Welcome to Printwear Pauses: Five Minutes with... where one-on-one discussions with industry professionals are featured in a Q&A format. These Q&A's share the practices and insights of some of the industry’s most knowledgeable individuals.
In these conversations, we’ll pause to discuss the industry’s growth, as well as what the future holds, and various ways industry professionals can stay educated. We are pleased to interview Aaron Harris, screen print expert of T&J Printing Supply.
Q: How has screen printing changed in the last year? In the last 10 years?
A: One of the great things about our industry is that it is always in transition. With technology and research, the decorating industry is always looking for ways to improve. The past two decades have really been a turning point for our industry. Breakthroughs in automation and digital software has allowed decorators to become more efficient, precise, and profitable. I think most recently the biggest change I’ve noticed is, actually, customers' awareness in quality. Customers are starting to ask for more and more options with the garment and decorating materials, and we as decorators need to deliver. Keep up with the new trends! While not all of them will stick, it’s important to stay one step ahead of our customers to ensure we’re ready when they request the newest style of shirt or decorating process.
Q: What does the future of screen printing look like?
A: Hardcore squeegee pullers are probably not going to like this answer, but I see the future of decorating becoming more and more automated and digital printing taking a larger role in our processes. We all love our employees, but let’s be honest; staffing an entire team of “rock stars” isn’t an easy task. If automation can help your existing “rock stars” do the jobs of two to three people, I think everyone wins. Full disclosure, I love the feel of pulling a squeegee, spinning a press, and getting my hands dirty as much as anybody. Love it! Love it! Love it! I’m sure I love it just like some on an assembly line enjoyed feeling the raw metal of an unfinished vehicle under their hands. Our feelings don’t matter when it comes to the bottom line though. Our time is our most valuable tool to become profitable, and there is no shame in embracing new technologies to help us achieve our goals more efficiently and produce high-quality goods for our customers.
Q: What screen printing applications have seen growth in 2017?
A: In my experience, this year so far, I’ve seen a larger interest in discharge printing. Customers are starting to become aware of the process, and I think it’s pushing decorators to dive more and more into it. I love it! I love the product that discharge ink produces. A lot of customers are asking for the softest print they can get, and it’s hard to beat a well-done discharge print when it comes to that. While it’s not ideal for every garment, customer, or design, decorators are pushing the limits of this process and educating their customers more than ever before.
Q: What are some shop tools and add-ons that screen printers should think about purchasing? Why?
A: There are a lot of tools out there to help apparel decorators get jobs done more efficiently. "Must haves” in every print shop include:
Quality carts. Buy them, build them, steal them.
Kidding on that last one. A quality cart with some nice wheels that can fit in the workspace you are using is a no brainer for some of us, but I still find a lot of decorators using card tables, stacked boxes, and whatever else they can get their hands on to stage their garments. Spend the money or spend a weekend and build some nice carts, and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. Staging is an important part of the decorating process. It can really set the tone as far as organization goes.
Ample storage shelves. Let’s be honest. The floors of most screen-printing shops aren’t the cleanest of surfaces. Keeping garments in boxes on the floor is just asking for trouble in my opinion. You have to remember the garments belong to the customer, and we need to be mindful to keep good care of them while they’re in our shops. Get them off the ground! These garments are valuable and shouldn’t be sharing the same space as your dirty rags and ink buckets.
Q: Should continuing education be offered to my shop’s screen printers?
A: Absolutely! Being more educated in your craft has never hurt anyone as far as I’m aware. I don’t care if you’ve been in the industry for 30 days or 30 years, there is always something you could learn or improve on. Our industry is constantly changing and evolving. As decorators, we need to stay on top of new trends and processes to remain relevant. Also, I’d encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone as printers every once in a while. Try a new process, sample a new product, or try printing on a new substrate. Too nervous to try it on a customer? Create a new “shop shirt” with your employees and dedicate some time to R&D. As frustrating as learning something new can be, the rewards far outweigh the trouble.
Q: What types of monthly classes would you recommend screen printers participate in?
A: There are a lot of good education programs popping up these days. These classes can range from product and process-specific seminars to multi-day hands-on classes that touch a little on every part of the process. I highly recommend getting everyone out of the shop once in a while and in a class or seminar. Not only will they get some good insight from industry professionals, it’s also a great chance to connect with their peers and get different perspectives on the processes and challenges we all face in the industry.