Interview with a Screen Legend

I recently had the privilege of interviewing our Screen Supervisor, Liam McConkey. Liam oversees all aspects of the screen making process at Universal Packaging. It’s a technical craft where Liam is an expert and- like all departments at Universal- he’s supported by a super skilled team.

Picture this: every day, anywhere from 15 to 100+ art files funnel from our art team, to the screen room and then out to the production floor. At every step, details and quality must be scrutinized before moving to the next.

So I had to know what happens after the files leave the art department and make their “pit stop” in the screen room. I invited Liam to sit and discuss screens with me.

Ameliaup: What is used to make a screen?

Liam: Stainless steel mesh, metal ends and plastic sides to clip onto the frame, nuts and bolts and washers, film emulsion, art positives and ultraviolet light.

Ameliaup: How long does it take to make a screen out of the art files?

Liam: A single screen from start to finish takes around 2 hours to make, but we make screens in batches, so 3 screens wouldn’t take 6 hours to make, they would collectively take about 2 hours because they’re all made at the same time.

Ameliaup: So “pit stop” was a good description. There’s lots of moving parts and it all has to be turned around quickly and at the highest quality.

Liam: You could say that. Emphasis on the quality part.

Ameliaup: Is it the same as making screens for T-shirts?

Liam: The materials used are different, but the principle is basically the same. I have silk-screened t-shirts in the past and it uses all the same steps.

Ameliaup: Do you have to go to school to be a screen technician?

Liam: No. But it’s really important that you know how to spell Gewürztraminer.

Ameliaup: Why can’t screen meshes be saved and reused?

Liam: Mesh is very delicate and once the decorators are done using the screens they look like they’ve been put through the wringer.

Liam inspects a screen
Liam Inspects a Screen

Ameliaup: Meshes are different sizes. Can you describe the meshes and how they affect the printed designs?

Liam: We have three main mesh grades, measured as threads per square inch. 180 mesh has the largest holes and lays down the most paint so it is good for a top layer and to make the paint stand out on the glass better. The second and most common is 230 mesh. It is middle of the road, it provides good paint coverage but still allows design details to come through. 400 mesh is our finest and most fragile. This mesh is best for picking up high resolution details like photographic halftones. Also, precious metals paints, which are more viscous, are best printed using this mesh.

Ameliaup: So if you were a screen mesh, which one would you be?

Liam: 400 mesh. I like to pay attention to the small things in life. I’m also very fragile.


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Tolerance 101: 3 Small Design Considerations for Big Screen Print Success

If someone were to ask you what tolerance means to you, how would you describe it? I believe tolerance is being able to accept people’s differences of opinion to work toward social harmony.

What does tolerance have to do with screen printing you ask. Well there exists a tolerance of another type. It’s less warm and fuzzy but still important. It’s technical tolerance and it can affect your screen-printed label.

Here’s the breakdown. Our printing machines have an allowable tolerance in screen (or color) shift. It’s 1mm. This means our screen-printing machines can reliably line up the colors to within 1mm of each other. However, get closer than 1mm and things get less predictable. It sounds minimal but this tiny shift can have noticeable effects on your screen-printed design. It can mean the difference between your bottle becoming a collectable work of art or just another recycled container.

I’ve identified 3 common ways tolerance can affect your screen print:

    1. Each paint color in your design requires its own screen and screens can be moody. They can be up one moment and down the next. If your design is using one color/screen, the shift would be imperceptible. As the color/screen count goes up the potential for shift increases quickly.
      The same tolerance holds true for shift along the horizon. Screens can get cozy or distance themselves side to side as well.
      3 brightly colored circles inside each other and shifted 1mm
    2. Some screen print paints don’t play well with each other. Especially shiny precious metal paints vs. regular ceramic paints.
      While they are beautiful to look at, these brilliant, 22kt prima donnas will chemically react with other paints that they touch – and then they will tarnish. This is where your shift tolerance knowledge is important and having space between the precious metal portion of your design from other colors is crucial. Precious metal paints also tend to be more liquid (they spread around easily) so more reason to give them room to breathe. Ah, tolerance.
      The word Brilliant! and shiny gold with shift showing tarnish
    3. With an apparent comeback of outlined fonts, we receive a lot of designs with type containing more than one color. Blurry font alert!
      Here’s how it happens: The outline and font are different colors (remember, different colors mean different screens). The screens shift 1mm toward or away from each other and it throws the outline off. At best the font reads as blurry, at worst it makes the viewer woozy. To get around this, it’s best practice to forego the outline. One color, no shift.

Check back often for tips on preparing your label design for screen print.