Rail Tees Beginning - Part 4

Being the new guy, the undesirable task of reclaiming screens always fell to me.
cleaning screens

I would quickly find out that working at a shirt shop was far less glamorous than I imagined. In my mind, I assumed I’d be printing shirts on day one. It would, in fact, be some three months before I’d even touch a squeegee with the purpose of printing. Instead, on day one, I was introduced to the messy job of screen reclamation. To this day, 38 years later, reclaiming is still my least favorite thing to do. It is tedious work. For those unfamiliar, a screen used for printing isn’t much different than a screen you would see on a window or door. The material the screen is made from is different, but the concept is the same – interlocking and crisscrossing lines of materials that form a mesh through which ink can be forced. Screens come in many different mesh counts. Mesh count is determined by the number of threads per linear inch and range from as low as 30 to as high as 400. In those early days the majority of screens we used were 86 and 110. Today, I use 160 for 80% of what I print and 230 for the remainder, with the very rare 305 mixed in. The higher the mesh count the more detail you can hold and the smaller amount of ink you are able to pass through the screen.

A screen can be used and reused hundreds and even thousands of times if you care for them properly. At least, that’s the case these days as screen mesh is made from a very durable synthetic nylon material. However, in the mid-1980’s, screens were often still made from actual silk – thus the oft-used term “silk screening”. Silk is far less durable, and after what would be considered minimal use today, the threads would start to fray and clog the screen openings. The emulsion that is coated onto the screen to create the stencil is nothing more than a colored glue with a sensitizer mixed in. You’d recognize the smell immediately. Once you are done using the screen, the emulsion can be removed (reclaimed) and the screen can be recoated and used again and again and again. Reclaiming a screen in those days involved soaking the screen in water to soften the emulsion, spraying on a chemical that breaks down the emulsion, then scrubbing the screen with a brush to break apart the emulsion even further. Once the emulsion is sufficiently broken down, a pressure washer is used to blast the remaining emulsion off the screen. The screen is then set aside to dry before being recoated and ready to use again.

The process is only slightly different these days. I use a dip tank to soak a half dozen screens at a time in chemical and then hit them with the pressure washer. There’s no need for scrubbing and it can be a much quicker process. In those days, I would have to scrub each side of each screen individually for a couple minutes per side before hitting it with the pressure washer. It wasn’t unusual to miss a spot or two and I would have to repeat the process all over again. A stack of just 20 screens would typically take about 2 hours to reclaim. Today, I can get through 20 screens in 20 minutes. Reclaiming screens was nearly a daily ritual for me back then, and I hated it then like I hate it now. I was always soaking wet by the time I finished the process and would spend the rest of my shift in damp clothes. I was too young and stupid to wear a rubber apron or think about an extra set of clothes. It was just part of the job. And, being the new guy, the undesirable task of reclaiming always fell to me. But, having to reclaim screens made me appreciate all the other aspects of the job all that much more.

Up next, other fascinating and exciting ways I spent my time at L&L Shirt Shop.

Welcome to Rail Tees!

Located in Boise, Idaho, Rail Tees Custom Screenprinting & Embroidery is not your average print shop. Since 1986, Rail Tees owner & operator David “Rail” Colcord has been providing top notch screen printed & embroidered apparel to a wide range of clients, including businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, schools, bands, restaurants, and anyone else looking for exceptional branded products.

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