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Identifying Variables

(March 2004) posted on Tue Apr 27, 2004

Take the first step toward predictable prints by reviewing some of the most troublesome variables that screen shops face.


By Merlin DuVall

In my first installment last December, I indicated that variables in the screen-printing process would be one of the main areas addressed in my future columns. Variables throughout a printing operation impact product quality, production efficiency, customer satisfaction, and ultimately the business's profitability. The following sections identify some of the key variables, the departments responsible for controlling them, and the consequences of letting them go unchecked.

Sales

In the sales department, communication is the most influential variable. Salesmen must clearly and effectively establish the production capabilities and limitations of their company with the customer. To ensure that important job details don't slip through the cracks, salespeople should follow a standard order-taking procedure that covers all the important aspects of the job. And they should adhere to fixed pricing levels, rather than set prices on a job-by-job basis. Without ensuring that all these issues are covered from the beginning, some aspect of the job is certain to fail.

The sales procedure should be backed by a standard purchase-order form containing fields for each piece of vital information about the job (substrate, size, quantity, number of colors and color-matching requirements, delivery date, etc.) A "cookie cutter" approach to customer communication works well, while random and haphazard detail sharing leads to haphazard results. Thorough and consistent communication from empathetic salespeople will win more business for your company than low pricing.

Effective communication between sales and production-scheduling departments also is important. Complete job information needs to be conveyed in a timely manner to production schedulers, and they must immediately inform sales if there are any special circumstances that might affect the way the job is produced, the cost to produce it, or the time in which it is delivered. Any inconsistency in communication here can lead to mistakes in the final product and unhappy customers.

Art department

The art department in a full-service printing company is one of the most technical areas of the business. The art staff needs clear and detailed instruction in order to properly build or modify design files, separate images properly, and deliver accurate film positives. Standard procedures governing the techniques employed in the department are invaluable. Document each step in the process and make sure the art staff understands the needs and limitations of the departments further downstream in the production flow. For example, artists need to be aware that positives created as a composite of several layers of film can reduce transmission of UV light to the stencil during screen exposure, creating problems for the screenmaking department.

Screenmaking

The screenmaking department is home to most of the variables in screen printing. Variables are introduced in nearly every step of the process, from screen tensioning and mounting to stencil coating and exposure.

Mounting of tensioned mesh to a frame is a minor consideration for some types of printing. But for high-resolution or fine-detail work, precise alignment of the mesh relative to the frame is critical for preventing moir


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