How Corporate Apparel and Printing Streamlined Screen Printing with Inkjet

Oberon Printing, based in River Falls, Wis., recently acquired a local screen printing shop to expand the company’s capabilities and product offerings. Adding the new division, Corporate Apparel and Printing, gives the company’s customers a full range of print and promotional products from which to choose.

LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester
Corporate Apparel and Printing, a division of Oberon Printing, River Falls, Wis., found a large-format inkjet solution to boost the quality of its acetates used for burning screens for screen printing with crisp renditions on LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester.

“When the corporate apparel business came up for sale it really fit well with everything else we do. We were missing that piece, so it helps us fill out our portfolio and provide our customers with more options, like printed apparel,” says owner Rob Payne.

The trick was to bring the screen printing process up to the level of print quality Oberon has built for its inkjet applications, which includes everything from commercial graphics to fine art and photo printing.

The answer was simple: find a better way to make film negatives and positives so that the screens created in the four-color screen-print process would burn clean and true.

“The old way of doing photo negatives and positives was using laser technology. The screens weren’t very dense and black and the exposures were low-quality, plus a lot of the emulsion would stay in the screens after we washed them out,” explains Payne. “We tried clear acetates on our Epson Stylus Pro 9900 to create color separations, but the optical sensors on the printer would not read the presence of the film.”

Carey Masera, Payne’s printing specialist at LexJet, recommended LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester as a possible solution.

“With the Instant Dry Clear Polyester the printer picks up the slight blue tint of the film right away; it doesn’t have any issue seeing it. The clarity of the ink deposition is just beautiful; the blacks are super dense. It’s instant-dry, so we don’t we have to worry about smudging or streaking like we would with other inkjet acetates we tried in the past,” says Payne. “The quality of our final product has improved tremendously because everything is so crisp and black. It has really impacted our process, not only in our quality, but in our speed out the door. We couldn’t be happier.”

Payne adds that they often had to print two or three acetates for one color separation and line them up to get the density needed to burn the screen. With Instant Dry Clear Polyester, Payne says they only have to print it once and it’s ready.

“Carey helped us a lot with just this product recommendation. He’s the only one who really follows up and seems interested in our business. We don’t get that level of service from other vendors, and we’ve been very happy with LexJet in general,” adds Payne.

The majority of the screen printing at Corporate Apparel and Printing is done on t-shirts, hats, jackets and other apparel, with a smattering of high-volume banner and poster printing, as well as the more industrial application of printed circuit boards.

Moving from Niche to Specialty Printing at Raven Image

Face mount acrylic with inkjet printingThe terms “niche” and “specialty” are not the same. The former refers to specializing in a particular market, while the latter refers to a custom product approach for whatever market in which you operate. Raven Image opened its doors about four years ago as a niche company, targeting primarily fine art reproduction with some photo reproduction thrown in for good measure.

The focus made a lot of sense for Raven Image’s two founding partners – Cher Sailer and Tracy Raven Jacobs – who had been previously immersed in the commercial photo lab business. They had made the transition from chemical to inkjet before they opened Raven Image. And, they had a knack for hitting color just right for discerning artists.

However, as a lot of small business print shops have found, diversification helps grow the bottom line, especially in a difficult economy. Though Raven Image certainly diversified its market mix with more photographic reproduction and commercial work, its product diversification would tend toward specialty products.

Transferring inkjet prints to wood and other materials
An example of the specialty transfer product Raven Image has recently created by applying reverse-printed LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester to chemically-treated wood and other materials.

So, what appears to be an oxymoron – diversification and specialty – really isn’t, because Raven Image has found that the unusual helps draw people in, producing more business with typical print work on canvas, paper and films.

Two recent product lines at Raven Image have certainly drawn more attention to the company: face mount acrylic prints and transfers to wood, granite and other substrates. Of the two, Tracy Jacobs says the transfer prints have been the most popular, mainly due to price.

Though both are custom products, the face mount acrylic is beveled and polished by hand and backed with aluminum hardware. They apply LexJet 5 Mil Gloss Display Film to the back of the acrylic with an optically-clear LexJet FaceMount Permanent Adhesive. The backing aluminum is then applied to the back of the 5 Mil Gloss Display Film. It makes an outstanding display that hovers somewhere between fine art and commercial, which is perfect for hospitals and corporate lobbies.

Inkjet printed acrylic with aluminum
Similar to Raven Image's Face Mount Acrylic prints, the company's Lumoplex product is LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester applied with LexJet's optically clear adhesive and sealed between aluminum and acylic.

The transfer print product is created by first chemically treating the substrate – be it wood, stone or metal – and applying reverse-printed LexJet Instant Dry Clear Polyester to it. The chemical treatment “grabs” the inks and leaves the image on the substrate. Jacobs says the process is nearly perfected after six months of experimentation and is most popular with photographers of all stripes, from pros to weekend amateurs.

“It can be messy and tricky, but once we got the process down we found success with it because so many people want it and there’s not many companies offering it,” says Jacobs. “We use Sunset Satin Coating to seal the image. It really looks good and you can rub and scratch on it and the image stays there.”

Raven Image prints with a Canon iPF8100 and an iPF8300. They use the iPF8100 for reproductions they’ve been doing over the past few years to maintain consistency from print to print. The iPF8300 takes on all the new projects and was acquired as part of LexJet’s iPad promotion late last year.

Making partitions and tapestries out of inkjet printed fabric
Raven Image has also created eye-catching partitions and tapestries out of LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth.

Raven Image put the iPad to use right away to help streamline its business. Jacobs explains: “The iPad was a ridiculously good deal. We built a custom program here where we can create work orders at the front counter with the customers on the iPad. We have a wireless Internet connection, log in and plug in the order and it works great. That way we look more professional, instead of writing it down on paper with a calculator to add up the order. We haven’t put any games on it yet.”