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Catching the On-Press Culprit

(February/March 2019) posted on Mon Mar 04, 2019

Whether it was the art, screen, ink, or a combination that caused your job to go south on press, here are four steps you can take to identify the snag – and prevent it from happening again.


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By Thomas Trimingham

If you work as an artist or color separator for a screen printing shop, I’m sure this scenario sounds familiar: A nervous press operator rushes into your workspace saying, “Something doesn’t look right with this print!” 

As you walk out to the production floor, your mind is spinning with the possible causes. Did you do something wrong? Did you forget something? Did they set it up wrong? Were the screens prepared improperly? Is the ink not working right?



The list of possible issues is quite large. If you have a newer shop with less experienced employees, you and your team may have a hard time figuring out what the problem is and how to fix it. Sometimes, even experienced printers have to chase mishaps that always seem to come up at the worst times, and mystically disappear when it’s less busy. 

One of the most challenging parts of troubleshooting on-press problems is determining the exact source of the issue. Without that knowledge, you won’t know what department(s) will need to make adjustments to fix it. Typically, even a talented production crew may first contend that it’s an art problem; skilled artists and separators, meanwhile, tend to blame the press operators. 

The reality of troubleshooting is that a lot of variables are at work in screen printing and many issues span multiple departments. It may take everyone working together to eliminate – or at least minimize – some of the common on-press problems. Be sure to keep a simple press logbook and record the hiccups you experience and the steps you took to fix them for future reference. This may seem like a waste of time, but catching problems on future orders before they go to press is like taking money to the bank. An added advantage is that after time has passed, you can review this log to spot any recurrent setbacks you weren’t aware of or didn’t think were worth addressing.

Don’t attempt to cover too many issues; instead, focus on solving your most common problems. Most likely, 20 percent of the print issues that have occurred in your shop are causing 80 percent of the headaches. Things like registration, dot gain, trapping, and color matching can be challenges in shops of all sizes.


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