I’ve been quite productive lately, traveling between the boat (MD), my parents’ house (VA), and my grandparents’ house (NC), with a whirlwind trip to NYC somewhere in the midst of it all. The logistics of it would make your head spin, so I will spare you the details. I spent necessary time at my parents’ house working on scholarships, t-shirt designs, and promotional materials before I headed down to my grandparents’ house last week to print up approx. 50 t-shirts in two days – the most I’ve ever printed in one go! I burned my designs onto six screens (one screen for each color), mixed my colors, ran a few test prints, and then proceeded to print 3 two-color designs. I had hoped to do re-prints of my Osprey and Sea Turtles designs, but unfortunately time did not permit, so I focused on printing designs for Patriot Tours in Yorktown, a locally owned Segway tour company that asked me to design some Yorktown-inspired tees for their new shop.
For my first time using a six-arm press and a commercial drier, I thought things went pretty smoothly. Still, there was plenty of troubleshooting (I actually scorched a shirt with the flash drier!!), and I made many new discoveries. One particularly useful discovery was that I prefer printing with water-based ink; it’s eco-friendly, healthier, makes a softer print, and it’s easier to clean up. This is something that I suspected from the beginning, but after actually using the plastisol ink, the primary ink used by commercial printers, I am convinced that water-based ink is the only way to go. Plastisol makes me a little nervous because it contains PVC, which can out-gas harmful chemicals. Not only does it let off fumes, but it also requires special chemicals to clean up. The plastisol ink that I tried out was the consistency of melted bubble gum in the container (think thick and sticky), and boy was it messy! Because it is oil-based, the ink only dries after it is cured at a high temperature. This is a great characteristic for printing large runs because you don’t have to worry about the ink drying in the screen (and clogging your image), but it also means that it will stay wet for weeks. If you get the ink on your hand and touch something, you can be sure that you will find it later…someplace you don’t want it.
Luckily, I had a little help around the shop, because I discovered that to really utilize the equipment efficiently, you need two people. While one person pulls the print, the other is monitoring the drying: pulling printed shirts off the press, putting them on the conveyor, and placing a fresh shirt onto the press to be printed. In this manner, it is possible to print many t-shirts in one go without so much as a pause. I’ve found that the trickiest part of the whole process is the set-up. Because this was my first time, I made plenty of mistakes, but it was such a great learning opportunity. I hope to be more prepared and efficient next time around (I am still planning to print shirts for my Etsy shop), but for now, I am headed up to Annapolis to work the Annapolis Boat Show. Hopefully, I won’t be too busy to blog!
Here are some photos of the printing in progress.