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How I Ate My Homework

(February 2013) posted on Tue Mar 12, 2013

A retired dentist had this concept—gift cards for dogs.


By Andy MacDougall

Nothing says specialty substrates like a piece of bread with a thick layer of Nutella printed on it. My friend Guido Lengwiler, a professor of screen printing in Switzerland and the author of A History of Screenprinting, to be published later this year, sent me pictures of a little test he has his students run.

The point of the experiment is to show the versatility of the screen-printing process, how it can print almost anything in a semi-liquid state onto any type of surface. This has far-reaching significance, not necessarily as a way to provide snacks for hungry students—although I hear it tastes really good after a pass through a tunnel dryer—but in the world of manufacturing, where the ability to print one material onto another has revolutionized how things are made.

The very concept of printing has evolved all around the world. For 500 years, imprinting paper was about as exotic as it got, and the primary purpose of printing was putting words, and then illustrations, on paper. Wallpaper and fabric printing stretched the uses of the printing processes, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that printers ventured into specialty materials, ceramics and metal being the main recipients of ink. The main purpose was decorative, again with words and images. Ink on paper is still big, five centuries after Gutenberg, with digital and offset or combinations of the two processes dominating. And that’s how the general public, a lot of the print trades, and the education system for the most part still see print.

What is printing?
Let’s face it—once we walk out of the screen shop, factory, or material-science lab, if you ask 1000 people to look up from their smartphones for a second and touch or point to the print nearest to them, none will hold up the phone. Yet, the backside of the touchscreen has conductive and luminescent material printed all over it. That’s how it works: One non-traditional ink is printed on a non-traditional material. Modern manufacturing using a printing process—who’d have thunk it? Put the two together and pretty soon you have a new product—in this case, $63 billion worth of iPhones and iPads or their clones this year in the USA alone.


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