Moving to a new shop space is exciting but also intimidating. The process can be riddled with challenges or go smoothly. Anthony Abi-Saad found both when he moved his shop, Abi-Saad Print & Design, to a new location in Taunton, Massachusetts. It wasn’t the first time he’d moved, but it was a big new challenge. One main challenge: creating a darkroom from scratch. With a bit of creativity and some expert help, he was able to make it all happen.
This one-man print show started out with heat press transfers. When an order came in for 100 shirts for a local band, he knew a heat press wouldn’t cut it. He found a screen printing kit at Michaels and picked up a blue press from Amazon.
Learning to screen print out of his parents’ basement, Anthony’s beginner shop first went by the name “AA Print & Design,” after his initials. It soon changed its name to Abi-Saad Print & Design, and Anthony opened up a website and official shop in 2019. He was going to school for graphic design, working the night shift at another screen print shop, and opening his own business at the same time.
After re-investing all the profits from his screen printing business back into the shop, he was able to purchase a small conveyor dryer. He and his brother found a storefront to move the shop to, though the printing space was still in a basement. From there, the brothers upgraded to a 6x6 press, an LED exposure unit, and a BBC Big Buddy conveyor dryer.
Anthony’s brother had to back out of the business due to health issues, and Anthony looked for part-time printers to help get orders up the stairs and out the door. The shop was running out of space. Again.
With orders coming in, Anthony needed more help. A friend who worked with him on the night shift at the other shop came to work for him, and he hired a couple more part-time workers. But with more help came more people moving around in a small shop. It was time to move. Anthony began looking around for a larger shop space and got referred to a warehouse space by a friend. He jumped at the opportunity, and Abi-Saad Print & Design was ready to move for a third time.
The move itself went smoothly, as Anthony’s friends pitched in to help out. The hardest part of the move was dragging the 6x6 press up from the basement shop. When all was said and done, the move took about three days. But there wasn’t a celebration after the shop moved. Anthony came down with Covid-19 right after the shop moved, and everything ground to a halt. Thankfully he was back up and working on the shop just a week later.
The new shop location is a large warehouse space with a detached office across the hall. Abi-Saad Print & Design now has neighbors: a church and a gym. Anthony likes having neighbors. They bring a sense of community to the shop area.
“I try to be my best self there,” Anthony joked.
The shop also features a loading dock, making moving and shipping orders out much easier. There was only one issue with the space. Where would the darkroom go?
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BUILDING A DARKROOM
A dedicated darkroom space is vital to a successful print shop. The space needs to be light-safe, warm, and dry. But if your print shop is in a large open space, what do you do? Anthony’s answer: build a darkroom from the ground up.
The best part of building his own darkroom was having expert help. One of Anthony’s friends is a contractor, and helped him plan and construct the space. Before any equipment had been moved in from the old shop, Anthony measured his equipment, then taped out a layout on the new shop floor. This way they could get a precise layout before any building even began.
With the planning done, it was time to build. The build itself only took a few hours. From there, the crew painted the outside and started setting up the darkroom space. With a small darkroom space, the heat from the dehumidifier keeps the space warm. A hygrometer keeps track of the temperature and humidity, which also is kept to a minimum because of the small space. There’s room for an exposure unit, screen racks, a dehumidifier and air purifier, a recycling bin for old films, and plenty of space for supplies like emulsion, scoop coaters, and more.
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Anthony planned to place the washout booth and filtration system against a wall of the darkroom for quick access. But there was a problem: the space didn’t have proper plumbing or drainage. It was time to do some problem-solving.
The darkroom was set up, but there wasn’t anywhere to rinse or reclaim screens yet. The water line for the shop wasn’t in a good spot for a washout booth, and there wasn’t a drain in the entire warehouse shop. Anthony got to work getting quotes from plumbing companies. Three companies visited the shop and gave him quotes, saying it wouldn’t be a problem. Then all three ghosted him.
Setting up and running a shop without proper plumbing is tricky. Anthony tried to set up in between these plumbing calls, but couldn’t do much with reclaim since there wasn’t a space for it yet. Finally, he brought an inspector to the shop to approve a plan. A company signed on to do the project, but when they arrived they realized that they needed a concrete cutter to get the job done.
With all this trouble, what’s Anthony doing in the meantime? Well, he’s created a DIY washout booth/dunk tank hybrid to help him reclaim screens, and rinse screens outside. It isn’t perfect, but orders need to get out the door.
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ADVICE FOR PRINTERS
Moving screen print shop locations twice provides the printer with wisdom about the best way to get it done. If Anthony could do it all again, he’d coordinate the transition between shops better, and plan to cut off order dates sooner so he’d have more time to move and set up shop again.
When a lease ends, printers need to be completely out of that shop. Having a plan ahead of time will help the transition go smoothly, and you won’t leave anything behind.
Anthony has some advice for printers starting out, too. First, answer the question “why.”
“There are so many reasons to get into [screen printing]. The first thing is defining why you even want to do it,” Anthony said.
Abi-Saad Print & Design was initially created to support local artists and create sustainable apparel. That’s Anthony’s “why.”
The second piece of advice is to not rush anything. Take the time to figure out your brand, your space, and your plan. No successful business was built in a day, so don’t rush into it. Do it right the first time and you’ll be set up for success.
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WHAT’S NEXT FOR ABI-SAAD PRINT & DESIGN?
With a young go-getter at the helm of this print shop, it’s bound to go places. Anthony’s long-term goal is to get an automatic press and promote sustainability in the garment decoration industry. He hopes to switch to water-based ink & upgrade his washout booth — first from the temporary DIY solution, then to a larger booth.
Beyond these goals, Anthony wants to step into the world of embroidery to increase and diversify his offerings. He’s waiting to go big on an embroidery machine so he can go all in. There’s no doubt it’ll create even more demand for his business. Who knows: he might need to move shops one more time to accommodate his dreams.
Upgrading a shop space is a big deal, and moving locations takes time and effort. Finding the right space makes all the time and effort worth it. Abi-Saad Print & Design is no longer in a basement and has plenty of space to expand. There’s no telling where they’ll go next.