You’ve decided to jump into screen printing. Starting anything new can be intimidating. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some advice from seasoned printers to give you a leg up? Look no further. In this blog, five print shops share their top three tips for printers starting a screen print shop.
Photo by Jerome Haygood
Every print shop functions differently. This is based on a few different factors: the setup, the clientele, and the design taste of the printers themselves. No matter what your shop looks like, the same three tips can help you succeed.
TIP 1: BE PATIENT
You’ve heard the saying “patience is a virtue.” It might be cliche, but it’s also true. Lee Stuart, screen printing YouTuber and owner of Rogue Lab, believes that patience is the most important quality for new screen printers.
“Screen printing is difficult and requires learning a bunch of knowledge and techniques for each step of the process, which can be overwhelming or disheartening for a lot of people when they start out and it's made a lot of people throw in the towel early,” Lee said. “I know I was pulling my hair out for the first couple of weeks and was near quitting more times than I want to admit.”
Learning to screen print is a process. Ashley Stone and Chainsaw Betty of Press or Dye advise that new printers educate themselves to save time and money.
“There are a ton of videos out there that go over just about any question you might have. Ryan Moor, Golden Press Studio, and Lee Stuart have been a huge help and inspiration with their videos,” they said.
Jerome Haygood, owner of Aerogant Printing Co., is still learning the ropes. His print shop has been open for under a year. He offers some perspective on the learning process.
“[Michael] Jordan wasn’t Jordan when he first became Jordan. He was a guy that got cut from the team,” Jerome said.
No matter what stage your shop is in, keep learning and stay patient with yourself. Even when you make a mistake, it’s a learning opportunity.
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TIP 2: MAKE MISTAKES
Everyone makes mistakes. No matter how much education you have, you’ll still mess up. That’s okay. It’s actually encouraged. Josh Dykstra, owner of PRNT SCRN Screen Printing, enjoys the learning process.
“You have to be okay with some level of failure and learn from that,” Josh said. His advice is to keep trying until you get it right.
Learning the trade takes time and effort. Patience is key, and being able to learn from the mistakes you make is important to succeeding in the industry. Even printing gurus like Lee Stuart made mistakes when they first started printing. He advises that new printers take things one step at a time.
“Accept that you will suck and make mistakes early on, take on and learn each step of the process in smaller bite-sized chunks,” Lee said.
If you’re passionate about your craft, making mistakes is all just part of the creative process. Amanda Dunigan, owner of Salt & Pine Co., believes that screen printing needs to be a passion to make those mistakes worth it.
“Find other social pages that inspire you, watch endless videos on YouTube,” Amanda said. “This outlet needs to be your passion or you will get burned out very quickly!”
Photo by Salt & Pine Co.
TIP 3: INVEST IN QUALITY
No matter how much you practice, your prints won’t have amazing quality if you don’t have high quality equipment. Buying good equipment is an investment, but it’s one worth making.
Jerome of Aerogant Printing Co. didn’t know a lot about screen printing when he started, and ended up with low-quality equipment. Once he upgraded to a Riley Hopkins press, he realized that quality really does make a difference.
“If you want quality, if you want a good result, you can’t be cheap,” Jerome said.
The dynamic duo at Press or Dye believes the same thing. You can get a great print with subpar products, but outstanding prints come with outstanding products.
“By investing in better quality products, you get better results,” they said.
CAN I DIY?
Ask anyone in the screen printing industry, and they’ll tell you that getting good quality equipment and products are worth the investment. But investing in all that equipment takes a toll on your bank account. If you’re looking to save some money, consider investing in one piece of equipment at a time. Both Amanda of Salt & Pine Co. and Josh of PRNT SCRN consider themselves DIY printers. They suggest taking things a little slower.
“Invest only on the absolute essentials, but skimp where you can to get by until you have 100% confidence the bigger ticket items are a necessity,” Amanda said.
Josh echoes this advice for new printers.
“Invest your money in getting a good press first and then for the other things. See what you can build,” he said.
BONUS TIP: DIAL IN EXPOSURE TIMES
Patience, education, a willingness to make mistakes, and investing in quality can get you 99% of the way. There’s a few areas of the process, though, where you might need a little help. One of those areas is dialing in exposure times.
Many printers struggle with exposure. There’s a lot of factors at play: exposure unit type, bulb type, emulsion, screen mesh count, and so many more factors can affect your final exposure. The best thing you can do for yourself is get an exposure calculator.
When Jerome was learning to screen print, he joined the Rogue Printers Facebook group. The printers in the Facebook group recommended he use an exposure calculator to help him further dial in exposure times. The calculator showed that Jerome’s emulsion was underexposed. He tried again and was able to expose the screen to a solid step 7 (the step that notifies that you’ve correctly exposed a screen).
Using an exposure calculator can help you dial in your exposure times. If you’re still struggling to properly expose a screen, it might not be the length of time. It might be the type of emulsion you’re using.
“Make sure that you are using the proper emulsion based on your setup. Baselayr Long Lasting is a great product for beginners,” Press or Dye said.
Photo by Press or Dye
There are so many tips and tricks to figuring out how to screen print. Join Facebook groups. Ask questions. The screen printing community is here to help your shop get started. From properly aligning film to a screen all the way to the reclaim process, finding good educational materials and putting in some hours will shift your shop into the fast lane.
“As I always say, putting in the f*cking work will get you where you want to be,” Lee said.