Screen Printing - April/May 2018 - 36
From small Beginnings
print is far from dead for these ever-expanding
screen printing operations.
andy macdougall, asdpt
e're lucky people, getting to play with squeegees all
day. Returning to Austin for the Flatstock 65 concert poster
exhibition at SXSW in March, I was surrounded by screen
printers and screen printing - and yes, even a bit of digitally
printed stuff. An enterprising local sticker shop cut deals with
the poster artists and offered DTG shirts printed on the spot:
Pick your shirt, pick a design. The artists got a fair royalty
and people got some unique art reproductions exclusive to
Flatstock and not from one of the online scammers. No
worries, though, silk screen fans: The digitalians were
surrounded by 99-percent pure screen printed posterage.
For yours truly, the show was great, but it was time I
spent at two similar but unique Austin-based screen shops
that made the trip memorable. Together, these shops provide
about 40 examples of why this is a great business to be in (40
being the approximate number of people now working at the
Industry Print Shop and Kong Screen Printing are examples of the DIY ethos that permeates the process. And
the beautiful studios they occupy today are testimony to
the lessons learned and applied as they grew. It's a story
that is repeated by screen printers around the globe, and it's
endlessly fascinating to watch a garage or bedroom screen
shop morph and expand outward and upward, the skills soon
outpacing the equipment. The leaps of faith an owner must
take to expand and follow opportunity are exceeded only by
the knowledge they rapidly acquire as the scale and footprint
of their operations increase.
The first time I set foot in Kong (kongscreenprinting.com),
they were running shirts through a homemade dryer that
could very well have been wood fired, with a steam-driven
belt - a relic of Rube Goldberg's short career in the screen
printing equipment design game. Ryan Burkhart, who I knew
previously as a university printmaking professor, was half
covered in plastisol, dragging a squeegee across a woodframed screen, pumping out "Welcome to Austin (now leave)"
SXSW novelty shirts while partner Bruce Braden, who had
founded Kong earlier in 2011, madly packaged shirts with
his soon-to-be wife as the orders exploded. Later that day,
the WWII vintage Quonset hut they were in got completely
flooded by a genuine Texas tornado. I left after water started
cascading through leaks in the roof and pouring out of the
light fixtures. Somehow - like screen printers everywhere -
they managed to get things under control. Doors and drains
were upgraded, the roof was patched, the dryer went to
the junkyard, and three years ago, they moved into a new,
climate-controlled space with two dryers, two automatics,
some manual presses, and a nice, inviting front end that
includes foosball, picnic tables, some taps, and a few bottles
of moonshine. Their motto: "We print stuff on things." They
do just that.
Braden started Kong in January of 2011 after leaving a customer service management job at Rackspace. He had printed
shirts at a college job and wanted to get out of the office
and return to printing. Burkhart has an MFA in printmaking
and design from Texas Tech. He taught at the University of
Central Florida and ran a nonprofit printing company, Flying
Horse Editions, from 2001-2008 before leaving to pursue business opportunities. The two joined forces in 2011. Along with
eight employees, they serve a growing customer base that is
about 80 percent central Texas and 20 percent national.
Ryan says, "Our philosophy is 'Work hard. Be humble.
Make people happy.'" Seems to be working.
The other Austin company, Industry Print Shop (industryprintshop.com), is known for hosting the annual Flatstock
BBQ - which is actually self-serve tacos for 100-plus oddballs
like me. (Two years ago, I ended up with a tattoo after the
event, but that's a whole other story.) Every year, I see incremental changes, expansion, and new activities at the company. It's an exciting place. Some of my good friends from
the flat stock/gig poster movement work there. Jared Conner
runs the art department, and Bobby Dixon is the art director.
The company motto, "Blood, Sweat, and Mostly Tears," sums
up their growth from a small space on the east side of Austin
in 2007, where founder Tony Diaz and his wife, Jennifer,
started printing shirts and posters. They added some automatic textile presses and great people, and moved a couple of
times as they built the business. The present location in north
Austin has seen them continue to expand, recently taking
over the rest of their building and adding a dedicated area for
art prints and posters, run by Brian Maclaskey. With over 30
employees, Industry Print Shop is a major force in the Austin
market, and expanding nationwide. Their other activities
include live printing at events and design; they even offer a
hand to smaller shops that need screen making and assistance with ink, art, or other growth challenges.
Remember, this sector of the industry has been written
off by the experts, supposedly replaced by digital printing,
and yet these companies continue to grow. They are prime
examples of the opportunity that awaits if you've got the
drive, desire, and creative spark. The team mentality of the
employees is refreshing, and a big part of the success. The
other magic ingredient is the customer base. Supported by
good design and great products, these shops are expanding as
their clients' businesses grow.
Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on
Vancouver island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen
& Digital printing technology. if you have production problems you'd
like to see him address in "Shop talk," email your comments and
questions to email@example.com.