Most of us go about our lives without giving much thought to how the common objects around us came into existence. For me, one of those objects is the screen printed t-shirt.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a rant against sweatshops. That’s Thursday’s post.
Today on The Austinot, we’re highlighting a local business that prizes creativity, diligence and customer service. We had the privilege of going on an Austinot field trip to Kong Screen Printing, and now we get to share our experience with you.
I had no idea that screen printing was so involved and fascinating. Check out how this stuff is made! You’ll wear your t-shirt with a whole new depth of appreciation.
Origins of Kong Screen Printing
We discovered Kong Screen Printing by accident. A friend was looking for a local screen printing shop, so we used our social media platforms to get some suggestions. Kong was recommended multiple times, with so much enthusiasm that we decided to check it out for ourselves!
Kong Screen Printing has been in Austin for two years and it’s a two-dude gig. Co-owners Bruce Braden and Ryan Burkhart met through the Austin Screen Printers Co-op. Bruce is a veteran screen printer, while Ryan’s background includes many types of printing, including lithography and paper printing.
After meeting, Bruce and Ryan built a strong rapport and did some projects together…then they just kept doing projects together. In January 2012, they became legal business partners at Kong.
Screen Printing from Start to Finish
The Chinese were screen printing 1500 years before Gutenberg invented his printing press. The process wasn’t modernized until the 1920’s, but it hasn’t changed much since then.
My Kong Screen Printing field trip didn’t turn me into a screen printing expert, but I’ll do my best to explain the basics of the process. We’ll see how good of a teacher Ryan Burkhart really is!
In the case of Kong, you can either submit your own design, or have Bruce and Ryan design your piece from scratch.
2. Emulsion Coating
The design is placed on a screen and thickly coated on the front and back with a photo-sensitive emulsion (that looks a lot like purple Gak).
3. Dark Room Drying
Screens are placed on custom-made racks in Kong’s dark room, so they can dry properly.
4. Emulsion Exposure
Once the emulsion on the screen is dry, the screen is placed in a special exposure machine. The screen could technically be exposed in sunlight, but the machine’s lightbulbs are calibrated to exactly the right wavelength for this emulsion. The result is a thick stencil that could be used more than 2000 times (yes, this has been tested)!
5. Power Washing
Kong uses a power washer to prepare the screen for printing.
6. Dry Time
The stencil (screen) sits in the sun for about twenty minutes. Then it’s ready to go!
With the machine that Kong has right now, they can print up to 6 colors on up to 4 shirts at a time. You can imagine that this part of the process becomes a labor of love on orders of 200 shirts or more!
Once the printing is done, shirts are placed in a 300-degree heater for 3 minutes. This permanently sets the ink into the fabric.
Standing Out from the Crowd
Kong’s minimum order size is 12, which sets them apart from other screen printers who require large orders. Bruce and Ryan enjoy working on boutique orders because it gives them the opportunity to focus on their designs. They charge a flat fee per shirt, with no sneaky operating fees like “screen development.”
Not only do they design t-shirts for customers, they also create their own nifty fashion pieces and sell them through their website. One recent hit that you may have seen around town during SXSW 2012 (or on the cover of June’s Austin Monthly issue) is their “Welcome to Austin” shirt.
Kong uses eco-friendly, water-based inks 98% of the time. They have a special heart for Austin Pets Alive! and contribute to that much-loved, local organization in various ways.
Through our time at Kong Screen Printing, it became obvious that these guys operate a transparent business that has a loyal customer base because they’ve worked hard to earn that loyalty. There aren’t enough businesses like this, but we sure get excited when we find them!
You can contact Kong Screen Printing through their website, and you can find their awesome merchandise on their site or at Parts and Labour in SoCo. And if your Go Local card has been itching for use, Kong can help with that!
Dear Kong Screen Printing, thanks for having us out to visit you! We’re officially fans.
Did you know all that’s involved in screen printing?
Get a 10% discount off your Kong retail purchase, 10% off your Kong commercial purchase of $100 or more, and save at hundreds of other local Austin businesses with the Go Local card: