-friendly and have a quick set-up. Most of our jobs are so minimal that we have to have them on and off quickly,” explains Will. “This is really nice and smooth, it goes where you want and if it’s a hairline out then you don’t have an anxiety attack that when you turn it you’re going to muck it up and it’s all going to be out of registration. The printing is fast because the tables don’t go up and down, they just stay level. There’s a really long list of quite small things, but it all adds up.” He notes that it’s also easy to train staff to print using the S-Type Xtreme.
Another job the press is well suited for is the current fad for printing on sleeves. “It’s a bit of a trend at the moment, full arms,” says Will. “There was a stage where we were mainly printing black ink on white T-shirts and white ink on black T-shirts, and when we first started it was neon.” As for the Ts themselves, Gildan Softstyle is their basic T-shirt, although for those looking to spend a bit more they recommend the Gildan Premium tee, or Bella+Canvas. “Bella+Canvas is what we usually wear ourselves,” says Ziggy.
A creative air permeates the whole Monster Press building. The walls of the unit are hung with tees that have been selected for their designs, the office is covered with framed prints and even Will and Ziggy’s tattoos are intricately designed (often by Ziggy, who works as tattoo artist at the weekends). They’re hands-on with every T-shirt Monster Press prints and it’s this that keeps them enthusiastic about their work.
“We get some really cool designs, which is pretty much the main reason why I like printing,” concludes Will.