Join us, if you will, on a factory tour (it’s one of Daddy Pig’s favourite things!) and allow us to introduce to you the wonderful process of manufacturing British ceramics. For us, this means our gorgeous range of fine bone china mugs and jugs and our durable earthenware pet bowls.
The factory we use for our ceramics is based in Stoke-on-Trent, right in the heart of The Potteries, an area of the UK synonymous with manufacturing the world’s finest ceramics since the early 18th Century. Jason heads up the whole operation and is supported by a wonderfully skilled team of crafts people, each with their own specialist skill and many with several decades of experience working in the ceramics industry. There’s also Lola, Jason’s adorable little pug who is of course, head of customer services and tea breaks!
The inspiration for our ceramic designs has been taken from our own piggy family, past and present; Humphrey, Ernie, Martha and Gertie. After designing and painting our initial artwork using water colour paints here at Guinea Pig HQ, we sent our original paintings over to the design team to be scanned in using their high-resolution scanners. The scanners pick up every tiny detail and help to maintain the character of each of our paintings. We worked closely with the team of graphic designers to set about the task of applying our designs to our chosen range of ceramics. Firstly, we had to ensure that each design was the right size, shape and orientation for the piece that it was going to be applied to, wonky mugs and back to front jugs just will not do! We had great fun printing out our designs and sticking guinea pigs everywhere with bits of cellotape, it’s all very technical!
Once our layouts had been confirmed (and we’d run out of cellotape) we signed off the designs and passed them over to Andy the graphic designer ready to work his digital wizardry. A few clicks later (along with lots of other technical knowhow that we don’t understand) and voila, a beautiful work sheet had been created with our designs all laid out and ready to be screen printed.
In terms of applying designs to ceramics you have two options, digital printing or screen printing. Whilst digital printing certainly has its merits, we opted for screen printing for our range of ceramics. By employing the screen printing method, this meant that we could maintain the best quality and consistency across all of our products. With our original art work being created in water colour, the process of screen printing preserves more detail and gives a much more realistic effect when it comes to replicating the design on ceramics. By printing a run of screens, we were also able to ensure that colours and details remained as true to our original paintings as possible.
Having opted for screen printing, our designs were then passed from the design studio down to the factory floor where they are fed into a screen printing machine. An intricate mesh screen is created and each individual colour in our design applied to the screen using specialist ceramic colours and glazes. This process is repeated until all of the colours had been added and the design is complete. Screen printing is a very skilled and time consuming process and requires lots of individual components being pulled together to create the final screen ready for application.
From the screen printing room, our completed screens are then passed to the team in the application department. Here, individual components from each design, known as decals, are painstakingly hand cut and applied to the ceramic pieces using age-old methods and techniques. In addition to the designs and screens, each of the ceramic shapes (known as white-ware) in our guinea pig range is also manufactured in the UK.
The screen printed decals are gently floated in warm water to lift the printed surface away from the backing paper. The decal is then placed onto the pottery before being aligned, sponged and squeegeed to perfection. Whilst some designs are printed to shape and applied directly to the ceramic piece, others rely on placing individual components by eye, something that comes with many years of experience and practice.
You’ll see from the photographs that at this stage, each of the design elements is surrounded by a translucent yellow frame, the screen backing paper. During the firing process (which we’ll come on to in a moment) this yellow part of the screen burns away leaving only the coloured design behind.
The last part of the application process is our back stamp. Applied to the underside of each piece, this proudly states that the pieces were all designed, manufactured and hand decorated in the UK (of course).
Once dried, the ceramics pieces are expertly loaded (no piece can touch another otherwise they fuse together!) into an electric kiln to be fired. During the firing process, pieces are gradually heated to over 1000 degrees. During the firing cycle, the glaze on the ceramic opens up and the screen printed design fuses into the surface. This is why our pieces are all dishwasher and microwave safe, they’ve chemically fused at high temperatures. At this stage, the translucent yellow frame and excess screen will burn away leaving behind just the design.
Once cooled, pieces are unloaded from the kiln and quality checked before being carefully packaged up and shipped over to us at Guinea Pig HQ ready to send out to all our lovely guinea pig friends.
So there you have it folks, the magical journey behind manufacturing the best quality fine bone china guinea pig themed ceramics especially for you!
To finish off, here is our delightful range of ceramics, all proudly design and manufactured in the UK. These adorable piggy themed mugs are fine bone china, perfect for that morning brew!
And now for our earthenware pet bowls, expertly (and rather handsomely) modeled by Humphrey. They're weighty (so they don't tip up during meal times) and top quality earthenware so they'll endure feed time for years to come.
Finally, our gorgeous fine bone china jugs. Available in 1/4, 1 and 2 pint sizes, they're perfect for flowers, custard, gin, utensils and milk, not all at the same time though!
Coming soon.....new additions to our range of ceramic guinea pig gifts, watch this space!
Wow! What an amazing process. And the end products are beautiful, definitely on my Christmas list this year. Tea always tastes great out of china cups, but I’m sure it will be even greater from guinea design cups!!
What an interesting article. As an amateur art and craft person found it so refreshing to see work being done so beautifully. Great that you do screen printing as opposed to digital. I only joined up as my nephew Samuel Forrest is a Guinea-pig fanatic, well all animals. He is going into animal welfare when older. He had to have his rabbit put to sleep just now and I want to get him a little gift. Please keep on with articles etc so interesting and makes site personal.