Craig Bailey of Improv Screen Printing in Littleton demonstrates the art of applying one color in the screen printing process. (KRISTI GAROFOLO PHOTO)
Littleton screen printer makes an international splash
LITTLETON - Improv Screen Printing is essentially a one-man shop, but the Littleton company is making a colorful splash in the apparel decorating world.
Owners Paul Greenlaw and Scott Johnson met while coaching their children's sports teams. Greenlaw is the owner of Bear Images, a promotional products company in Littleton, and Johnson is vice president of operations at Garnet Hill.
Nearly five years ago they started Improv Screen as an independent company knowing it would handle some of the work Greenlaw was outsourcing from Bear Images.
Today, Improv Screen has an eight-color manual screen printing press and its own list of customers including the Appalachian Mountain Club, Woodstock Station and Alpine Adventures.
"There aren't a lot of people that have a manual eight-color press, and I think that's something that sets us apart in terms of our clientele and what our capabilities are," Johnson said.
In screen printing, an image is photographically "burned" into a very fine fabric "screen" so non-printing areas are blocked off and the screen essentially serves as a stencil.
Ink is then wiped across the screen manually or by machine and passes through the unblocked pores. Each color in the finished product requires a separate screen.
At Improv Screen, "The Man" in their one-man shop is Craig Bailey, the company's only full-time employee. Bailey graduated from New Hampshire Community Technical College in Laconia and took his first offset printing job at age 19.
Twenty-two years later he's still aiming for perfection.
"I've worked in bigger shops where we had automatics, and to take that quality mentality and to put it on a manual, that's what I try to do every day," Bailey said.
Bailey said screen printing large orders manually requires experience, hard work and the utmost in consistency. Those traits were put to the test when the company accepted an order for the 2012 New England Brewfest.
The artwork designer was Allan Guilbeault of Upcountry Creative Partners of Woodstock, and Steve Blasko of Black Sheep Design in Portsmouth did the individual "color separations" or films from which the screens are burnt.
"It was an eight-color design so the press was devoted to this job for at least a day and a half. Then there was a six-color front to it as well," Bailey said.
There were 350 shirts in the initial order and 48 in a second run. Each color was a separate step, and every shirt was done individually by Bailey.
The results won first place in the manual textile screen printing category at the 34th Annual Impressions Awards, a prestigious international competition for apparel decorating.
"It's amazing, when you look at the list of winners and see where they're from and know the level of competition out there. It's a real pat on his back," Johnson said.
The award-winning shirt will travel to regional industry shows for the next year. In the meantime, Bailey said he's proud of his work and happy for the partners.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here right now," he said.
"And that goes both ways," said Greenlaw.
"Exactly," Johnson agreed.
For more information about Improv Screen Printing, call (866) 891-3557 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.