About a month ago I was cleaning out the laundry room of our house and I came across four T-shirts from the mid-1970's that stirred a lot of memories. The shirts were from an iconic Minneapolis radio station that I'd been lucky enough to score a job at, and I was likely wearing one of these on the day I printed my first T-shirt in a high-school print lab. The design incorporates a technique called a 'fountain blend', often referred to as a 'smear' or 'blend.' It's a technique that is seldom used today or even talked about. Obnoxious as the design was, I decided to reproduce the shirt for the station's 40th birthday on August 26th, 2014 and I thought I would share the process with you.
Because you will have multiple colors on the same screen, it would be easier to create a blend where the colors divide vertically, (from right to left) but few designs will make good use of a blend that changes going across the shirt. Most natural blends want to travel top to bottom. While you could consider pulling a squeegee sideways across your screen on an order of less than a dozen shirts, (with significant problems to consider) you will likely need to turn the bracket on one of your press platens 90° and print sideways on the shirt. Let's get started!
|Remove the mounting plate from a platen and choose a new mounting point near the bottom-center of the board that still provides adequate stability of the printing surface. (You'll quickly discover why you want this near the bottom when you load your first shirt - the press arm will be in your way!) With a T-square, draw a pencil line 90° at the edge of your new bracket location and secure the bracket to the platen in its new position.|
|If your platens aren't marked this way already, draw a bold centering line down the center of the platen. I suggest the use of a sharpie marker. When you start loading shirts at this odd angle, everything you thought you knew about correctly locating shirts on the board will go straight out the window. Once you know where the design should be located vertically on the shirt, place a tape reference mark on the platen where the top of the collar should be located.|
|Obviously you will need to make your screens with the art positioned in the same direction as the platen. Place small quantities of the inks to be used in the 'well' area of your screen, in the areas you intend to fill with those colors. Don't be tempted to put a lot of ink in at one time, you'll just get a mess as you begin printing. Also - the fewer colors you attempt to blend, the easier time you will have. Start with a 2-color blend for your first attempt to get acquainted. A 3-or-more-color blend is difficult to control.|
A normal flood stroke involves spreading the ink in a straight line, and for every flood stroke except the first one you will want to keep a steady hand and pull in as straight a line as possible. But for the first, and possibly second time that you flood this screen, you will need to help your colors blend. Otherwise your colors won't have a desirable blend until you've made well over a dozen prints.
|For your First Flood Stroke...
Instead of pulling straight on your first flood stroke, move your squeegee side-to-side in roughly one-inch 'waves' as you flood the screen.
|After only a few test prints, you should achieve a nice, even blend of your colors. Once you achieve the blend you want, be extra careful to flood & print your screen using a straight path, following the last print as perfectly as possible to maintain the blend.|
A few of the fine points:
- If you rotate the platen, be extra careful centering shirts on the board. You will be working at an angle where your eyes can be easily deceived.
- When working with blends, just as when working with any screen print, ink will tend to flow off to the sides of your squeegee path on the screen. Most printers just angle their squeegee on a flood stroke to recapture this ink and put it back to work. You can't do this with a blend, you'll destroy the flow! Keep an ink knife (spreader) handy for each color in the design, and use the knife to scoop up ink and place it back into it's appropriate area.
- Any ink that goes onto this screen can't be returned to the can. You'll want to think about that as you ink-up your screen.
- If you use more than 2 colors of ink in a blend, colors in the middle will spread based on the quantity of that color ink in the well. You need to control the spread of those colors by adding or removing ink from the well.
- If you elect to work a blend going side-to-side (not turning the platen) remember that gravity will want to move your ink down the screen every time you lift it. It's also important to keep the registration mechanism on your press extremely tight and use solid, stable screens to minimize side-to-side screen movement. Your press wasn't made for that kind of action.
- Certainly, you can do this on an automatic! Use very wide squeegees to control ink migration and keep a person monitoring the ink spread. I've processed orders with blends for over 1,000 shirts, it just takes some effort and monitoring.
- Assuming that you are printing another color along with your blend, try not to print more than one additional color after the blend. (your blend should be the second-to-last color) While ink pick-up on the next screen tends to even out the blend nicely, blends tend to cause you to wipe down succeeding screens more often and can transfer problems back to the print.
- A job with a fountain blend will cost you more in terms of time and materials than a spot-color job. Be sure to charge accordingly.
I have to say that I enjoyed recreating this relic from my past, and several friends & past co-workers have already put in requests for samples of the final product.
U100 was a station that is still well remembered in the Minneapolis market even though it has been dead for 38 years. I suppose when August 26th rolls around I'll don a shirt that I'll keep for myself before I retire it to sleep another forty years.
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