The Death of Screen Printing – written in 1996


This article first appeared in 1996 in Imprint Canada. It is an interesting read all these years later!
The Death of Screen Printing

OK, I got your attention. This article is suppose to be about the latest technical advances and goodies on display at the Long Beach Imprinted Sportswear Show I exhibited and spoke at last week. (The year was 1996!) I thought I would start with the hottest topic.

As I was flying to the show I bought a copy of Popular Mechanics (I didn’t know they still published it) at the airport. The headline that filled the entire cover said Death of the Internet! It got my attention, too. Fortunately, the article was not all doom and gloom and just seemed to be a catchy front cover!

The question most asked at the Imprinted Sportswear Show was “what effect is digital imaging going to have on screening?” It’s a tough question. I think that if you are a screener you will be in business well past the year 2000. BUT, I feel that if you think of yourself as only a screener … part of your market will shrink and be lost to embroidery, inkjet and laser copy heat transfers and in the very near future direct to garment digital imaging.

I think all “screeners” should become “garment decorators.” Anything goes. In fact if I was an active screener today, I would be the “Kinkos” of T-Shirts! Hey…how about “Scottos.” OK, back to reality. Why do people buy from Kinkos (in case you haven’t heard of them, they are a standout copy center that is open 24 hours per day and in every major city). Anyway, why not offer the customer ONE shirt TODAY? Just make an inkjet transfer and press it on the shirt. Wait, Scottos One Day Shirts!

Yes, I know…You’re a screener and just couldn’t think of doing a shirt in one day. Well, someone else entering this business is going to do just that and when they do one shirt for the customer, the customer remembers and comes back for the 100 they need for the company picnic. No, they don’t get those in one day.

Back to the Show
Other than the question of the day, there was a lot of new stuff at the show. On the non-technical side, I would hate to be in the garment wholesale business right now. Good for the printer and bad for the garment supplier. How do they money at those prices? I haven’t seen prices this low in ten years!

So What’s New?

Computer Graphics
There was a lot of talk about a new program from Canada called Screenprint Separator. The product was being showed in the Linographics booth and there was great interest in automating the separation process. It’s a plugin for Adobe Photoshop and the MAC version is available now and the PC version is suppose to be available by the time you read this. I personally like the idea but find the look a little posterized. I have yet to see films or evaluate the product but will keep you posted. At $1,000 is seems pricy, but the interest was very high.

Speaking of Canadian programs, Corel 7.0 is out and the second question of the day at my booth was what do I think of Draw 7.0? It is a HOT program and Corel finally incorporated lots of new controls including the ability to import and touch-up a bitmap right in the program. You can even knockout the background of a bitmap right in Draw. These moves were always done in a paint program.

Fortunately, for me, the manual for Corel 7.0 is not good so my new Corel Draw 7.0 Training Course should sell well. (Did I fail to mention that we introduced this product at the show?) The training course includes a bug fix that is mandatory to make the program work right. Sorry for the plug, but Corel 7.0 is excellent but not screen print friendly if you don’t know how to work it.

Smart Designs (the clip art kings) introduced their new front end for Corel called Smart Designer. It contains hundreds of templates, clip art and routines that make using Corel much easier. From doing quick underbases and traps, to sizing designs to garments and easy circle text it should be the hot new product.

Everyone wants to know more about how to use the computer for graphics. I did Corel and Photoshop seminars and had excellent attendance.

New Film Device
CalComp introduced their new dry film imaging system called the EcoPro at the SGIA Show, and now it is getting great play. This was the first Imprinted Sportswear Show to have one and I think they have a hit.

The image size is 12″ x 25″ (some people wish it were wider) and you can go direct from computer to FILM in a matter of minutes. I think it is an alternative to using a service bureau and certainly is a large step above vellum. All for only $6,000.

Inkjet/Bubblejet and More
Canon introduced their new BJC 4550 Bubblejet printer back in September, but have never had distribution in this industry until now. They hooked up with Smart Designs and now you can buy the printer AND better yet, the paper from them. There was a lot of interest at the Smart Designs booth for the printer and the paper. Those who have been going to Office Max to buy the paper can now get it from an industry source. At $500 for an 11″ x 17″ inkjet, this unit should help the small printer do those “one day shirts.”

Sawgrass introduced their Sublijet cartridges for inkjet printers that will allow you to make sublimation transfers in your inkjet. This really opens the door to do mugs, metal, tiles, caps and more with an inexpensive inkjet.

Direct To Garment Imaging

Last year at Tampa, the Revolution was the hot item. It prints direct to the garment using inkjet technology – but is slow and there was the question of washability. The Revolution was once again shown here, and the price is down to around $20,000 (from $30,000) and the machine is a little faster and the washability issue has supposedly been resolved. In talking with the developer, there are great promises of a much faster machine and one that will work on dark shirts in the next year! This is the area EVERYONE is watching.

Color Laser Copiers
This seems to be the area of the most stability because more and more printers are using this technology to do longer runs. As the paper prices drop and more CLC owners are offering wholesale prices, this is an area to watch. Even Airwaves had a separate booth just to show their CLC paper.

Everyone is on the web and it seems interest has not waned at all. My son, Mike and I did an internet seminar and the room was packed. I am still amazed at the confusion and misunderstanding that abounds. Our seminar was only 1-1/2 hours long and the main comment was people wish it were longer.

Hanes was showing their Hanes OnLine site and of course you can now place orders on a number of sites without ever talking to a customer service rep. I think the ability to check inventory and place and track orders will be the norm in the next couple of years.

You generally expect to see lots of printing press manufacturers at the show, but I sensed that there were less. Maybe they were there but not like the old days. I think there is a shakeout going on there. With lots of used equipment on the market and prices competitive, it is a hard part of the business. Nothing new to report on the manual printer side.

Lawson was showing their $12,000 automatic again and it certainly gets looked at by smaller printers who find the large automatics just out of their range for now.

Inks and Stuff
The next fad is suppose to be in reflective inks. Union was showing their new plastisol based reflective ink and their Pavonine division displayed a hot line of waterbased reflective. Yes, the stuff is still pricy but how about peach reflective on a black shirt?

I think all the ink companies are looking at the digital area and thinking “maybe we should start making that ink too!”

State of the Industry
I think the industry is looking for a good 1997. Shirt prices are low, the economy seems strong and the general tone of the printers I talked to at the show was that things were good. ? There are still lots of newcomers entering the business. My friend, Charlie Taublieb, has been offering beginners seminars for the show for years and the numbers have been down the last few. He had over 50 people in his preshow basic screen printing workshop. I think it was a record!

The Answer to the Question
No, screen printing is not dead! It is very strong. Just don’t ignore the new technical changes. Become a garment decorator. Embrace technology. Read about it, try it and keep on the cutting edge yourself. Have a great 1997.

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