Interview with a Screen Legend

chairs with Universal Packaging logos-facing each other

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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