it interesting

With the exception of a very strange evening in
Rotherham in 1982, commenting on the ink technique used on a woman’s T-shirt is usually an unsuccessful method of introduction. In the unlikely event you’re reading this though Mandy, my apologies; I was young and knew nothing of transvestism. Generally you see, ink just isn’t considered exciting – used as an ice breaker in the Home Counties you can expect a ‘Clear ‘Orff’, bring it up around my neck of the woods and you can look forward to spending the remainder of the evening wearing a stiletto. And yet strangely I find myself interested in the stuff, so forgive me, I must go on.

Ink, it seems to me, becomes interesting when things start to go wrong. Let me tell you a true story, picture the scene…the Olympics, and we’re down by the river. There they stand, the modern gods Redgrave and Pincent, their proud and chiselled features look up to the flag as the national anthem begins. And is that, could it be, a tear in Steve’s eye at the realisation of a boyhood dream? Or is it just the rain, which is unfortunate because the red stripe beneath his gold medal is beginning to run….oh dear…. there’s red ink all over his white lycra, the national shame of it. Ink momentarily became of interest, and the good news was we picked up a red and blue stripe job – every cloud.

The tough thing about ink is it often leaves you stuck between two difficult positions:

1)       Play safe, plastisol every time – doesn’t block in the screen, won’t eat the emulsion, and doesn’t mean you wander about smelling like you’ve splashed on ‘Formaldehyde’ the fragrance for men.

2)       Expand your horizons – come up with some amazing new effects that no one else can replicate, and then wonder why you’ve grown a third testicle.

It was on such a boundary pushing morning that I had one of my greater triumphs. Attempting to print some Hermes like silk scarves and wrestling with a weird water based cocktail, the customer arrived to collect his order. ‘Not a problem’ I shouted, ‘Just going through the dryer now’, to which came the reply that is guaranteed to spell disaster…’Do you mind if I come and watch’. I hardly heard him over the noise of a fan I was fiddling with – the unit was filling with smoke due to giving the water based ink a damn good grilling. I could hardly see where I was going, I needed extraction, and fast. Cranking the fan to warp 5 we waited patiently for the scarves to emerge. They emerged alright, at 90 miles an hour out of the side of the factory. Sucked up the ducting they were spat out from the 8th floor – we stood together and watched their silent decent to the street below where they were run over, by a bus. Wouldn’t have happened if I’d been playing safe with sensible ink.

Speaking of playing safe and the importance of ink, I’m reminded of a printer whose relationship ended when his girlfriend noticed a clear print of the union flag on his non-smiling cheeks. He’d been having his squeegee sharpened by a screen rep on the flat bed – can’t go into too much detail, but yet again, ink changing lives.

Not convinced that ink can be interesting – OK, it’s time to go through the menu; I know all you printers will yawn and trip over a cable so just play with your micro reg while I spell it out for our less inky friends:

Plastisol –  the printer’s friend – fag in one hand, squeegee in the other, singing Clash songs and balancing a tin of spray tack on your nose; this stuffs easy. Good opacity, prints wet on wet, crisp edges and doesn’t  block the screen – this one won’t make you look stupid, and also comes in all kinds of fluorescents, phosphorescents, suede’s, lycras, you name it. Down side, rubbish texture, even with a bag load of soft hand additive, but are you going to tell the customer?

Water based – this is for when you tell the customer – maybe not so sharp and graphic, blocks the screen, can get more smoke in the factory than a bunch of beagles on a day out, but run your hand over the T and feel that texture – self love is not a crime.

Glitter/Metallics/Shimmer – my favourite request with these was when a customer asked me if I could get an extra flake of glitter between two others in the print. I tried that while one of the lads cut their brake pipe – you need a coarse mesh to get the suspended particles through which can make the print a bit edgy, but other than that it does what it says. Careful not to go out in Soho after a day on the shimmers though, unless you look good in a leather cap.

Discharge – I know, not even a nice name for a punk band – basically it’s like a bleach, but not only removes the colour in a reactive dyed shirt, but then replaces it with whatever pigment colour you fancy – magic. Great for bright colours onto dark backgrounds while keeping the texture oh so soft.

Foil – print a glue, then heat press the foil of your choice – gold, silver, rainbow, holographic…there was a time when Aliens were landing in Leicester, which was knocking out so much of the stuff it was visible form outer space. Sadly all that shines is not gold and they left after 10 minutes.

Puff additive – or 5 litres of Larry (Grayson) as it’s known in the game – whip it up with your plastisol and watch your print rise like Delia’s soufflé into a lovely high build. Don’t go mad though – if it goes up like Hovis it’ll also wash off the shirt, so  go easy.

Nylobond – You want what? Ink onto a coated nylon? No problem Madam, couple of scoops of this stuff and it’s sticking like ink to a blanket.

I know print people, there are more..what about leather inks,mmmm, but enough’s enough and it’s time to hit the isolator switch. Still think ink isn’t fun? Come on I gave it an extra flick of the wrist when I stirred it for you – any complaints and next month it’ll be ‘The Public Sector Borrowing Requirement and where Britain went wrong!’


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