FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The ink that will soon be pressed through the silkscreen looks edible — the black looks like cake icing, the white like marshmallow creme.
The designs shouldn't be put in your mouth, but the Flagstaff High School students who make them would like to see them on your back.
Flag High is now home to its own silkscreen print shop. Ink'd Up Designs is a learning opportunity and a real money-making business for students with a knack for the artistic and mechanical.
Sabrina Greene, a senior, had taken web and graphic design before taking up silkscreening. Popping a tiny hole in the screens can be frustrating sometimes, but she finds the work to not be too hard.
Teacher Mat Young teaches the web and graphics classes and introduction to business, but he is also interested in hands-on business administration to tie it all together. Support from administrators allowed him to start it this school year.
He said school teams spend a lot on specialty T-shirts, and they can save money by going to the in-house shop.
The equipment is housed in a classroom that used to be a cafe before the culinary classes changed course and started selling their wares out of a window attached to the kitchen. The funding, about $40,000, comes from the county joint vocational education district.
"This thing is going to pay for itself quickly, and that's without a huge markup," Young said.
Business has picked up over the year. The business came out quietly, allowing students to refine their skills, but now word is out about Ink'd Up Designs. Some days can be silent, but others can see 200 shirts spin around the press.
About 25 students are in the class, which is an internship that allows students to come in for a period (at least) as their schedule allows. The class prints shirts for clubs and teams across the district. It also takes orders from local businesses.
On Monday, students were filling an order for Sinagua Middle School's boys' basketball team. The logo, a stylized mustang head, is white atop a black shadow atop a red cotton T-shirt (Sinagua's mascot, Coconino High's colors — most Sinagua students graduate to Coconino). The graphic is big and bold, so it's forgiving of error.
Silkscreening takes effort and precision. It's not a quick process, but the finished product is tangible, practical and aesthetic.
First, students design a graphic on a computer. When it's been finalized, they print the designs on special positive film, affix the images to fine nylon screens and coat the screens in emulsion. The screens go into an exposure unit — something like a tanning bed — that bakes off excess solution. A clean stencil remains, and this is where the ink will seep through. After a wash and dry, the screens are ready to use.
Students load the screens into their carousel press, then wrap garments around a sticky pallet that rotates under the screens to accept ink. The student sets the screen atop the shirt, then presses ink across the surface with a squeegee. Every color gets its own screen, and every color must be pressed at least once. For white on black, it's good to stamp the white image twice.
Between every layer, the shirts are flash-dried and cooled. After all the layers have been printed, the shirt goes into a conveyor belt infrared oven, which cures the design.
The oven spits the shirt into a bin, and now, you have a custom T-shirt.
Classroom aide Lori Morrison keeps an eye on students while Young is in his other classroom. She was a real estate agent before switching to teaching, so she has a business background — but silkscreening was new to her, too.
"It's a good group," she said of her students. "They all want to do something. They don't like to sit still."
Ink'd Up designs is a nonprofit, but with its modest earnings it can give back to the school, such as buying printer paper for the library.
Young said business is a very popular college major, and this class gives his students a leg up. It's also a good straight-to-work career skill.
"Most of these guys are making more than a teacher would if they know how to operate the press properly," he said.
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/