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The Many Faces of Screenprinting

Screenprinting offers dimension, accurate color, uniformity, tight registration and brilliant effects which are often easier to achieve with this process than by other methods.

Many people associate screenprinting with T-shirts. But screenprinting on textiles is only one of many aspects of screenprinting. Every day we come in contact with screenprinted items — the drapes in your living room, a suntan lotion tube, your fishing registration, the rear window defogger on your car — but most of us aren’t aware of how they are printed.

The advantages of screenprinted items are durability, chemical and moisture resistance, vibrant hues, fade resistance, and protection against touching and abrasion. In addition, the size and the shape of the item — from a stadium banner to a tiny stick-on thermometer — are not barriers to the process.

What is screenprinting?
Refer to your Pocket Pal, and you’ll get a basic sketch of the process, one that hasn’t changed much since early Chinese and Egyptian artisans achieved the same effects with silk screens.

Today, the process is done by machine (automatic or semi-automatic) or by hand. Fabric or wire (usually a man-made material to minimize screen distortion) is stretched over a frame. Part of the screen is blocked with a stencil, and an emulsion is photo-processed over the rest of the screen, leaving an open area through which the ink will pass. On the press, the screen is brought down over the substrate. The substrate may be paper, glass, cloth, plastic, wood . . . or any of a thousand possibilities. A squeegee draws the ink across the screen. The design is formed where ink is pushed through the screen.

Screenprinters often specialize in one or a few categories which may include decals, point of purchase displays, advertising and promotion materials, industrial or electronic applications, containers, or outdoor advertising including banner and fleet signs.

Signs and banners
From a single counter card to a series of giant banners, screenprinting is not limited by materials of varying rigidity or size. A giant sheet of metal which could not contort through the rollers of an offset printing press can be screenprinted easily.

Screenprinters who specialize in signs and banners often offer complementary services such as steel rule die cutting, laminating, mounting, punching, drilling, collating and packaging.

Advertising specialties
Novelty items given to customers as a promotional aid are often screenprinted with aggressive chemical and abrasion resistant inks. Fingernails, watches and rings — as well as the natural oils on people’s hands — can damage conventional inks. Screenprinting enhances the durability of items which are subjected to constant handling, scuffing or extremes in temperature or moisture.

Decals
Produced in a variety of styles in any combination of colors, decals can be applied to most surfaces. Application defines the type: from slide-off to varnish-on to dry-release or pressure sensitive. Large or small, screenprinted decals — with their heavy deposits of ink for durability and vibrancy — can reproduce very fine detail.

Bottles and containers
Remember those milk bottles on your front porch, way back when? Even today, fired-on decals are practical, as they eliminate the need for relabeling and can withstand the container being reused. The container retains the desired glossy or matte appearance of the decal, even after washing, sterilization and exposure to acids and alkalis.

Fine arts and serigraphy
Serigraphs are screenprints produced by the artist, usually in a limited quantity with each print signed and numbered. Multicolored prints require the artist or his chromist to prepare separate screens for each color — using often up to 30 different screens.

Industrial and high tech
When tight quality controls are combined with flexibility and durability, screenprinting meets the demands of computers, circuitry and electronics.

Textiles
Any pattern with a variety of colors can be screenprinted, from your carpet to your pajamas and underwear. Screenprinted designs are bright and durable and can withstand many washings without losing brightness.

Outdoor advertising & transit graphics
Screenprinted billboards not only offer vivid colors (visible from a distance), they also provide durability against weather and sunshine, and can incorporate special effects such as backlighting. Transit graphics include interior and exterior signs on buses, subways and taxicabs.

Summary
Screenprinting is a sensible alternative to other imaging processes for many applications. Today’s screenprinting is an up-to-date, competitive and sensitive graphic arts process, oriented equally to mass production as it is to limited runs.

Copyright 2010, Printer’s NW Trader, Sandy Hubbard, Publisher, 1-800-426-2416. No portion of this article may be re-printed or re-used without crediting Printer’s NW Trader. Special thanks to Jim Wakefield at Cascade Graphics, a trade screenprinting firm in Bend, Oregon, for assistance in preparing this overview.

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Another Good Day

A tiny tale about trade printing  
by Sandra Hubbard

   It would be a good day if it was cut into a “plus,” bad if it was an “X.” He held his breath as he unfolded the waxed paper and spread it flat. The sandwich sat there—whole, no cuts. They knew they were supposed to cut it into fourths. And lettuce! What was going on? He tried to slip the offending leaf from between the slices, but it clung to the mayonnaise. In a bold move, he pulled out his penknife and sliced into the sandwich—top to bottom, side to side. No diagonals. There, he thought, I’m master of my own fate: it will be a good day.

   He hoped he was right.

   Last night he dreamed that his customer had seen the trade printer delivering the job, hopped into the truck, and drove off into the sunset with him.

   “That’s not how it works,” his daughter Amy had told him. “Why would a trade printer want to steal your customers? You are his customer.”

   He hadn’t been convinced when Amy had suggested using a trade house to do work that was too big for his presses. She had timed it perfectly to coincide with one of his famous “That’s the last time I send a job to a competitor” speeches. His tirades usually led into a saga about how he couldn’t afford bigger presses with more color capability. This time she was ready.

  “I checked references, years in business, quality of work,” Amy had said earnestly about the trade printer she had chosen. Then she had dazzled him with that “you-can-trust-me” smile he knew so well.

   I’ll try it, he thought as he bit into a fourth of his sandwich, just this once.

   Of course, if everything went smoothly, getting the trade discount would mean he could make a nice little profit on the markup. And, having a trade printer do the work—or part of the work—opened up markets he couldn’t serve before.

   “I want to meet him, face to face,” he recalled saying.

   He and the trade printer had discussed the menu of services, who was responsible for what, how the job would get from point A to point B, turnaround, discounts, confidentiality . . . and that he would call the trade printer when he was ready. (“I don’t want you bugging me all the time, man,” he had said. Amy had rolled her eyes.)

   When he finally made the call, he was pleased to discover that the trade printer had a lot of experience with the type of job he was bidding.

   “You’re lucky,” the trade printer had said. “We see this type of work at least once a week. When we first started running these things, we had a heck of a time with scuffing. But, all the bugs have been worked out already. You should have it late tomorrow.”

   Later, the trade printer had called back with suggestions on how to set up the job more efficiently next time. “It’ll save you a little money,” he said. “By the way, we can score it for you. But it’s your call, man,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to bug you.”

   So, here he waited, chewing a sandwich that had horseradish on it, for goodness sake. Were the people at the deli on drugs?

   “Boss, you gotta see this,” someone yelled from the loading dock. He tried to swallow, but the sandwich was dry, so dry.

   He looked out his window at a wrapped skid, sitting by itself as the rest of the job was being off-loaded. He had a fleeting thought that it looked like a giant sandwich.

   “Dad, phone,” murmured Amy as she headed down the stairs to the dock.

   “This is Connie at the Sandwich Store. Honey, ya’ll probably think we’re crazy. We delivered the wrong sandwich. We got yours right here, cut just the way you like it.”

   He looked out the window at Amy, down on the loading dock and waving a press sheet triumphantly. It was going to be a good day.

   For a list of trade professionals in your area, consult the Northwest Trade Directory in every issue of Printer’s NW Trader magazine. The Northwest Trade Directory lists a wide range of trade services including trade printing— which can be found under the “Litho Trade Printing” and “Letterpress Trade Printing” headings. This story is fiction by the way, but it could be true, couldn’t it?
  

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What Your Employees Say About You

Your people say a lot about you.

I’m not implying that they gossip about you or that they say complimentary things about you (although they may). What I mean is this: the way your employees behave to customers — in person, over the phone, in writing — is a statement about you and your company.

Of course, courtesy and respect of customers should be a given; each person should know that it is his or her responsibility and that it is expected.

Sooner or later, however, most companies end up with some type of guidelines for customer relations. These companies recognize that it is not just the president or the salesperson or the estimator who needs to know how to interact with customers. For example, when a customer enters the pressroom to do a press check, everyone from the press operator to the custodian to the customer service rep to the ink room manager should know how to make a good impression.

And once the guidelines are in place, employees know that rude behavior is not sanctioned and will be dealt with if it is chronic.

However, there has developed a grey area where rudeness is expected, tolerated and even venerated. Consider the people in our companies who are our network administrators, our prepress gurus, our website masters, our techno prima donnas.

Some are great, don’t get me wrong: they’re true wizards and nice people as well.

Others fall into a category I see in every city, in every region. They are people who think they can operate outside the laws of decency. They don’t believe they should treat customers with respect, dignity and courtesy. In fact, many of these people verbally abuse your customers, intimidate them, tell them their work is garbage and unsalvageable, tell them they are too busy to worry about their petty problems, tell them that “that’s just the way the system’s set up,” tell them that they hate this stinking job and they’re just waiting for a job at Google. 

Furthermore, as technology evolves, these are the employees who end up spending the most time with your customers! What astounds me is that owners and managers who normally would not tolerate this type of behavior in other employees, can come up with a dozen excuses to justify it.

1. We paid a high price to get these folks.

2. We don’t understand anything they say.

3. We don’t understand their jobs.

4. They work odd hours, and we never get to see them so we can chastise them.

5. We’re afraid that if we reprimand them (or gently outline our standards of dealing with the public) they will leave.

6. We’re afraid that they’re just a temper tantrum away from quitting, since that’s how we got them in the first place.

7. They’re pioneers in the digital realm and should not have to be reined in by customer relations.

8. If they’re short term employees (hired guns and renegades) who are only in your face long enough to establish a system and then get out, their effect (and damage) on our customers supposedly will be insignificant. 

9. If our customers are afraid of them, they’ll think we’re cool and smart and technologically advanced.

10. They’re misfits who never learned social graces, so we should feel sorry for them.

11. If we try to hire someone else, the new person may be really obnoxious, and, worst of all,

12. Everyone does it.

In the end, however, it boils down to you, the employer. Because each and every person who deals with your customers needs to know what your ground rules are—whether you express them directly, in a meeting, in a memo, or in a handbook.

I have kept the following clipping for years because it echoes what I believe about customer service, and because it especially applies now that we have begun to make excuses for our techno-nerds.

It is written by Ned Thomson, president of Thomson-Shore*, a book printing firm in Dexter, Michigan. Thomson says: “Our belief has always been that a company’s success should rely on every employee’s individual contribution. Each employee . . . press operator, receptionist, president, janitor, etc. . . . each person has an opportunity to influence what the customer thinks about our company, and those collective impressions determine whether we succeed or fail. We believe quality is not just the appearance of the book we print but it also the way we respond to a customer. It is how fast we return quotes, how fast we answer the phone or return your calls, how we respond if there is a problem, how we respond if a customer asks a questions or seeks advice, how quickly we ship . . . all those things that we would like to have done for us if we were the customer.

“It may sound corny,” adds Thomson, “but the ‘Golden Rule’ can be a pretty good thing to keep in mind when you conduct business — because customers will respond to it.”

*Printer’s Ink, Volume 7, Issue 4, Winter 1992, published by Thomson-Shore, Dexter, Michigan.

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