First Time for Everything

A trip to SoCal proves the importance of attending screen printing tradeshows.

Since you were last here, my loyal readers, we’ve been relieved of a terrible thing and given a gift; we can finally call the new decade by a decent short form and not sound like a dork. It feels like we wasted the previous 10 years just trying to name them. The aughts? The two thousands? The tens?  Pfft … Forget it.

Welcome to our ’20s. Roaring, soaring, boring, the nicknames will come. And as Joe Walsh says, “It’s been good to me so far.” Fifteen days in and I dodged a major snowstorm on the island, then made like a Canada goose and flocked south. 

For many, the Impressions (formerly ISS) show is a yearly event. Not this guy. First time attending, and I quickly figured out why others rave about it. It was fun. It had an edge. It had some great, accessible parties, one of which was RuckUs, an outdoor concert at the performing arts center featuring a lineup of fantastic live performers, including Sublime. And from my location in the hall and viewpoint, lots of squeegee draggers. Turns out screen printing is alive and well and basking under the warm California sun in Long Beach.

I had never been to ISS, as the main interest areas through my so-called “career” have always been graphic or industrial in nature. When I was young, I worked in a  T-shirt shop using a Riley Hopkins 4/c – state of the art at the time. So was the Nu-arc carbon arc lamp we used for exposures. Wow, how we have progressed! Life being circular, I’ve found myself running a small screen printing social enterprise (wachiaystudio.com) the last five years where the number-one product is printed garments. Yes, mom; I’m a textillion now.

The Long Beach event has been running since the ’70s and is considered one of the largest textile decorating tradeshows in North America. Along with garment manufacturers and distributors, I saw many exhibiting companies that have given up on SGIA/Printing United, citing too high of costs for too few leads. There’s no doubt this is also a regional show with a preponderance of California/Western US-based printers, designers, and decorators in the crowd. I also noticed there were more production personnel on the floor. 

Running Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and being geographically located a few hours’ drive from 40 million people, the show allows a bunch of co-workers to pile in a car, take a road trip together, and attend a show without missing too much work. It reminded this old squeegee hound of the good ole days at screen printing shows in Canada, the US, and Europe. This is so essential in our industry, where the majority of us work in relative isolation with our overview of the industry, the machines, and the supplies limited to our own shops and an occasional ad in a magazine or online. Tradeshows, at least in the screen printing industry, are still critical. See it, touch it, talk about it, and learn about it. Digital media will never replace person-to-person contact. You read it here first.

Let’s back it up a bit. Brett Bowden contacted me out of the blue. He runs Printed Threads out of Fort Worth, Texas, and is an SGIA board member, screen printing musician, and instigator at ThreadX and the recent WB Camp. Along with Tom Davenport, Rick Roth, and Pam Ikegami, they collectively run a little side operation called the Ink Kitchen. Would I like to disturb my mid-winter hibernation and set up a poster printing station in the middle of a textile show, they asked? Why not?

The Ink Kitchen crew is made up of textile industry vets who are building a multimedia and live seminar brand dedicated to helping printers grow and learn. At the Impressions show, they had speakers from all facets of the industry in panels or one-on-one interviews in a relaxed atmosphere where audience members could ask questions. Called Shop Talk (my lawyers will be in touch regarding the name), they presented 19 sessions over three days, plus a happy hour. The entire thing is videotaped and preserved on their website and social media platforms so it can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, any time. Nobody is selling anything, advice is freely given, and the fun meter seems to be cranked up to 11 most of the time. 

Their bright idea to set up a poster printing operation surrounded by the textillions was genius. Curious textile people asked lots of questions, the main one being how to register multicolor on paper. Brett mentioned many garment printers are interested in flatstock printing, but have trouble making the transition. What ink? What mesh? How do they dry? What durometer squeegee, what stencil, how do you get a sharp print? The conversations amplified. 

The poster itself drew rave reviews. Designed by Aaron Draplin, it did double duty as a nice souvenir of the show, and 100 percent of the donations went to the Surfrider Foundation (surfrider.org), an organization dedicated to cleaning up plastics and other garbage from the oceans. 

Pam reports we raised more than $2000 from poster donations, so that’s a good thing. And we had fun doing it.

Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on Vancouver Island in Canada, and a member of the Academy of Screen & Digital Printing Technology. If you have production problems you’d like to see him address in “Shop Talk,” email your comments and questions to andy@squeegeeville.com.