Introducing Screenprinting to Production
The history of the specialty imaging industry can, like the timeline of western civilization, be split into two sections referred to as B.C. and A.D.—‘before computers’ and ‘after digital.’ And the shift between these two periods still feels like it took place virtually overnight.
By providing full-colour wide-format graphics in minutes, digitally driven inkjet printers and vinyl cutters have claimed a large portion of the type of work that would traditionally have been screenprinted or offset-printed. In response, most commercial screenprinting companies operating during this transition period have quickly evolved by introducing wide-format digital printers to their own facilities to serve existing clients. And after adopting a digital workflow, they have found new markets for an expanding range of printed products.
Screenprinting companies that have not embraced digital technology in one form or another are becoming a rare breed. That has not, however, meant the end of screenprinting.
Past surveys by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) have shown there are many ‘dual print’ companies—i.e. digital printing facilities that also provide screenprinting. Such businesses understand the strengths and weaknesses of these two types of print production capabilities, then determine how best to reap the benefits of both.
Most new sign graphic printing companies entering the market, however, only know digital technology. At some point, they encounter competitors who are also using screenprinters, which invariably raises some questions:
Screenprinting can be deceptively versatile. What may seem at first like a complicated and messy process, only good for making T-shirts, has a surprisingly wide range of product applications.
It may not be for every print shop, but adding screenprinting processes can help some digital printing companies develop new, proprietary offerings to differentiate themselves from their competition and/or diversify into other types of graphic production or manufacturing.
The process itself is straightforward. A flexible blade moving over a stencil on a fine mesh deposits a precise layer of ink (or other substance) in a predetermined pattern or image on various substrates. This application can be done by hand or using some degree of automation—and does not require an expensive service technician to change the squeegee and inks or fix clogged printheads.
The printing industry is already into fourth- and fifth-generation digital presses in the space of less than 20 years, with many expensive printers now outmoded, unusable and unable to be repaired. By contrast, a single screen press typically lasts 20 or more years.
That said, screenprinting is also complicated, with separate processing steps requiring prepress and screen making functions, a technically skilled press operator, a screen press and a drying system.
All printing processes, in the end, place ink on a material, but the following are some of the factors that can make screenprinting the more efficient method compared to digital inkjet printing:
To screen or not to screen
The primary issue is what kind of printing jobs a digital-only company might lose to its competitors because it cannot handle them efficiently with inkjet and vinyl-cutting technology. No matter how new and fast a digital printer is, certain types of signs and graphics will still prove more economical when produced with a screen-based process. So, to keep customers coming back, it can be worthwhile to consider these strengths and see if they warrant adding screenprinting to the production mix.