Save Santa Ana!

Save Santa Ana T-shirtI’ve been too busy printing for the last several months to stop & blog about printing. But I am still doing some Wearable Serigraphy stuff on the side, and one of the groups of people I do a lot of work for is the birding community down in the Rio Grande Valley. Birders are critical about color & when you print a shirt with a bird on it, you really need to get it right. Anyway, the Rio Grande Birding Festival people got me in touch with the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge last fall, as they are engaged in the fight of their lives, trying to keep the border wall from crossing through the middle of their preserve, and I’ve been printing shirts for them to sell at fundraisers & help support the cause. Here’s their Facebook page, also & the Save Santa Ana Facebook page.

I’m not super-educated with the details, but to hear Tony Bennet from the RGVBF tell it, the Feds want to put a portion of border wall straight though the middle of the preserve. As planned, it will apparently cut off the entrance & visitor’s center from most of the trails & the main viewing platform – not to mention the damage that bulldozing through a nature preserve would do. I had really hoped the border wall was just campaign trail bluster, but they’re pushing the thing through — lord knows what price we’ll pay in both tax dollars & ecological damage. Lord knows Mexico’s not paying for it.

Articles about the fight have appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, & the Texas Observer goes into some detail. The Sierra Club has also been active in the fight.

From my remove, printing a few hundred T-shirts seems like a paltry effort, but I sure hope it helps raise funds & awareness, & that this wall doesn’t go through the property as planned.

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Pigment Concentrates mix themselves.

We use Matsui’s 301 series waterbase inks, which is a pigment concentrate system, so rather than stirring blue & yellow ink together to get green, we add small amounts of very strong pigment to a clear base. In case you weren’t aware of it, you can get Pantone formulas for their RC & RC Neo systems in your browser. Use it every day.

Anyway. The other day, I was mixing some brown. I added the black & red first, but the yellow was heavier, & proceeded to sink beneath the other 2 pigments in the can. I had a “Whoa” moment & whipped out my phone & took this video of the cool swirly action of the pigments whirling around in the can. That’s pretty much the whole blog post, the end.


the shop is noisy, so I deleted the audio & added a bit of music from my band Carbon 7.

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I’ve Been Thrift Store Browsing…

And I have “repatriated” some oldies & picked up a few new-to-me prints that I liked. The collection groweth. I wish I had kept one of everything, but that was literally impossible, so after 30 years, I find myself with a few hundred t-shirts, and some holes in the collection. Flipping through racks at Goodwill or ThrifTown is kinda relaxing and it’s yielded some fruit.

(Click through in-line images for full-size photos)

5by5. We printed this one at Amplifier is 2008 or so, I think. Found it unworn at the Goodwill. 5 color on a discharge uderbase. We did really good work there. Not sure who Merlin is — some tech guru?



Not the most exciting print, but ok, lets deal with the facts on the ground here — a man’s gotta eat. I love the art prints, I love the challenging discharge jobs, but sometimes, someone just needs their dang logo on a dang shirt, and they need it done right. These folks were customers for years and years, & they’d order 72 or 144 shirts every few months, and heck, they helped pay for my daughter to go to a good private Jr. High School. Thanks, Allied Health Careers.




I bought this one new at the 2015 Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. They had last year’s-shirt on fire-sale, so I snagged a couple. It’s signed, but I can’t make out the artists’ name, &  I don’t know what shop printed it. It’s a great separation job, & reasonably well printed — 3 or 4 colors on a discharge underbase, though there are a couple minor flaws. Overall, a pretty impressive job.

Edit: A Facebook friend pointed out that this is the design work of Jay Long. Another mystery solved!



This one came complete with the cat hair. No idea who printed it — it just seemed at the moment like I should own a Billy Joe Shaver shirt, and so now I do.



This one is actually from Colombia. I looked at the tag & the shirt was Hecho En Colombia, so I figure it was probably printed there. Who doesn’t want a shirt from Colombia? Seriously.



I have no idea about this one, either. I just liked the print a lot. Very detailed, very crisp halftones, very cool artwork. A mystery. I googled Sine Quanon t-shirt & drew a blank on that logo.

Update: A friend noticed this winery website — apparently, this shirt is advertising for a variety of their wines.



Frida! Marty at Be Bop used to print these for Tesoro’s Trading Co. We never printed the Frida shirt but we did a fair amount of work for Tesoro’s as well in the mid to late 90’s & one of their shirts ended up in Clueless. This print & shirt look new– unworn & unwashed, so it’s highly unlikely that it’s an oldie from the Bee Bop days, but whoever is printing it is almost certainly using the same film positives — I’ve seen them. They weren’t the best, but they weren’t the worst. There’s too much black in the clouds… anyway. Who doesn’t like Frida Kahlo? You? GET OUT.



I Heart Austin shirts were all the rage in the 80’s. This isn’t an original — it’s printed on a Gildan & those blanks weren’t around in those days, but it’s a waterbase print, & though sometimes I hate Austin, I still <3 Austin.I-Heart_Austin______________________________________________________________


Juke! Obama! Two Great Tastes That have great taste together! No idea why Juke did an Obama design, but I approve. When i see a Juke shirt, I buy it, and that’s pretty much that.


KGSR Hearts For The Arts Blood Drive. KGSR was a huge client the entire time VG was open & we printed shirts for nearly all their events for nearly 15 years. I could go on about how wonderful to work with they were & how we got perks like tickets to their anniversary shows at the Austin City Limits taping studio, etc. Everyone who worked there was kind, friendly & generous. Best Customer Ever award, 10 years running. I kept a lot of the anniversary shirts & the hot sauce festival shirts, but this one eluded me until last month. Of course we didn’t print everything for them, but look at the back — I’m pretty sure we printed this one.



Lobster Girl. Because I couldn’t NOT buy a shirt that said Lobster Girl. What sort of weirdo designed this? I don’t know, but now it’s mine.




Magnolia Cafe. I’m only halfway sure we printed this one. It could be of 3 different vintages — possibly printed at Action Screen Graphics, because I think we added the 2nd location to the typesetting there. Possibly printed at Bee Bop, and possibly printed at Vreeland in the early 90’s after Bee Bop shut down. Either way, I could walk to the ink mixing table and mix both of those colors with my eyes closed. Actually, that would be a bad idea, but I can’t find a good euphemism for familiarity here.



I just decided I should have an Obama Hope shirt because it was such an iconic design at the time. No idea where it was printed, but it’s new, unwashed & unworn. Pretty good for $1.99.



Panama. Does what it says on the tin. Shirt made & printed in Panama, & who doesn’t want a shirt printed in Panama? Seriously.



Longhorn Texas. This was from the very early days of Vreeland Graphics, before we had a computer — had to have ben late ’92 or early ’93. I recall this being a vry difficult print because the client had 4-color process separations made without consulting anyone, & we had to really play with the inks to get it to do anything. Also, this is a very washed & worn shirt — it was grungy enough that I was a little surprised a thrift store would accept it, but there it is. I’m not quite sure if it’s a bleached out natural cotton color, or if it’s a faded yellow white.



Austin Reggae Festival 2011. No idea who designed it, no idea who printed it. It’s a well-executed print, though & also new– unwashed & unworn, so hey. I have a kind of soft spot since we did the father of the reggae fest, the Sunsplash shirts, waaay back in the 80’s.



Robert Earl Keen, Wild Shiner Nights. We printed a LOT of Robert Earl Keen shirts at VG, including the iconic photo of his car burning in the parking lot of Willie’s 4th of July Picnic, & he always had challenging, fun designs. This one was 4 color process plus 2 spot colors — just about all our press could handle at the time. I kept one of nearly everything we did for him, except this one.



Rosedale Ride, 1999. This is a big charity event that we printed every year up though 2007. Richard Whittington & co. always did the design & we would do the printing at a discount in return for a small “printed by” tagline which you can barely make out at the lower right.



Rosedale Ride 2000, See above.


Tito’s Vodka started off with a very small run of shirts in the mid-2000’s. Then they kind of blew up. I’m not absolutely certain that we printed this one, at Vreeland but odds are good. I know their orders now are in the multiple thousands, wherever they’ve ended up.


Maybe I’ll run by the St. Vincent De Paul tomorrow.

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New Wearable Serigraphy Prints for sale!

At long last, I have finally put the finishing touches on my latest set of art prints. Each of these shirts is from a 35mm photograph of mine.

Maple_1200Maple Leaves is a photo I took in Zion National Park the summer after I got out of high school. I borrowed a camera from a family friend who was along for the trip just long enough to shoot one roll, and somehow the negatives miraculously survived at least 20 moves before I re-discovered them in a box just 3 years ago. I think it was the third or fourth roll of film I ever shot in my life.

Sleping_Lion_1200Sleeping Lion Mountain was taken early on Thanksgiving morning, 1998 on my amazingly trusty Zeiss Ikon Contina. This was a consumer-level point & shoot in the 1950’s & it only has a view finder, so you have to judge the distance & set the focus ring by guesswork. Or infinity, which usually works. Absolutely a great camera outdoors & I think it has a wider tonal range than my Nikon D80 digital. Louise was pregnant with Jacob and suffering terrible morning sickness, so I snuck out of our hotel room on our first trip to Fort Davis & went for a very early morning walk while she slept. These rocks are just behind the church at the north end of Front Street.

Century_Plant_1200The Century Plant in Big Bend was taken with the same camera on New Years Day 2012, on our second trip to West Texas when we were taking Jacob to his first star party at McDonald observatory. We only had one day in the park, & I felt very fortunate to come away with this shot.

All the negatives were scanned with my Nikon Coolscan V set to color instead of black & white, & that’s what imparts the cast to these images. I tried to keep these tones faithful as I rendered them as quadtones in Photoshop. The film was all run out at 85 line by the ever-capable Kathy Hill at Graphic Arts inc. & screen printed by me. Each shirt is a 5 or 6 color — tritone or quadtone plus white highlight & text. Individually numbered, each edition will be limited to 144 prints.

Available for purchase here!

There are Higher-res versions of these photos, plus some detail shots on my Flickr page.

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Weird Yet Strange

My Friend Danny GarrettWeird_Yet_Strange_Cover_1600 has written a book, Weird Yet Strange, (published by TCU press, also available locally at Book People or on their website) about his years as an Austin music poster artist in the 1970’s & 80’s. It’s not a complete chronicle of his career as a commercial artist, painter & teacher, but it is a very thorough & engaging history of a particular art movement in Austin & his place in that scene, among the giants of Austin music art like Guy Juke, Jim Franklin, Micael Priest, Kerry Awn & others.

The book of course starts out recounting his time as a freelance poster artist for the Armadillo World Headquarters, then moves semi-chronologically through his years doing many fine pieces for Antone’s, the world-renowned blues club, his work for Willie Nelson, & a chapter on Stevie Ray Vaughan, who in any book about Austin music certainly deserves his own chapter.

I first met Danny in 1984, shortly I began printing. One of the first shirts I ever printed was his Antone’s Little Walter design. Because of the amazing detail in Danny’s design, I had to get good quick in order to do it justice so I credit his as giving me an early push to improve my craft as a printer. I have held the original in my hands, and do not feel worthy.

There’s so much good Garrett art that it’s impossible for one book to do it justice – he rarely sells his original paintings, though they do appear in his posters from time to time. I enjoyed his recollections of the history behind Austin’s music art scene, but would love to see a proper coffee table book concentrating on the art itself & spanning all aspects of his career. I hope that’s next.

Garrett_SpreadThe only downside to Weird Yet Strange is that Danny has so much to say that there’s not enough room for images, and a lot of really amazing art got relegated to relatively small reproductions. Thing is though, Danny’s also a teacher & he has a head full of information & amazing ideas, so it really is awesome to see some of that down on paper where it belongs.

We went to his book signing event at Book People & he gave a really nice talk for a good 30 minutes before opening it up to questions, which went on for another 20 minutes, or so. There were plenty of alumni in attendence — Franklin was there as was Kerry Awn, & I recognized Tommy Bauman by the sound of his voice before I “recognized” him — it had been that long. It was a nice reunion of sorts, though I mostly observed from the back. Of course, I wore an Antone’s shirt for the photo op, as one does.


A final note; one of thanks. It was only upon reading the book that I noticed he included me in his Flatstock poster in tribute to the printers, some 10 or so years ago. I’ve seen the poster but my name eluded me until now. I managd to acquire one this year at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, thanks to the folks running the South Austin Popular Culture Center booth – my ego doth swelleth accordingly. Thanks, Danny! Also, thanks for the book — it’s a jewel.


A final final note: Amongst the shirts I have been cataloging recently, I found this unsigned Joe King Carrasco shirt which Danny has admitted to drawing, on Facebook. It was a 4-color process print, with all the seps drawn by hand. I recall other than the black line art, each sep was a combination of amberlith & rapidograph drawn directly onto the acetate. Not much margin for error there. I think it’s a gorgeous design today.


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Jumbled Numbers

Brick Wall


The Pantone corporation has owned the color-matching business for as long as I have been printing, and us screen printers have used their standard coated & uncoated fan books to match spot colors since the dawn of the mists of time. A designer in Philadelphia can call on the phone & say “print it with green 368c,” & we know exactly what they’re talking about, because he & I both have fan books.

For umpteen of those years, the colors in the books were arranged sequentially from the lowest number to the highest number, so finding a color in the fan book was a matter of seeking out the number, in sequence. A fairly simple matter. 3 or 4 years ago though, Pantone decided that with all the new additional colors being sequestered at the back of the book, it was becoming unwieldy for designers to pick colors by color family, so they re-arranged the books so that all the newer colors (they add 10 or 20 a year) were mixed in with their color families, and the fan books since them have not been arranged numerically. At first I thought “huh, the paper on this new book seems thinner,” and I hardly paid any attention to the rearrangement of the colors in the book. Until I needed to find one. Where the hell was it? The printers were waiting for me to approve a print, & jobs were stacking up while I dug & dug through the book.

Fortunately, there is an index now added at the back of the book with a list of numbers, & a corresponding page number, but man, it’s cumbersome. Let’s see.. Blue 2727, page 142, flip, flip, wait what page? dang it… wait, what number? With 6 or 7 spot colors to proof on a t-shirt job, I had numbers bouncing around inside my eyeballs, while printers & jobs waited & waited… page 346… no wait pantone 346… page 220… no wait PANTONE 220… page 346… ugh.

I have been heard to vocally express my dismay on the pressroom floor, and I noticed how much it was bugging the hell out of my printers, too. They have a work order with 6 colors listed on it and need to find the cans or mix the colors, and the same thing — it was taking them time to dig through the index, then dig through the book, & by the 4th color, everyone’s eyes glaze over, & you forget what you’re doing. Time wastes away, and nothing gets printed.

It occurred to me that the simple, obvious solution would be for Pantone to issue two editions of the fan book — one with the colors grouped in families for designers, and one grouped numerically for printers. An idea! A solution! Pantone Coated, Printer’s Edition! I would pay extra money for this, at this point. Back in September, I floated it via email to the support address at Pantone, more or less not even expecting a reply. It read thusly:

Hi folks,

I may be one small voice in the wilderness, but I feel like I need to speak, regardless. I am a printer — I work in print production.

The old Pantone fan books, for many years, had the color chips numbered sequentially in the book. For reasons that seem logical to you — i.e. easier for designers to search for color families — you re-ordered the book to where the numbers are totally out of sequence, and we are directed to an index at the back of the book that tells us what page to find a particular swatch on.

I can’t even begin to explain how greatly every production person I’ve spoken with reviles this decision. It is a huge waste of time on our parts rifling through the index, then rifling through the pages trying to find the swatch we want to match. The excoriations towards the new books by everyone I’ve spoken to about them are basically unprintable, so I won’t repeat them here. Know that they are universally detested by anyone working in production that I have spoken with since their introduction — hundreds of people.

My solution: Please, for the love of all that is good & right in this world, issue a “printer’s edition” of your fan books, restored to their former ordering, with the swatches in numerical sequence. I would buy two of them the day they were released, just out of gratitude.

Thank you for your consideration,

A very frustrated consumer,
Chris Vreeland

Sure, some of that was me just venting. Believe it or not, just a day later, I got an actual response! They were listening. Well, no, actually they weren’t.

Dear Christophe:

Thank you for your comments concerning the PANTONE PLUS SERIES publications.  We appreciate your writing with your concerns.

The chromatic reordering of the PANTONE colors was done in response to continuous user feedback requesting a more logical arrangement of the PANTONE colors.  As the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM color palette has been expanded over the years, the chromatic order has suffered greatly.  As a result, we essentially ended up with reds, greens, blues, etc., in various different sections of the guides, making color selection and specification more complex and confusing for those who choose PANTONE colors for their projects.

By ordering the colors chromatically as we have done, we have made the selection process much more straightforward, and in fact we have had mostly positive reactions from those on the selection/specification end of the process.  This was the only way that we could maintain the existing PANTONE colors with the descriptions that users have known and used for over 45 years.  The alternative would have been to change the numbering system, and it was felt that this would be a nightmare for long-term users of the products.

We understand that those in the printing industry who have grown accustomed to working with the previous PANTONE products are frustrated with this change, and that initially it will cause some confusion.   However, as with any change, it is our feeling that over time, users will see the benefits of the new PANTONE PLUS SERIES products, and this will become less of an issue.

Please do not hesitate to write us at any time if we can be of further assistance.

Best regards,
Pantone, LLC
Wholly-owned subsidiary of X-Rite, Inc.

Basically, Not. Gonna. Happen. Thus endeth this wasted missive.

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I have lost my mind…

And have begun to catalog & preserve my entire T-shirt collection. I’m in the early stages of this project, but I have so many shirts, and for so long have wondered “where is that shirt? What became of it? Do I have two of them? Should I keep this one or take it to the goodwill?” and this will help provide me and future generations (Hi Erin And Jacob!) with answers to these important questions.

I’ve started with the oldest ones first, as well as some of the ones I’ve already blogged about here, because I have pictures of them already at hand. I ended up choosing Filemaker Pro as the way to go because it seems pretty customizable. Everything is getting:

  • A catalog number
  • An official design name
  • The date printed, if known
  • The artist’s name, if known
  • The name of the shop it was printed at, if known
  • A freeform description filed for any historical notes
  • A condition rating, as some are new & some are pretty ratty.

Here are a couple screenshots of what I’ve got so far — the main catalog data entry view, & a table view with sorting options.

Data Entry View

Data Entry View

Table View

Table View

And at long last, I got a bunch of heavy-duty 12 X 12 4-mil. re-sealable bags from Uline so that I could keep them clean & preserve them as best as possible. I’m working on a method of printing stickers from the catalog so that I can attach them to the bags.

Folded, bagged & preserved Austin Chronicle Shirt from 1985 or so.

Folded, bagged & preserved Austin Chronicle Shirt from 1985 or so.

This may strike you as insane, and rightly so, but I anticipate when I am done that I will have one of the largest catalogued T-shirt collections known to man. Like having the world’s largest ball of twine, or something. 99% of the collection is stuff I have personally printed, but some of it is also old shirts from when I was a kid, concert shirts I’ve bought at shows, and a few Goodwill acquisitions that I just couldn’t pass up for a buck. Obviously, lots more of these will be showing up here as I work my way through them over the next, oh, 10 years or so.




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You know you’ve made it when:

Your credit union puts a guy on their front page in a shirt you printed. Not much else to say here. We printed for Roky Erickson, I think through his brother Sumner, who takes care of his business stuff, in the early-mid 2000’s at Vreeland Graphics & this was a popular design. UFCU has a revolving set of images on their website & I was so stunned when this slid into view I mis-typed my password.



Here’s a funny one. Did you know there was a wikipedia entry for High Five? Not only that, but down the page a bit, there’s a section on “variations,” including the “too Slow move, illustrated enthusiastically by a couple of young, hip models. The  dude-bro fooling the poor girl by pulling his hand back before she can give him one “down low” is wearing a Glennz shirt that we called “Nessie” when we printed it at Amplifier.

Victim Misses:


What a jerk!

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Mexico 1984 And A New Start After The Fire.


So, anyway. (previously) We flew into Guadalajara on Aeromexico, from San Antonio. We took a greyhound bus to San Antonio, & somewhere near Buda, the bus’s brakes got stuck, and started to burn. Sitting on a bus gradually filling with the smell of fire the day after running from a burning building was pretty jarring. The bus pulled over & we sat in the grass near the frontage road & waited for another bus to retrieve us for about an hour, almost making us miss our plane.

Jeri’s dad picked us up from the airport. She broke the news to him about the fire right after we de-planed, so it was a pretty tense & uncomfortable few first minutes. We had brought Lou a VCR & I forget what other electronics, as “gifts” because their general importation was frowned upon, & we had trouble retrieving them at baggage claim. All I recall is Lou swearing a bunch, disappearing into the baggage offices of Aeromexico for nearly an hour, then eventually emerging with his VCR. I’m assuming he paid a bribe.

The airport is on the southern side of Guadalajara, right near the highway to Chapala, so all I saw of town at first was the last bits of it as we turned south for Chapala, where Lou lived. At the time, one of the worst slums in Mexico was in this area, and it seemed like we drove through it for over 5 minutes, even at highway speeds. I have a strong memory of corrugated tin roofs over hovels made of found wood & occasionally cinder block, with dirt roads barely wide enough for cars, electric wires strung willy-nilly, & open sewers. It was very eye-opening to 21-year-old me, & I never have looked at poverty in America the same again. I heard the city came through & cleaned up the slum some years back, & now I can find no evidence online of it ever having existed.

Lou lived on a golf course just west of Chapala, up the hill a couple of blocks from a really charming little village called San Nicolas. It wasn’t too far from his place into Chapala proper, so we spent some time in town there, too. I have a few pictures I took on that trip, no idea whose camera I borrowed. Bored, on about the third day there, we walked down to San Nicolas, ate lunch at a little Palapa that served fried minnows as an appetizer (crunchy & good) then caught the local bus into Chapala for the afternoon. Apparently, white people did not ride those busses in those days. The only seats were in the very back, & most of the people on the bus turned around & stared at us for a good ways. I don’t think they meant to be intimidating, but were just genuinely bemused by the sight of gringos on the local bus.

There were a lot of American & Canadian expatriate retirees living in  the area, & it’s a relatively well-off little corner of Mexico as a result. We went to some sort of 4th of July celebration put on by the American consulate I think, just for all the expats – I recall being bored out of my mind, but we were on Lou’s agenda.

Jeri And Lou Arsenault in Chapala

Jeri And Lou Arsenault in Chapala.

At some point during the week, we wound up at the Guadalajara Country Club, and I bought an embroidered polo shirt, which I still own. Apart from the crazy slum, Guadalajara was a really lovely city, though I did not know what I was looking at history-wise as we drove through town. Crazy traffic rotundas.

We drove back to Texas with Lou, stopping in Guadalajara at a local screen print supply house to load up on inks, screens & squeegees so we could start over & resurrect the shop from the ruins on our return. There was a brand of ink called Sanchez, we bought quite a few quarts of that, 5 or 6 squeegees & some pre-stretched screens. The screens were metric — the 71 count thread, being equal to about a 200 mesh? I don’t know. I still have one of those frames in my attic, as of 2014. There was a limit on importations, so the sales guy very neatly divided our purchase into three invoices, each just below the importation tax line, & we declared them as “art supplies” at the border, & got away with it. His cadillac trunk was full, is all I know, & it gave us a chance to start again. That ink was great, too.

On the drive north, we went though the giant barranca just north of Guadalajara, then up onto the barren plane south of Zacatecas. The drive was a blur because Lou really hauled ass & we only stopped a couple of times — once at the ruins at La Quemada, though it turns out we only saw a very small portion of the ruins. I need to go back there.

We stopped agin for gas outside of Zacatecas & Jeri & I grabbed roadside tacos from a little stand across the highway from the Pemex, & Lou freaked out when he saw what we were eating. “That could be horse, it could be dog, you have no idea what they’re cooking over there!” We shrugged our shoulders since we were halfway done. They were good tacos.

When we got back to Texas, we sifted through the remains of the burnt-out shop, pulled out the steel parts of our 5 color manual press (the aluminum bits had all melted — man, I wish I had pictures) & strapped them to an open U-haul trailer. After talking to the manufacturer in Florida, they determined they could refurbish the press for les than the cost of a new one, so Kevin and I got in a rent car and hauled the thing to somewhere near Orlando, on what I recall being a real death-march of a trip. We shared driving & drove straight through both ways, surviving a front-wheel blowout somewhere in Western Louisiana.

After we got the press back a few weeks later, we set it up in our one-car garage, got out the supplies from Mexico & set about starting over, as one does.

Chris in the Garage

This is the only known picture of me printing in the garage on Lawton. Circa 1985.

Pulled the old Mexican screen out of my attic yesterday & dug through the t-shirt archives. The screen features Danny Garrett’s Antone’s Little Walter design – a classic icon of Austin T-shirt design. The shirt in the gallery was definitely printed with this actual screen. The print went through a lot of iterations, but this was the first. Danny is a detail sort of guy. He took his inspiration from American money, thus the filigree swirls & the lovely engraving look to LW’s portrait. This is all done pen & ink on hardboard — I have held the original in my hand, & you can see a few light pencil guidelines on it, but this was just simply hand drawn by a master. I pretty much had to immediately get good at screen making & printing, having high-quality customers like Danny & Antone’s.

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M&R i-Image STE First Impressions.

i-Image_1I meant to start this a couple weeks ago, but I’m glad I procrastinated, because I’m still learning stuff about this device. Here’s the deal — Technology is moving forward, and it has crept into the printing world in many ways over the last 30 years. First, automatic presses got good enough to do quality printing by the mid-80’s, then the whole digital desktop publishing revolution happened in the early to mid-90’s, and in a way, Direct-to-screen making is the next natural extension of that. First, the robots came for our press-on lettering, Rapidographs & Amberlith, then they came for our copy cameras, & now they have come for our film output devices.

DTS 101 in a sentence — Rather than printing a film positive & sandwiching it between your photo stencil & your light source to image a screen, Direct-To-Screen images directly onto the screen’s photo stencil with a photo-opaque ink, via inkjet technology, eliminating the film step & the vacuum frame.

Direct-to-sceen machines have been around for a while, but have always had shortcomings whenever I looked at them during the last 4 years or so of contemplating implementation. It’s not a “mature” technology, but I’m ready to say that M&R has almost nailed it.

I’m going to talk about this in 2 separate sections, because they really deserve to be addressed independently of one another — hardware & software.

1. Hardware. This thing is a beast. We went with the single print head to begin with, since adding a print head to speed up the printing process at a later date if needed is no big deal. I based this on an average of 40-50 screens per shift, with occasional peaks of 70-80 screens per shift, & it has absolutely kept up. Not that any of our images are all that big, but it tends to ink a screen in less than 30 seconds. Quality so far has been great. I haven’t pushed boundaries with it yet, because it’s spring (OMG SXSW STARTS IN 2 WEEKS & WE FORGOT TO ORDER SHIRTS!!) and we are just getting work done. I can say that it is an improvement over the film we were using, across the board. Lines on vector are cleaner & the halftones have improved by a % or two. We’re holding highlight dots that we are losing with our Oyo Aspect, which to be honest, is a very good film output device.


ink printed directly onto a screen – love the sharpness!

It’s very sturdy — the build quality of the base & the print head are impressive. Nothing seems under-specced here to me, at all – I don’t see a single thing that jumps out & says “that looks like a design flaw.” It is physically very robust.

The STE is the model that comes with the integerated LED exposure unit, and I will say that sight unseen, I was skeptical, though cautiously optimistic after talking online to some people who had already purchased one. I did my homework, & made a leap of faith when I recommended to the owner that we go with the LED array. This is the thing that kicks this unit over the top, & where it currently smokes the competition. The screen images on the forward pass into the unit, then exposes as it emerges, immediately after imaging. The ink doesn’t have any time to wick or spread, it doesn’t matter if you smear it when you lift the screen off, because you are done, and it is fast. We’re using Ulano QTX, & it’s exposing a 110- mesh (threads per inch) in about 20 seconds — maybe less — I haven’t stopwatched it, but it is fast. Did I say that already? It is fast! The exposure is very even & exact, you can program presets for different meshes and emulsions, they are easy to recall, & our entire 12’ X 12’ exposure room has been replaced by a piece of plastic & bulbs that measures 4 inches by 26 inches, by about 1/2” thick. Mind boggling. Stock tip: invest in LED manufacturers — they are the future of lighting.

So if you work hard and stay organized, you really can churn out a screen a minute on this thing.

We’ve had very little trouble with the print head – it generally requires a quick auto-clean (a minute or so) & running a test print to check the head first thing in the morning, & then it’s off to the races for the day. Sometimes when it sits idle for an hour or two, we’ll need to do another auto-clean mid-afternoon. No big. We’ve lost exactly one screen to a clogged print head, & the lifetime counter was at about 2700 the last time I looked.

We have had exactly one issue where an auto-clean didn’t do the trick — this was just mid-week last week, and I botched the manual print head purge, so I had to call support. It was after 5 pm, so it was an initially frustrating phone call, as M&R uses a call center that doesn’t do the support themselves, but once I finally made it clear to the person at the call center that, “YES, THIS WAS AN EMERGENCY I have a full night shift that cannot image screens,” they finally took my name & number & had the technician on-call call me back. Marco from M&R’s digital dept. stayed on the phone with me until I had a clean print head & was making screens again — all in all, we were down 30 minutes, or so. While it was stressful at the time, really, that’s not bad. Thanks, Marco!

So, Hardware gets 5 stars, A++ WOULD BUY AGAIN!

2. Software. The i-Image relies on a chain of 3 software programs that interact in sequence. The ColorPRINT RIP program takes your files & generates the separations. These are sent, via hot folder, to the Print Production program, where you can actually view the separations & determine which separation to send to the printer, & the actual Printer Management software, which accepts the files & prints them. All 3 of these programs have to remain open at all times for the workflow to function, but fortunately, so far they have all played together very well.

What’s not playing together too well in the Dell PC attached to the printer & all the Macs in the art room. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge Windows fan, so maybe I’m a bit (a bit??) biased here, but the fact that M&R has bundled the i-Image with Windows-only RIP & printer controller software, in an industry dominated by Macs, is a tad disappointing. The workflow we are using is all a hot folder structure — the art dept. drops files in a hot folder that the ColorPRINT software detects, then rips automatically & sends the resultant *.prt files to another hot folder that the Print Production program picks up files from, then from that window all the operator has to do is find the job in the queue he wants to produce, select the separation, & send it to the printer. Supposedly. This worked great for the first 2 weeks we owned the machine, then it worked intermittently, & after an hour or two, ColorPRINT would stop “seeing” files dropped in its hot folders, then it stopped seeing them altogether. M&R had no solution to this. We had a couple remote login sessions where they poked around & looked at our file structure & where the software was pointing to hot folders, but got no results. Their first troubleshooting option was to have the screen makers manually pick up the files & rip them, as well as print them, but this is clearly not in their job description & not going to happen. Their next option was fro the art dept. to run on Windows as well, since it was “just a Mac vs. Windows thing.” quote/unquote. Hah. Not. Going. To. Happen.

I noted, while on the phone with one of their digital support guys that whenever I moved a file from a directory that was already on the PC to a hot folder on the PC, it ripped successfully every time, and asked “what if the artists dropped the files into a different folder on the PC, then when it was done copying, they could move it to the hot folder of their choice?” Their response: “Yeah, that’s the workaround.” It’s kludgy, but they could have offered this up on the first phone call, instead of waiting for me to identify it as a solution on the third or fourth phone call? So, anyway, that’s what we’re doing, now, & it’s working. I still wish this thing would have come with a Mac Mini running a Harlequin RIP package that generated a widely-used file format like .pdf  instead of a Dell making proprietary files, but such is life.

ColorPRINT only accepts .eps files, & the only format that Photoshop format that will work is DCS 2.0 files with spot channels – a file-type I had hoped would have been long-abandoned forever, so to see DCS 2.0 rear it’s less-than-lovely head in this day & age is a tad disappointing.

Yes, we are having to make adjustments, though honestly, some were to be expected. The biggest adjustment is that the art staff has to basically prepare a file as best they can, send it on its merry way & hope nothing goes wrong — we’re saving the cost of film, but we’re also now short one safety check, so a few mistakes have slipped through. They can’t look at the ripped files because ColorPRINT spits out a proprietary file format with the .prt extension & the only program that will view those files is dongle-protected on the PC attached to the i-Image. We’re trying to find a solution to that so that they can double-check the seps after they are ripped but before the screen-making staff gets them in their queue. It looks like we need to buy another dongle for $500.00 & install a Bootcamp partition & Parallels on one of the art Macs so that they can view the output before it goes from ColorPRINT to Print Production. The art department is physically removed from the screen room in another building & down a flight of stairs, so it’s inconvenient to say the least, to expect the art staff to make the trudge to the i-Image whenever they send a file for output, so we’re hoping that solution works. In the meantime, they have been laying out the .eps files on an InDesign page & using the separations preview as a stop-gap.

We have had a few isolated cases of unexplained weirdnesses — one job where one separation was printing 1/4” lower than there other separations, and 3 different files that stop printing altogether at exactly the same place, on the same separation every time. We haven’t been able to isolate the corruption with these 3 files, & neither has M&R, who has had the files in their hands for a while. All in all, I use the word “isolated” because there haven’t been all that many troublesome jobs that weren’t directly related to user error — maybe 6 total out of several hundred? We’re still hoping to get to the bottom of the corruption, though.

So Software, because it basically works, but is kludgy and proprietary, gets a B minus, 3 stars, “nice doing business with you” grade.

In the short-run, life has been a little more painful for the art staff than I had hoped, & the screen guys have had a bit of a learning curve, but are adapting well. We’re getting a lot of good screens out of it, with a few hiccups along the way, but we’re all adapting and things are smoothing out a little more each day.

In the long run, I don’t see how any shop will be able to do anything to adapt & survive in a competitive market without moving into Direct-To-Screen, and I’m glad we made the move. I feel like hardware-wise, we bought the best machine on the market at this time & have no regrets choosing the M&R over the competition, with the deciding factor being the LED exposure array. It’s a thing of near-ultraviolet beauty.

LED exposure unit in action.

LED exposure unit in action.

 Update: “Dottonedan” at The Shirt Board wrote a nice lengthy addendum to my article in a comment there, going into a few things I didn’t yet understand about the i-Image. Learning on the job, & on the web! Thanks, Dan.


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