Getting from computer screen to printing screen proved to be harder than it first looked.
The uphill battle McCue had faced in convincing the company to adopt his idea persisted; the next few years of development were dotted with disagreements about how the technology should be implemented.
There was the issue of ink. “It splattered a lot,” remembers Greaves; the stencil wasn’t smooth enough; the ink wasn’t opaque enough. Instead of trying different inks, McCue says they developed an “elaborate powder dusting system,” which led to new problems.
Another roadblock was the software, an Adobe PostScript emulator that resulted in a loss of accuracy. At the time, there was no way to preview what the design would look like, so therefore no way of catching mistakes until the screen was printed. This later proved to be an enormous challenge in selling the technology.
McCue had envisioned the machine as a desktop printer with a direct connection to a computer, just like the day he’d printed the “Mona Lisa” onto a screen. But that kind of engineering would’ve been expensive, and Gerber used a floppy disk drive instead. The problem was that many files were larger than what a floppy disk could hold. Gerber also planned to market it as a tabletop unit, without supplying a base. “But it was a monster,” says McCue. “Most people don’t have tables like that just hanging around.”
McCue worked on the development for about a year and then, he says, “I went on my merry way.” The ScreenJet came to market in early 1993, with Gerber citing that it could produce an exposure-ready screen for a typical T-shirt job in 4 to 8 minutes. (Others reported that, because high-speed image processing did not yet exist, it could take as long as 40 minutes.) Resolution was 300 dpi, and it imaged screens up to 20 x 27 inches. The company targeted garment printers; Randy Shamber, marketing manager of the day, told Screen Printing in 1992 that the machine could be economical for shops producing as few as 15 screens per day.
“Screen printers used to drive me nuts,” laughs McCue. Shortly after the ScreenJet went to market, Screen Printing Supplies started selling it and McCue found himself championing the technology yet again, this time to his customers. “They were like, ‘You can take the film out of my cold, dead hands.’”
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