Getting from computer screen to printing screen proved to be harder than it first looked.
It was quite an idea. When Screen Printing’s own Steve Duccilli detailed the possibilities of digital screen making five years later, he posed a mock futuristic scenario – complete with a robotic screen transport system – in which the screen maker spent most of his workday sleeping because his job had become just that easy (March 1992, pg. 60). McCue envisioned changes that were just as radical – although presumably the screen maker might find something to do besides nap. (Social media wasn’t around yet.)
McCue knew he needed access to greater resources beyond a chopped-up screen and a desktop printer to take his idea further. He was working in sales for Screen Printing Supplies at the time, a dealer for Gerber Scientific Products, the company that revolutionized computerized vinyl cutting. Gerber was “toying around with inkjet printing,” says McCue; he wondered what they’d make of the idea.
The painstaking process of knife-cut stencil film. Courtesy of Richard Greaves.
He made an appointment with the administration, but “they weren’t receptive to the idea at all,” he says. “They thought it was going to be a tough sell.” Turns out they were right. Screen printers weren’t known for being a computer-savvy crowd then. The rendering technology of the day was excruciatingly slow. Traditionalists were inexplicably attached to their film – and those who were willing to part with it seemed perfectly content with vellum that rang in at 30 cents a sheet.
But McCue believed in the simplicity of the idea that ink on paper was not that different from ink on emulsion, and knew that his concept had the potential to fundamentally rattle the screen printing workflow.
It was about a year before McCue heard back from Gerber. They purchased his right to file a patent and hired him on as a consultant to help with the development of what would come to be called the ScreenJet.
It was an exciting time; Greaves recalls being flown in to consult on the early stages of the machine’s development: “It was clearly cobbled together, but holy smoke, the thing actually put down ink on top of the screen. We all oohed and aahed – and then, of course, we saw about 20 different problems.”
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