Custom printing is big business and it’s projected to get even bigger in the next few years. Currently an $8 billion global industry, forecasters predict it to cross the $10 billion mark by 2025. In our country, the state of Florida reigns supreme, cranking out custom apparel at an astonishing rate. In Tallahassee alone, there are more than a dozen independent screen printing businesses.
Evolutions in printing technology and ink formulations are driving fashion trends forward and consumers are taking notice. Customized apparel is especially popular with teenagers because it offers a nearly infinite array of choices, allowing them to express their creativity and individuality. Students at Rickards High School have recognized the opportunities within custom printed apparel and are harnessing its power as both an economic and cultural driver.
After introducing his students to the silk-screen printing process last year, art teacher Andrew Steinbrink saw the potential for a selfsustaining and mutually beneficial printing program for the school. “We deliver reduced prices for printed club T-shirts, sports bags, and team jerseys. Not only do clubs and teams save money, but the money they spend goes directly back into the Rickards art budget,” he said.
Building on an initial investment from the school and the program’s early success, Steinbrink received an Arts Education grant from the Council on Culture & Arts. The grant award, funded by Kia of Tallahassee, was used to purchase the specialized equipment and supplies needed for the growth of the program which combines fine art and commerce. “This is an excellent model for learning how business works,” said Steinbrink. “You have your suppliers and that goes for your ink, shirts, all of that. Then you have to take into account labor costs. You have to think about how fast can you do it, how cheap can you get it, and what are you going to sell it for in order to make ends meet. Hopefully, you can look at an image and realize that a four-color design is going to take you four times as long as a one color design. That’s an incredibly important lesson to learn” and one that requires an understanding of the art form’s complexities. In the silk-screen process, the artist first creates a design on a transparent sheet using black ink. Then a layer of photosensitive emulsion is spread onto a framed, fine-mesh screen and left to dry completely. The transparent sheet is flipped onto its wrong side and secured to the surface of the screen using transparent tape.
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