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The Dawn of Simulated Process Color

(December/January 2017) posted on Tue Jan 16, 2018

At a time that many high-end garment printers were struggling to produce realistic images in CMYK, an artist took an entirely different approach that would eventually take the industry by storm.

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By Steve Duccilli

Weiss and Gardner took that initial print to the NFL’s offices in New York hoping to obtain a license. Though they were initially rejected due to their unconventional pricing, they realized the same design effects would work at the collegiate level, where licenses were easier to acquire at the time. Soon, they had 38 universities under contract and a network of over 500 independent reps, taking New Buffalo Shirt Factory’s sales from $200,000 to $1.2 million in Gardner’s first year on the job.

One of Gardner’s favorite shirts from 1997, after New Buffalo had taken its look to the music industry.

Before long, the company cracked the NFL, doing Super Bowl shirts as well as a highly popular line known as Intense Mascots. The look that Gardner had pioneered – for which Weiss would soon coin the name “simulated process color” – caught the attention of printers around the country. “Andy Anderson and I would buy the Super Bowl shirts and take them back to Andy’s shop,” Coudray remembers. “We literally got out X-Acto knives and were scraping the things under a microscope to see what the print order was and what they were actually doing. I mean, it was brilliant work.”

Gardner remembers meeting printers at shows who had looked at his prints under a loupe and couldn’t figure out what he was doing. “They’d ask me what halftone line counts I was using because they couldn’t see any dots,” he says. “I’d tell them I was just using a 27-line or 32-line screen and they didn’t believe me. The dots disappeared because they were printed wet on wet and the back of the screens were mixing the colors. People who were imitating us were trying to run like 120-line screens and flashing every color.”

New Buffalo Shirt Factory quickly grew and acquired state-of-the-art presses that made flashing at the unload station unnecessary and enabled Gardner to achieve his color effects using more screens with dedicated colors. But he never abandoned his basic approach. “Even in a shop with 14 presses, the technical expertise varies,” he says. “Not every press operator is going to be able to print cleanly and hold their dots. So I kind of reduced it to the most common factors, and tried to standardize my meshes, standardize my squeegees, and control everything from the separation process. Basically, all I had to do was get it up and in register, and the job took care of itself.”

Adds Weiss: “What makes Dave a brilliant separator is that anybody could print his work. You just put ink on the screens and blasted it out.”

By the mid-1990s, the simulated process color look achieved by artist Dave Gardner and the team at New Buffalo Shirt Factory was wildly popular. New Buffalo owner Jon Weiss is depicted in the lower left of the design.

As desktop publishing gave more printers the ability to advance their separation techniques and experiment with simulated process color, Weiss and Gardner successfully took their distinct look into other vertical markets, including music. You can see echoes of their work to this day, when the average printer is still intimated by process color.

“When all this came out and took the industry by storm, printers were impressed with the vibrancy and dimensionality of the process,” says Weiss. “They were equally impressed that they no longer had to print 100 percent on the underbase. And that was Dave Gardner, because nobody knew how to do it before him. They could come close using four-color process over a 100-percent underbase, but it was Dave’s manipulation of the underbase and his understanding of ink opacity that made the process brilliant.”

Read more from Screen Printing's December 2017/January 2018 Innovation Issue.


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