When 12-year-old Lucy Wisnasky was assigned to do a science project, she knew she wanted to do an experiment related to screen printing. Her parents own Shirts Galore & More, a print shop where Lucy has uncovered her passion for screen printing. Why not perform an experiment that's interesting to her and potentially improve an aspect of their business?
Initially, Lucy wanted to discover what was the best plastisol ink. To determine what would be considered the best ink, she would had to test for many parameters like how the ink flashes, the opacity, the feel of the print, how it washes, etc. Lucy's mom Mary said the science fair only allowed to test for one variable. They decided on testing ink opacity because it's the one of the first ways people judge a shirt.
"It sounded a lot easier than doing a bunch of laundry," Lucy said.
They narrowed the experiment even more by testing white plastisol ink. Her family receives many orders of white ink on darker garments; and white plastisol ink is difficult to print. It would solve a real-life problem for her family.
To get started, Lucy had to decide which inks she would test. She first picked Dynamic Low-Bleed Ink because Lawson Screen & Digital Products was close to their shop and they use it often. She picked FN-INK™ because they use it in their shop frequently as well.
As for the third ink, Lucy and her mom researched to find out what most screen printers consider to be the best white ink on the market. They looked through Facebook groups and online forums for information. Lucy also went to Lawson and interviewed Brian Lang who has been in the industry for 34 years. He told her that One Stroke would be the best ink because it has a chemical makeup that no one could match.
With the wide price range (One Stroke being the most expensive, FN-INK™ being the least expensive), they thought the price would equate to the quality of the ink.
"We figured that this was gold," Mary said.
Lucy believed that One Stroke would have the best opacity due to Brian's suggestion and its high price.
Time to test out her theory. The mom and daughter duo bought new screens and checked their tension to ensure that they all were all the same. They also replaced the bulb in their exposure unit. Lucy coated the screens with the same technique on each one. For the design, they burned a simple rectangle.
"We chose it because it was easier to see all the white," Lucy said.
At their shop, they run an older Anatol automatic press to print on garments. They used the auto for the experiment to maintain consistent pressure on each print. She selected black Gildan Softstyle Jersey T-Shirts to print on (because "Bella is out of stock still.") Lucy set up the jobs and printed them by herself.
Lucy tried out two methods when she printed the ink. She first tried printing one hit of white ink.
"With one hit of ink, there wasn't that big of a difference [between all the prints]," Mary said.
Next, they tried print-flash-print. With the two hits, they could see a difference. They ran the experiment three times to make sure that any misplaced variable wouldn't botch the results. When the shirts came out of the dryer, they were shocked at what they saw.
Before they had printed on the shirts, Lucy labeled the ink's name inside the garments. After they had cured it, they mixed up the shirts on a table and looked at the ink to determine which ink was the brightest without explicitly knowing which ink was on the shirts.
"It was Financially Necessary Ink [that was the most opaque]," Lucy said.
"Every time, we picked that one," Mary added.
They weren't the only ones who made that determination. Lucy and Mary showed the shirts to other people, not telling them which shirt had what ink and asked them what they thought. They all chose FN-INK™ as well.
"Between Lawson and One Stroke, you really couldn't tell a difference," Mary said.
The judges at the science fair were a bit weary that they used their eyes to make the determination because it's subjective. An opacity-testing device exists (called a reflection or color transmission densitometer), but it costs thousands of dollars. It's not the kind of money you'd drop on your child's science project. The next best thing they had was their eyes to make the decision on which ink was the most opaque.
"Screen printing is subjective," Mary said. "We all have our opinions when we're looking at it."
Everyone was surprised at the results. Mary and her husband Ryan were pumped that FN-INK™ was the most opaque.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Mary said. "Since it's less expensive, I feel like I might be being cheap and not really helping out my customers and making sure they get the best product. But now I can confidently know that it's better than anything else."
Apart from the results, Lucy really enjoyed the project. Her favorite part? Stirring the ink.
"It was so satisfying," Lucy said.
Mary and Lucy would like to take the experiment a step further like washing the shirts many times to see how well the inks hold up and try printing the inks on different materials.
"There are ways we can continue it and keep learning," Mary said.
SHIRTS GALORE & MORE
Mary and Ryan jumped knees deep into screen printing. Four years ago, Ryan was working as a graphic designer for a local church. The church ordered custom shirts at Shirts Galore & More often. One day when Ryan was in the print shop, the owner mentioned that he was planning on selling the shop. Ryan didn't think much of it at the time, but the more him and Mary talked about it, the more it made sense to purchase the business.
"Yeah it sounded like a great idea to go into debt to buy a company," Ryan said ironically.
They took a risk and bought it. With his graphic design background, Ryan had done separations before and had good grasp on creating designs for prints. Although neither of them had ever screen printed before.
"That has definitely been a learning process over the last four years," Ryan said. "Now we can call ourselves screen printing professionals with the knowledge we've obtained... The industry is so helpful."
Located in Pontoon Beach, Illinois, Shirts Galore & More offers more than screen printing services. The business also provides embroidery, trophies, and decals. Ryan recently purchased a large format printer, so they'll be extending new services soon.
"It's a family business," Ryan said.
It sure is. Lucy helps out in almost every sector of the business. She'll help ship out orders, run the storefront, train new employees, assist customers, coat screens, load shirts on the press, tape screens, setup the auto, run the register, select the right mesh counts, fold shirts, and more. During the lockdown, she even learned how to run their online store on Shopify and now processes all online orders.
"We couldn't do this without her," Ryan said.
The only parts Lucy hasn't dabbled in is reclaiming screens and creating the designs. Her dad isn't ready to hand over a power washer and chemicals to his young daughter quite yet, but she's hungry to learn one day.
When she's older, Lucy wants to be a screen printer and take over the shop. For now, she'll keeping be the determined, hard worker that she is by learning more skills, honing in her craft, and continue making influential discoveries.