Paul Bristow turns artwork into face masks with HP Stitch S300

Responds to Covid-19 restrictions

Paul Bristow turns artwork into face masks with HP Stitch S300

The Covid-19 pandemic has seriously affected the nation’s galleries and museums, but Paul Bristow Associates’ new HP Stitch S300 means people can wear their favorite artworks as hygienic face masks.

The company’s roots began in art – founders Paul and Maggie Bristow were a print lecturer at Ravensbourne College and a textile designer, respectively – and has developed over the last 35 years to produce high-quality apparel and accessories for the museum sector. Now managed by the second generation of Bristows, Ben, and Sebastian, this family business works with the UK’s leading institutions, including Tate, V&A, Saatchi Gallery, National Gallery, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, plus premier international clients such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris.


While its product line would typically comprise T-shirts, tote bags, and home accessories for museums’ gift shops, this summer, Paul Bristow Associates responded quickly to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions to start printing face masks. For this application, the company installed a new printing solution, an HP Stitch S300.

Ben Bristow, director at Paul Bristow Associates, explains, “Pre-Covid we already used dye-sublimation for apparel because it achieves all-over print in rich colours, which is great for reproducing artworks on T-shirts. This summer, we were experiencing more and more demand for printed masks so needed more capacity, with the width to match our rotary press.”

Paul Bristow Associates turned to RA Smart, a specialist supplier of HP digital systems, for advice on the best textile printer to meet its needs. Demonstrated at the RA Smart booth at Printwear & Promotion LIVE! in January 2020, the HP Stitch series offers fast, predictable, and colour-accurate printing on both transfer paper and direct to fabric. Ideal for apparel and accessories, home décor, and soft signage applications, HP Stitch is the next generation in textile printing technology.


“We started as a screen-printing business, and those skills suited the art world,” says Ben. “However, it’s difficult for screen printing to compete with the definition and colour accuracy possible with digital, or with the potential offered by low order numbers. With screen, only large orders from big galleries were financially viable, but digital dye-sub enables us to make a profit whether we’re printing 50 pieces or 500. We can now reach smaller galleries who can order just 50 masks, 50 tea towels, and 50 bags and then have the confidence to reorder. HP Stitch has expanded the size of our market.”

RA Smart installed the HP Stitch S300 64″ textile printer at Paul Bristow Associates’ Wrexham premises in August 2020. It is now a key part of its end-to-end UK-based production process, spanning cutting and printing to sewing and finishing.

“The HP Stitch is good quality, robust, versatile and straightforward from an operator point of view,” says Ben. “The integrated rewind unit makes life easier, and colour matching is quick and simple, which is essential for reproducing artworks. The level of machine for the price is excellent.”

Ben explains that the HP Stitch is particularly good for face masks produced and maintained in line with WHO guidance: a three-layer mask made from an inner cotton layer, a non-woven center layer, and a polyester top layer, washed at 60ºC. Fully sublimated polyester washes well at this temperature, retaining both the design and essential hygiene. He adds that Paul Bristow Associates is also using Viraloff, a wash-stable, virus-repellent textile coating known to work against Coronavirus in two hours, allowing users to wear masks again safely.

Once the pandemic and the demand for face coverings recedes, Paul Bristow Associates will continue to use the HP Stitch for numerous other products and services, says Ben.

“This year, we have been moving more into print on demand and drop shipping, which requires a productive digital workflow. Our customers are conscious of sustainability, and we’re looking to use recycled polyester for fashion products, which is compatible with the Stitch. We’re expecting a busy 2021.”

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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