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Rocking and Printing at SXSW

(May 2015) posted on Mon Jun 08, 2015

The biggest printed-merchandise event shy of the Olympics.

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By Andy MacDougall

“You are one lucky guy to get to go to Austin. I wish I could join you again. Someday, I will go again and pull prints with you. I never thought I would be screen printing in a bar with excellent music playing right in front of me. Pure joy.” (Daniel Gilsdorf, product development manager for Sefar USA.)

Pure joy and luck – Dan sums it up well. There are conventions, and then there is South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The festival started small over 25 years ago and has expanded into a multi-week event each March comprising music, film, interactive technology, and much more. It engulfs the Austin Convention Center and spreads all over the town. It’s on the rooftops and in the alleyways, parks, community halls, and bars.

What does any of that have to do with screen and specialty printing? Plenty.

I would bet that more display signage, t-shirts, car and building wraps, specialty advertising items, and, of course, rock posters are printed for SXSW than any event except the Olympics. I doubt that even the Super Bowl approaches the sheer volume of material produced. SXSW is to the specialty printing industry as Christmas season is to retailers.

A number of my friends work in textile operations in the Austin area, and they report their shops are swamped for weeks leading up to SXSW. Almost every major brand in the world catering to the young/hip/connected crowd is represented in some way. Swag is king, and with lots of digitally produced stickers, the shops with print-and-cut devices run flat out. Jonathan Rebolloso, the master printer at Coronado Studio and my sidekick for the week, had four of his art prints turned into stickers and a t-shirt, as well, thanks to DTG technology.

One place where screen printing is still dominant is the Flatstock 48 Rock Poster Exhibit. Recognized by the organizers as one of the most popular events at SXSW, Flatstock draws hundreds of the top poster artists from around the world who exhibit their work. Fans and collectors line up to be first through the doors of the convention center, as many of the artists bring hard-to-find pieces. One of the things that makes it special is the booths are all staffed by the artists, so unlike visiting a gallery, Flatstock is a chance to interact with and meet the people who make the product.


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