Getting Into Garment Printing

This article will deal with training you or your personnel in the process of screen printing on garments. Although the process looks easy and appears to be just pushing a little “paint” across a screen – there is more to the process than meets the eye.

Bad Habits Get Passed Down
The typical training method is to let the new printer work with “Bob” for awhile and then give him a squeegee and let him go at it. This method fosters bad habits and the next thing you know the new person is training another new person and the bad habits just get worse. This method also doesn’t give the printer the big picture about the relationships between the artwork, screen, ink and final print. Tunnel vision is one of the biggest problems faced by most shops who don’t have a formal training program.

Establish a Regular Training Program
Even if you are a small shop you should establish regular training sessions. These can be as simple as one hour per week of just going over different techniques. Make a list right now of your favorite gripes about your shop. Do they keep remaking screens because of inconsistent coatings or exposures? Does every screen have thousands of pinholes? Do your prints look too thick or too light? Are your nylon jacket prints smeared? Does ink fade and wash off the shirts? Does it always take hours to set-up a simple job? Do you flash cure every color on every job? Do you spend too much time wiping down screen bottoms? The list goes on and on and if you don’t find your shop in some of the above questions then maybe you are doing it right!

Train on the employees time. Why would anyone want to spend and extra hour or two after work hours to get trained. Find the time during normal work hours and turn off the phones (easy for me to say) and have an agenda for half of the session. The other half should allow time for individual employees to give their input on problem areas that need work.

Let Your Employees Read the Trade Magazines
This one is always a mystery to me. The trade magazines end up on the owners bookshelf and don’t go any further. Even this article will probably never see the shop floor. With a half-dozen good trade magazines running excellent articles on every topic, you could do nothing but clip and work through articles and you would have an excellent program. Get the magazines into the shop and encourage the workers to read them. Invest in their training and buy them a subscription. If you are afraid they will learn too much about the business, then just copy the articles and pass them around without letting them see the entire magazine.

Take Key People to Trade Shows
This is another pet peeve. The owner gets the perk of going to a show and taking in seminars and then the responsibility of passing along the technical information. Your key printers will become loyal employees if you let them tag along to the next show and let THEM ask the questions and see and hear about the newest techniques.

Start an SOP Book
Every shop needs to have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) book that spells out just how you do things. From how long to expose screens to what quality standards you expect, to how long you flash cure – this book is what new people and your regular people will use as the standards.

Use Industry Resources
The Screenprinting and Graphic Imaging Association in Fairfax, Va, has a training center called the Screen Printing Technical Foundation.

Most suppliers offer open houses and training. Many of them will also train on-site if you are a regular customer or if you purchase your equipment and ink from them. The only problem with supplier training is that it is usually very commercial and often is really just a chance to pitch products.

There are a number of college classes on screen printing but many of them drag out a few days worth of training into a 6-week course and many do not teach current commercial techniques.

Use Video Tapes
The U. S. Screen Printing Institute offers video training course that range from professionally produced tapes to seminars that have been video taped. Either way, you get more information than if you did nothing at all. Start your video library and make these part of your regular sessions.

Don’t Be So Paranoid
I really think that many owners are so afraid of teaching their people too much that it is easier just to keep them in the dark. Determine who could be a key person and invest in their education. As they become more indispensable PAY THEM MORE. Why else should they better themselves. Someone has to keep up with the latest technology and it is very hard when your job is to run the company.

Learn Yourself
Too many times you hear “we can’t do that” from an employee – yet you see the same effect coming from the competition. If you are totally in the dark about the process then how will you know if you can or can’t do it. At least take time to learn the basics of the process as the owner so you will know when they are pulling the ski hat over your eyes. Keep up with the latest techniques and let the people know that you know. They may decide that maybe they had better read the trades and keep up to know more than the boss.

Start Today
This is it. The busy season is upon us and why not set aside an hour this Friday to start your first formal session. In fact, how about every Friday – 4:15 to 5:00. Pick a topic and go for it. This week let’s talk about print quality. You could cover the types of squeegees, how the ink viscosity effects the print, how many strokes to do, what is an acceptable print – the list goes on and on.

Start your SOP book at the same time. Determine your quality standards, maybe average set-up and tear-down times, etc. This may be too much for 45 minutes, but you need to start somewhere. The great part about these sessions is you open communication to other problems in the shop and get people thinking you really do care about them and the customer.

Good luck.

Author’s URL: Scott Fresener

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