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Print Tech: Pushing the Art of Poster Making

(October/November 2017) posted on Tue Oct 17, 2017

One screen printer has a big idea.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Andy MacDougall

His first experiments used conductive inks and micro-controllers to make print pieces that interacted with computers. Essentially, the poster became an input device, just like a keyboard, allowing it to talk to a computer.

“I would post a short video to social media of the final piece and move on to the next project. It was actually my wife who suggested I enter a proposal into the Arrow Five Years Out Art Challenge. Normally, I’m too busy with work to mess with contests, but since I already had videos of existing experiments, I entered those along with a proposal for a more ambitious project.”

To his surprise, Stiles was shortlisted and won a grant to build a standalone, touch-sensitive electronic poster. The concept was to not only build a functioning piece that was larger and more complicated than anything he had previously tried, but also to have all the computing and power onboard. This piece wouldn’t rely on an external computer for processing or energy.

Stiles says the poster uses “a whole variety of different technologies in order to operate. It has a drum pad, an organ, and a variety of beats and loops that you can turn on and off with the touch of a finger. It was a beast to produce and never would have happened without Arrow Electronics footing the bill. It became an obsession of mine. My wife took to calling it ‘The Mistress’ because it sapped so much of my time and energy.”

It’s not every guy whose wife allows him to have a mistress. Eventually, production moved to the dinner table when the print became too large for his basement print rig. The graphic bits are Speedball Acrylic, and the conductive ink came from Bare Conductive.

The hardest part? “I had a hell of a time with capacity and resistance issues with the conductive ink. I was really pushing it to the limits of how long and thin I could stretch my circuits. But the whole thing is experimental. No part of it was easy,” Stiles says.

After the experiments, he ran 12 sheets; three made the final cut, and one was built out all the way. This is the one that went on display at the Arts Festival, and although he didn’t win the grand prize, it has led to more work utilizing electronics mixed with printed graphics as he continues to explore possible paths.

For example, he produced “Predator” posters for the 30th anniversary of the movie. “I built 10 of those,” Stiles says. “It was my first attempt at mass-producing an electric poster. All the rest have been one-offs. The poster used proximity detection to sense motion. If it sensed someone in front of the poster, laser sights (which were actually paper-thin LEDs) shined from the Predator’s helmet. Right now, I’m working on building OLED displays into a poster for ‘Mars Attacks,’ which will be on exhibit at Gallery 1988 in LA next month.”

In case anyone needed proof, it’s clear that screen printers still have a few things to say about innovation. Who knows what the next five years will bring?

Read more about screen printing's coolest innovators in our regular Print Tech column.


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