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Are Screen Printers Part of the Maker Movement?

(January 2016) posted on Tue Jan 12, 2016

After decades of outsourced, massive-scale manufacturing, a new generation of consumers is demanding products that are one-of-a-kind and homegrown.

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By Kiersten Feuchter

Our special "SWOT: Changes & Challenges" issue brings industry experts together to consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to screen printing. This feature highlights the maker movement as an opportunity for the industry moving forward.

It’s 9:15 a.m. and Cincinnati artist and screen printer James Billiter is rushing to set up his booth at the local CityFlea market. The monthly event will draw upwards of 6000 visitors, and Billiter will speak personally with hundreds. His booth, sandwiched between other makers whose wares range from ceramics and paintings to toys and jewelry, displays his limited-edition prints, which he sells at affordable prices from $20 to $80. Today, Billiter will haul in the equivalent of two weeks’ pay at his corporate day job as a graphic designer.

Adweek calls the maker movement “a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans” and platforms like City Flea “catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude.” Those keywords “used to” reverberate as makers garner increasing attention from big name brands like Levi’s and General Electric, whose Levi’s Makers and GE Garages initiatives promote aspiring entrepreneurs.

And what does this artisan movement have to do with screen printing? For starters, it’s a process with deeply rooted, maker-esque beginnings: It’s hands-on, creative, hard work. It offers qualities that no digital system will ever replicate.

Beyond Business
And as new print technologies eat at the signage and graphics markets, screen printers need products that meet the demands of today’s consumers.

“We’re too used to seeing things that are mass produced and things that all look the same. We’ve just gotten sick of it,” says art enthusiast Chelsie Hickey. The 23-year-old graphic design student is an avid fan of work like Billiter’s, not only for its rarity, but also out of respect for the work that the artist devotes to each print. “Somebody has to pull each of those prints, and every color is more time that you add to the process.”


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