Lessons-screen-printing-lab

4 Lessons from 30 days of Screen Printing

Screen printing is not a skill that I am comfortable with. However, it does fit into an area that consistently peaks my interests. As a student and early in my career, I took every intro to screen printing workshop available. Each time, I went through the basics of getting a small, one color poster made. The instructors often took us through baby steps to teach us the foundation of inking and pulling screens. After every workshop, I pondered how I could get better at this?

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Early sketches of what ‘home’ means to me.

This month a colleague at IBM offered a similar opportunity: the studio poster exchange. Make an 11″ X 14” poster. The theme is ‘Home’. Participants will then gift a copy of their creation to the rest of the participants. The catch was that we can make the posters any way we want. I chose screen printing. For the first time, I was on my own to try the process. Here are the four lessons I learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Begin with the end in mind

This was the advice from the project organizer, Cameron Sandage in the beginning of the challenge. It quickly made sense when I started to think about how I needed to set up my Illustrator file to make the screens. The more colorful the final product, the more complicated you’ll make the printing process. The easy formula I came up with was 1 color = doable.

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Eventual focus was on New Jersey. Not one city defines the state. So, I looked for a way to tie it together. I found my answer in NJ Transit.

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Early work tracing a map in Illustrator.

Lesson 2: Ask for help early

There was a big community of curious learners here at IBM Design. I was fortunate to connect with small group of expert evangelist in the studio. All of them were willing to help and guide me through the process of 1). Setting up my illustrator file, 2). Printing the transparency, 3). Burning the screens or finding a place that will burn them for me, 4). Ordering the paper, and 5). Setting up the workstation.

Lesson 3: Budget your time wisely

Coming from a digital environment, I was reminded that wrangling resources in the physical world take time. Step 2 – 4 (see Lesson 2) required at least two weeks with some back and forth.

I don’t often get the chance to practice being a student in the professional world.

In the case of selecting and buying paper, the process requires a few of more steps for consideration. What color combos would work with the ink and paper? What texture made sense? How many did I need?

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Learning the paper selection process at O-K Paper.

Lesson 4: Get comfortable with screwing up

The big motivation for joining this challenge was to learn a new skill. I don’t often get the chance to practice being a student in the professional world. The unintended discovery was the excitement that came from being a beginner. At this stage, I was uncovering areas where I had assumptions or I just didn’t know anything. In both cases, I found opportunities in experimenting, making mistakes and adding to my knowledge base.

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Taping the screen, lining up the paper, and holding my breath.

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Discovering that I my squeegee was too small, and I flooded my screens.

While it stings a little to have a failed outcome, this month was about embracing my inner novice. Much of my day-to-day work is pushing my level to a specialized expert. I do not often get the chance to explore the beauty of creativity and experimentation from learning a new skill. Obviously, I am still very shaky with screen printing, but I have pushed the needle a little closer to better understanding the process.



Matt Eng

UX Research Team Lead at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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