"My first memory of screen printing was my idol Keith Haring. Best known as a graffiti street artist; Keith was one of the handful of artists that used screen printing not only as a fine art but also to make a living. Andy Warhol was famous for screen printing as well but early on I noticed a difference that I still cite today as to why I think Keith Haring was a true screen printer, and Andy was not: Keith used a press; Andy put screens on the floor. Oh, and he would sign his name with a registration mark at the end. See? Keith was a real printer. When I was a kid, Keith Haring had the “Pop Shop” where he sold t-shirts, collectibles and prints of his work in a setting where at any time you could run right into him while he was working. Who could not be inspired by someone like that?
Fast forward to an eighteen year old me walking into a real contract screen printing shop for the first time. I heard a symphony...
Ok, ok, it was the rumbling of compressors and the Phooomh-Pshiiish of M&R Gauntlets. Add in the rhythmic clank of an over greased center shaft of an automatic and my own industrialized version of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” began to play. I was hooked and I’ve been an ink slinger ever since.
Not all printers become contract printers though and there is good reason for this. Some printers love working with the public on projects and would like to also sell promotional products and other services. Contract printers would rather concentrate on providing screen printing to Promotional Products Distributors (PPD’s). We would rather they be in the public eye while we are left to tinker and act like mad scientists in our laboratories. We get to dress in jeans and t-shirts, not like actual grownups, which is a perk as our profession is built on highly tuned skill sets, speed, accuracy and the ability to put our PPD’s needs above our own all done so while baking in a shop during the summer. The margins for profit are slimmer and the overhead dramatically higher.
Why do we do it? In my opinion, because we can and because it is what lights us up inside. A contract shop is a place where printers go because they want to be challenged. There is a thrill involved in what we do. To see how many shirts can be loaded perfectly on the automatics without having to stop; manual printers trying to go another year without a single mess up; how many screens can be burned per hour; can a rush job that comes in UPS that morning make it through the entire shop and out the same day without any bumps in the road. It’s a race and a competition every day. Contract printers want to compete. We don’t even care who we compete with and our best adversary is ourselves. It’s not for the faint of heart and not for those of us who want 10,000 likes on Facebook. Our job is to make sure our PPD’s can post pictures and look great on Facebook. If you feel that fast-paced obscurity is its own reward; welcome aboard, you are a contract printer."