A Time to Reflect

The good, the bad, and the ugly of Printing United.

Printing United dodged a real Texas Tornado a few days prior to the inaugural event, hosted an estimated 30,000 visitors (according to SGIA), and came through as advertised. Right after closing, another tornado hit, this time inside the show. The carpet came up and the teardown crew descended en masse, ripping up a show floor that just finished hosting three days of meetings, greetings, demos, dinners, digital overload, optical illusions, logos ‘n’ lectures, long walks, questions, answers, more questions, some damn fine printing, a free massage chair booth one over from ours, lots of old friends, and a few new ones. 

Dallas is done, we converged. Time for the equipment and people to diverge. The show hall was filled with shouting workers and fork lifts re-enacting WWII tank battles in the aisles. The place looked like some kind of print shop nightmare with piles of discarded product on every corner, half-destroyed exhibits, and printer parts strewn across once tidy booths. I swear I heard the opening notes to the theme from Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” as Clint Eastwood walked down the aisle, crumpled posters scattering like tumbleweeds at his feet. Turned out it was an electrician with a toolbelt and a cowboy hat.

The Good

Friends and contacts new and old. For many of us, the annual SGIA tradeshow is the one time per year we get to see people in person, and PU did not disappoint. 

Academy inductees. Newest member Mark Gervais had the best line at the ASDPT dinner in answer to a question from the Student Print Ambassadors who wanted to know how Academy members got started in the biz and where they have ended up. He started printing circuit boards after high school way back in the ’80s for a little start-up called Apple. Now he manages print operations at Ningbo Shenzhou Knitting, one of the largest print facilities in the world. Other inductees this year are Beppe Quaglia, whose Virus inks are helping drive the resurgence of water-based textile printing worldwide, and Brian Hoag, a teacher who runs one of the most successful high school printing programs in the US. 

Women in print. From the front office to the production floor to the boardroom, women are finding success in a growing, changing industry. My editor Adrienne Palmer led a sold-out breakfast event, moderated a panel, and hosted a reception at the ST Media Group booth, all recognizing successful females in the industry. The influx is a welcome change in what was traditionally a male-dominated vocation. My own experience teaching and consulting, and our visit by the young print ambassadors, show new entrants into the world of print are overwhelmingly female. It brings to mind a lyric from a Rude Boys song I used to play, written by Bobby Heron: “Women are taking over the world and I want to be in there.” True, with a ska beat.

We had some offset people visit the booth. You know convergence is working when someone looking at an optically controlled, servo-driven screen press used to produce high precision components for smart phones and consumer electronics asks where the T-shirt goes.

My boothies. I only see these guys once a year, but it has been the same team for a while. It’s a bit like summer camp, and it makes me regret the short time we spend together. I’m forever in awe of the technical teams at the booth who can manifest a working print shop from a jumble of equipment in crates, troubleshoot and correct power issues and other problems in a day, then tear it all down and send it packing three days later. It takes me two weeks to fix a small part on a press at home.

The Bad

My printing includes screen. As the floor space increases, the screen printing component of the show decreases. With the new name and the focus on all-print and all-digital, suppliers and printers who work in the three areas of screen printing – textile, graphic, and industrial/functional – are going to seriously question their attendance or investment in a show that does not deliver screen printers (read customers) like it used to. The suppliers of consumables don’t bother anymore; they know their bread gets buttered at the ISS shows or IDTechEx.

We screen printers never did fit neatly into the definitions of “commercial printing.” Maybe because when we start screen printing, we create whole new industry sectors. Outdoor advertising. P-O-P. Specialty advertising. The T-shirt industry. Printed electronics and the ensuing digital revolution that has taken over the world. That’s why this tradeshow was originally started. You can call it mature technology. Call it analog. Call it legacy. Call it specialty. But don’t call us on your smartphone unless you’re ready to say screen printing did this. 

We lost a great one this year. Joe Clarke, an ASDPT member and the guy who wrote Control without Confusion, which helped take screen printers out of the dark ages, passed away recently. M&R named their new training center in his honor. We’ll miss you buddy. 

The Ugly

Did you just skip to here? Joke’s on you, dear reader. There is no ugly. It’s the holiday season and soon to be a new year, and you are all beautiful. May your squeegees stay sharp and your prints remain flawless. Enjoy and treasure your time with friends and family. 


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.

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