Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Overcoming Difficulty - Silkscreening T-shirts

I totally needed a beer to handle this job...

Hi everyone! Monkey is here for our 200th post(!!!) and will be talking about the process of silkscreening the new "You're Not Alone Anymore" shirts aka the "Naricorn" (narwhal + unicorn=naricorn) shirt for short.

Hey all, so I won't be going into too many of the technical details of silkscreen printing here,because if you are interested, I'll be running a FREE demo/workshop on screenprinting at the SF Zine Fest, starting at 3:30 this Saturday, Sept. 4th. More details can be found here. So if you want to talk shop, I'll be there (also at the Monkey + Seal table the entire fest!).

Anyway, so on to the post. Overcoming difficulty. This past week, I have been a bit crazed, as trying to print 30-ish t-shirts with fairly tight registration with water-based textile inks when a)you don't have the right emulsion, b)you're used to printing with either water-based inks for PAPER, c)if you do print on shirts, you've only used plastisol inks, and d)you're out of screen opener. If this makes any sense to you great, if not, just know there were a lot of hurdles to making this shirt.

a)wax paper is not as good as freezer paper, b)my float coat was waaaay to thin for what I was doing

Besides only having one type of emulsion that doesn't hold up well to water-based textile inks (ie the stencil gets eaten away by the inks), the rest of the issues weren't so big. The main issue was that the emulsion (which our shop usually uses fine with plastisol inks). For those that have never screenprinted before, basically the emulsion is what is used to create a stencil of sort on the screen that prevents all the ink from seeping through your screen. Instead of a big huge flat of ink, you only get the parts that you want (the design) on the shirt. If you have holes in your emulsion, you'll get ink that you don't want onto whatever you're printing on. Thus, having ink that eats through your emulsion is a huge issue.

I had never used this current emulsion with the water-based textile inks, so I didn't know this might be a problem until I actually started printing. So with a screen with emulsion slowly degrading, I started to lose hope. I was frustrated at myself for not even considering the possibility, for not planning earlier (I was supposed to ship out the shirts the same day), and for not having all the supplies I needed to make the process easier.
The screen for printing the white layer

Thankfully, after a long day of experimentation and failure and being a bit of a rude jerk to Eve, I realized that being all upset was not going to solve anything. I apologized to Eve when I got home that night and started problem-solving. I started looking up emulsion comparisons and manufacturer's data sheets. I then started cross-referencing good emulsions with any local stores that might carry them. I then took care of the customer service issues, as many of these shirts were pre-ordered and I wanted to let our customers know what went wrong, and offered them a refund if they wanted to cancel. Finally, I took down the phone numbers of all the local stores that could possibly carry professional-level screenprinting supplies (speedball doesn't cut it! Sorry!) and then went to bed.

The next morning was spent on the phone trying to figure out where I could get some emulsion, and while I waited for a few return phone calls, I started systematically going through the process I had used to burn the screens, and realized that there were a few steps that I could have taken to potentially extended the life of the stencil. I then went to the studio, experimented again, and managed to find a way to use the emulsion I had (since I couldn't get the stuff I needed in a reasonable amount of time and at a decent price) and the shirts were printed!

The white layer printed!

White + blue layers = finished shirt! Now I just have to heat-set it.

The reason I wanted to share this story with you was that there were a lot of points where I wanted to just give up and refund everyone their money back. I wanted to curse the screenprinting gods and just kick a hole in my screens and knock buckets of ink over. I even contemplated outsourcing the printing to some other print shop. But I didn't. I stayed (relatively) calm, and by assessing and reassessing the situation, thinking outside the box, and going back to the basics, I was able to get the shirts printed!

The final shirt. Whew!

Panicking and freaking out is never going to make any situation any better. Stay rational, think creatively, and sometimes the most simple answer might be the one you're looking for. Anyone else with any good tips on how to handle adversary? Please share in the comments!

No comments: