Images visits Peckham Levels to see how 3rd Rail is kickstarting a whole new generation of printers
“London’s biggest open access screen printing facility combining paper and fabric printing with studio and desk space”. That’s how screen printing company 3rd Rail summarises its new venture, 3rd Rail Print Space, which opened in January this year.
The name 3rd Rail will be familiar to many in the industry: it’s been operating as a commercial print shop for the past decade during which time it has printed many high profile jobs (with one of its designs even gracing the Images Decorated Product of the Month spot). The concept behind 3rd Rail Print Space grew out of the company’s desire to build a comprehensive print hub and modern learning environment that would make screen printing accessible to a new audience while providing those who are already experienced in their chosen medium with both the equipment and the opportunity to swap ideas with like-minded co-workers.
“Over the years we’ve perfected some pretty experimental techniques,” says co-director Rob Burgess. “We’re really excited about the possibility of exchanging ideas with people who are just as passionate and curious as us.” The project gives people the option to buy memberships, rent a studio or desk space, or opt for pay-as-you-go studio access. It also, rather neatly, brings 3rd Rail full circle: the company started out by renting a T-shirt carousel in an open access studio before setting up in its own unit: now, it is ensuring others have the same opportunity to start their own fledgling businesses.
3rd Rail Space is located in Peckham Levels, a community hub for local businesses and creative types just off the main high street in Peckham, south London, on the site of an old car park. After two years of planning and building, the car park was transformed into a brand new facility that opened to the public at the end of 2017, offering a mix of classes from yoga to photography, along with cafes, bars and co-working spaces.
By November 2017, shortly before Peckham Levels was due to open, 3rd Rail had raised enough money to cover the rent and equipment for 3rd Rail Print Space, but had fallen just short of the full amount needed to complete the building works. Not to be deterred, the team launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise £10,000 to cover the cost of transforming its new 4,000 square foot space into a fully functional, open access screen printing studio.
A flurry of pledges in the last few days of the campaign in December – including one from headwear and bag manufacturer Beechfield Brands – meant the refurbishment could finally go ahead. The final amount raised was £11,558 with funding from 117 backers.
Roger McHugh, MD of Beechfield Brands, comments: “We were happy to contribute, albeit in a small way, to what promises to be a fantastic project. For individuals to be able to rent facilities for a short while, to help to realise their dreams, is simply brilliant.”
When Images visited the studio at the end of January, the building work was nearly finished. The launch party the week before had seen around 120 people pay (as part of the Kickstarter) to screen print their own tote bag with a design by graphic artist Supermundane, and to look round the new facility.
It’s a large, bright space. On the left are four medium-size studios with one larger one at the end that is currently being used as a gallery; the studios range in size from 130 sq ft to 400 sq ft. A six-colour/four-station M&R Kruzer manual screen carousel is housed at the far end of the main room along with a 3m tunnel dryer and an 80cm by 100cm heat press. There are fabric printing tables and paper printing tables on the right-hand side, with light pouring over them from the huge windows.
Long work tables are provided for those who choose to rent one of the 150cm by 90cm desk spaces – a cheaper alternative to renting a studio and an option which includes either 10 or 50 hours of open studio access each month – and there is also an office where manager Holly Clarke works.
The room housing the two washout units, exposure unit and screen drying cupboard is particularly noteworthy: it contains what was originally a ramp to the lower level of the car park and so users are required to step down to the units – a regular reminder of the building’s origins.
3rd Rail Print Space is, explains Holly, the only open access studio in London that offers garment, fabric and paper printing and also provides professional level equipment so that freelancers can come in and carry out print projects from beginning to end in one place. It is also unusual in that garment decorators will be able to use plastisol inks, as well as water-based (the latter tends to be the default choice in open access studios).
Studio memberships start at £100 a month for 50 hours’ access, and workshops are offered to members and non-members alike. It’s the workshops that Holly, who had previously worked for seven years at another open access studio that focused on textiles, is particularly excited about. “Courses are something that I really wanted to specialise in; I thought, ‘This is something I definitely want to be a part of’,” she explains. “We’ve got one-day introductory ones and intermediate level ones, and in the future we’re going to do Meet The Maker ones where someone from the industry will come in and run a course.”
The workshops are competitively priced, starting at £45 for children, and £70 a day for adults.
Those people using the studio will be given a full induction on how to use all the equipment – someone may have come in for paper printing, for example, but the studio’s set-up gives them the opportunity to delve into fabric and garment printing if they fancy it too. Holly will be on hand to answer any questions during office hours, and she’ll also soon be helped by technicians thanks to an internship scheme she’s in the process of setting up. She already has a list of people wanting to apply despite not having even advertised the position.
A one-stop shop for consumables is available plus a limited stock of larger items, such as T-shirts. A black book containing supplier contact details and any discount deals will also be available to members who want to order additional products.
It’s anticipated the studio will host a constantly changing mix of people, including design graduates, own-brand label and online store owners, people who print for a hobby and those looking to learn a new skill. “That’s what’s nice about it: we’ll have range of different levels in here, and they’ll all use it in their own way,” says Holly.
The printer’s perspective
“I’ve just recently started printing at 3rd Rail Print Space and so far I am really enjoying being back in screen printing. Holly, the studio manager, is super helpful and always on hand to answer questions and offer helpful hints and tips. The 3rd Rail monthly memberships are very well priced in comparison to most other studios in London. They’re also super flexible with printing hours and have a great range of space available, including printing tables, T-shirt carousel and a heat press.”