PRF Project Part Two: Research and Needs Assessment

Any project begins with where you leave off. Know­ing what to do next often takes longer that the rest of the work. I spent con­sid­er­able time research­ing and learn­ing. I could not be where I am today with this one with­out a the gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tions of few pre­de­ces­sors ref­er­ence here.

This is Part 2 of a series archiv­ing my par­tic­i­pa­tion in a Pres­i­den­t’s Research Project Grant at Oral Roberts Uni­ver­sity as a graphic design pro­fes­sor in the The­atre, Dance and Visual Arts Depart­ment. The project out­line pro­vides access to the com­plete process.

  1. Intro­duc­tion
  2. Research and needs assessment
  3. Ideation and planning
  4. Pro­to­typ­ing and testing
  5. Press con­struc­tion
  6. Test­ing and improvements
  7. Print con­tent
  8. Print Process
  9. Con­clu­sion


I have wanted to screen print after being exposed to it as part of art club in the sixth grade. None of could use an X‑acto knife on rubylith curves, so we went a lit­tle punk on our t‑shirt design. All through art school, I never had a chance to screen print, until my wife bought me a Speed­ball starter kit. With some quick suc­cess, I tried to branch out far­ther and with a larger size. I found some old screens (always the cheap­skate) and tried to re-stretch them. Bad idea. My ten­sion was poor, and my mesh too porous for paper. When things did print cor­rectly, it was out of reg­is­ter. I spent a lot of time on the inter­net, because it fit my sched­ule. I should have just asked some­one, but did not really know who as I was a new face in a big city. I finally found the Gig​posters​.com Screen­print­ing forum. Unfor­tu­nately, after a run of many years the page is no longer active, but por­tions live on in archival form.

PNG: Counter: Stymie Family

PNG: Counter: Stymie Fam­ily, paper, serig­ra­phy, let­ter­press 5″ x 7″ (11″ x 14″ framed) 2014

It was at gig­posters that I finally learned to print. With help form Andy Mac­Dou­gal, Andy at Diesel Prints, SqueegeeThree and count­less oth­ers, I learned the basics, plus the nuances of off con­tact, ink vis­cos­ity and print set­tings for film pos­i­tives. I also real­ized I needed some new equip­ment. So in 2013, I applied for and received an fac­ulty research grant and pur­chased new screens. It worked and so did I, pro­duc­ing the foun­da­tion of the Per­sona non Grata series.

Getting Serious and Scaling Up

In the spring on 2017, I was asked to teach an ad hoc screen print­ing course. With over 20 stu­dents reg­is­tered, I needed acces­si­ble, sim­ple and repeat­able solu­tions for the process. I was able to uti­lize some unused dark­room and graph­ics pro­duc­tion spaces from the late 1980’s at the uni­ver­sity to cre­ate a semi-dark room, washout area, dry­ing cab­i­net and expo­sure unit. It was dur­ing this time, I began to think large, and planned for the future pos­si­bil­ity of print­ing up to a 48 x 36 in screen.

Photo of light table.

A quick shot of large for­mat light table based on Peter Mars and dave @ con​fuse​ment​.com.

In sum­mary, my cur­rent print setup:

Lessons from Current Set Up

For smaller stu­dents, the lever­age angles and forces needed to pro­duce an ade­quate poster sized print were too great. At 6′, I even fatigued after about a 100 impres­sions. Some of the observed qual­ity issues were due to screen size and poor expo­sure, but con­sis­tency of the print stroke was obvi­ous once other vari­ables were removed. Pre­cise reg­is­tra­tion is dif­fi­cult as small adjust­ments become hard to man­age 3–4 feet from the pivot point of the screen and reg­is­tra­tion clamps.

Large Format Press Options

I was ini­tially sur­prised at how many choices existed for a large for­mat press. These broke down into two main cat­e­gories: the semi-auto and the man­ual. The semi-auto pro­vided the energy and forces to pre­vent fatigue and ensure con­sis­tency over a man­ual print, but was dif­fi­cult to house and sup­port due to its nec­es­sary elec­tri­cal require­ments (often 220v). Like­wise, the bed size was often slightly smaller than was ideal for poster print­ing. Oper­a­tion would require a degree of safety train­ing that young stu­dents may find too onerous.

TMI Jaguar website image. Image cour­tesy of TMI Jaguar

The man­ual press cat­e­gory pro­vided some degree of oper­abil­ity by a wide range of human sizes and strengths, plus an abil­ity to pull a 5 x 10 foot or larger print. Reg­is­tra­tion options were under­stand­able and util­i­tar­ian. Oper­a­tion was much slower, but the risk of dan­ger was well reduced and an option for a wide range of peo­ple. For the lim­ited num­ber of impres­sions I was need­ing, this seemed like a nice option.

Seriglide image from AWT website. Image cour­tesy oh AWT.

Practical Realities

The deal breaker, how­ever, was cost. I was sur­prised at the cost for these presses, but under­stood the mar­ket demand for indus­trial scale man­u­fac­tur­ing and large for­mat screen print­ing presses don’t really have a large inter­sec­tion. I did not feel I could jus­tify the expenses with my or the schools’ money for the peri­odic use in class and research. I began to look for, in clas­sic Amer­i­can style, a DIY solu­tion to pro­vide a higher level of print­ing than I had, but at a more rea­son­able cost.

Screen­shot of Paul Cretin web­page demon­strat­ing press construction.

I searched to web, yet again, look­ing for what I needed from the dis­tant past on Gig­posters. About this time, I also real­ized it was no longer up, but was able to retrieve some book­marks from my browser. I found Paul Cret­in’s one arm press post in sev­eral places. I read some, and then went back and read some more (PDF TO ARCHIVE AM com­ments later page) to under­stand the nuances. Many man­ual presses uti­lize the lin­ear roller bear­ing track as the pri­mary print­ing mech­a­nism. The major dif­fer­ences stemmed from the abil­ity to raise and lower the screen in a clamshell motion or in a par­al­lel lift fash­ion. Par­al­lel lift seemed to pro­vide the best results.

One last Surprise

A few day of per­sis­tent search­ing (ok, on Pin­ter­est, I like pic­tures ok … ), revealed an option as beau­ti­ful as it was prac­ti­cal. The Museum of Arts and Design had col­lab­o­rated with the UM Project to pro­duce a press that seemed to fit my needs and skill level. I deter­mined I could adapt this basic design, thanks in large part to the won­der­ful pic­tures and video on their site. I would make a work­ing man’s ver­sion, hop­ing to uti­lize the best of the big box hard­ware stores with­out sac­ri­fic­ing too much quality.

Screenshot of The Print Shop at MAD website. Screen­shot of The Print Shop at MAD website.

Once I fig­ured it out, I wanted to do more. Next, Part 3, the plan­ning stage.