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We asked Tony Palmer, from Palmprint Consultants for his TOP TEN TIPS for screen printers. Of course the first thing he said was "Only Ten?" 

1. Control the process. Control the print.

Put simply it means that we must look at every aspect of the process and introduce a control measure, don’t leave anything to chance or the current ever-changing mood of the stencil tech.

2. Replace the Squeegee’s

A sharp blade is important, it’s the piece that transfers the ink onto the shirt, if it’s not sharp we will lose detail. Many operators have favorite blades, some that have been with them longer than their diazo stained fingers. The truth is that they are a consumable item, if you take a piece of rubber and rub it on a piece of nylon

mesh 3000 times every day (optimistic I know!) it will probably feel just as sharp as when you cut it from the roll with the canteen butter knife. if we repeat that process every day, soon we will start to notice a slight dulling to the edge, the same edge that gives us that perfectly reproduced ® that the designer insisted was integral to the design and that you wanted to tape off.

The manufacturers of the rubber have a twisted sadistic streak and they all meet at weekends over a glass of whisky in front of an open fire, stroking a long-haired cat and laughing out loud about how they all use different colors to represent the same hardness of rubber (shore). ‘This week 65 is red but next week we will make it blue! Mwah haa haa!’

Select the correct shore and blade for the job and don’t just use the one that’s clean!

3. Mesh Selection

As the whole process of printing gets more and more automated, there are machines that will perform almost every task in a print shop, the choice of mesh per job is one of the last bastions of skill left in a busy shop.

Understand the difference between a 90 and a 120 and use that knowledge wisely. Know when to drop the mesh count and know when to compromise opacity for detail.

4. Quality over quantity

Get the quality right! All of today’s automatic presses can run at speeds in excess of 1000 per hour, but if the quality is bad then that’s 1000 bad prints flying down the tunnel dryer towards an unsuspecting catcher or cardboard box.

Once the quality is set as a high standard then the speed will come naturally, rushing the print process will result in left chest prints that look superb and crisp and pop right off the shirt, but they are all printed under the armpit because the loader was rushing.

5. We only make money when the squeegees are moving.

Again, this one sounds like a bland catch-all that is obvious, but the truth is that the long runs of yesteryear are very rare in today’s industry. They have been replaced with either a local club or business that has full access to the BTC catalogue and whose cousin is a designer (owns a cracked copy of Photoshop) and just loves Pantone’s colour of the hour, ‘dusky-mardy-aromatic-wetdog-brown-9123456C’. This new customer does not want to pay for ‘set-up’ because the guy down the road printing single color in his mums back bedroom doesn’t charge it. He wants white on black and black on white, pink on the blue shirts and blue on the pink and the yellow. He simply can’t see why he has to pay a color change fee as it’s the same design. This means we must be slick in the changeovers and downtime, predicting what we need when the press stops can reduce the lost time. An auto can produce 100 shirts in 6 minutes, if we spend 20 minutes setting it up and taking it down, then it’s obvious where we should concentrate our speed focus.

6. Look after the squishy things!

The hardest thing to control in any print shop, whether it is a well experienced, multi-automatic press shop or a single operator with a manual press, the staff.

Screen print is not the most attractive profession, we tend to take home more ink than is necessary, we smell like the toilets in a chemical factory, and we can produce the most colorful fluffy bogeys that any children’s entertainer would be proud to conjure!  It is important that we look after these squishy things and fully appreciate all the hardships they endure to produce prints that only the stalwarts that have had screen wash on a paper cut can appreciate.

7. Write it down

Make a template in the same shape as your press, you can even include the dodgy head that hasn’t worked since you ‘adjusted’ it with the hammer. Fill in this template for every job, recording the important bits, the five main solid variables that must be tamed on every print job, whether it’s a White Flash White job for the kids graduating from spending four weeks at school (how many leavers can we fit into one school year?) or the pseudo process licensed work that you post on Instagram, only for it be liked three times by family members.

Mesh, Blade, Speed, Angle, Pressure. The five hills on which we die every day. 

8. Don’t be afraid to try

This refers to the comfort zone we all find ourselves in, Printing is not a dormant technique that sits nicely to attention, it’s a fluid beast that looks cute enough to pet but will rip your arm off at the shoulder if you take your eye off it.

The industry is constantly changing, and new techniques appear every week. Buy that new ink. Try that different mesh. See what happens when. All of these can lead to spectacular failures! But we are printers, that’s how we learn.

9. Automate

Lots of new machinery which once was confined to the high-end printers, is now available and affordable. I can coat a screen consistently now, but I’ve been practicing since before the internet existed! An automatic coater might seem like a big investment, but once we start to introduce constants in the whole process, then we can start to standardize. On a Monday morning I am fresh from the relaxing weekend, and I coat a screen at the same pace the same pressure and same angle, you could measure the emulsion on a coated screen and it would be within half a gram on every mesh. By Friday I am throwing the emulsion on from a foot away, I am scraping the coater so fast it leaves scorch marks and the only coat I am interested in is the one I put on at 5 o clock on my way out of the door.

This all influences the exposure time, the longevity of the stencil and the sharpness of the print.

Take the steps to ensure every step of the process can be repeated irrespective of the operator.

10. Have fun

The art of slinging ink onto a shirt, polo, sweat or even a man-size onesie is difficult at the best of times. My last tip is to just enjoy the ride. Screen print can seem like a difficult profession to chase, but nothing beats that high as you step back and look at the job that you swore would be the end of you, now stacking up at the end of the dryer with not a trace of the tears that flowed only one hour earlier as the registration moved, the ink stuck to the underside of the screen and the catcher pointed out a leak that started 100 shirts ago.

So, send a hot coin down the dryer, stack the shirts backwards and forwards in the same pile, ask if this is a back print? 500 into a 600 front print run, spray your co-workers’ shoes with glue and have fun printing.

Tony Palmer, Palmprint Consultant


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