Advice for people starting indie labels, who are considering silkscreening a CD booklet.


With everything seemingly organized with Way To Go!, Sandy and I decided it was time to spend the weekend silkscreening copies of the booklets and inserts for nurture. We had already made the screens, and purchased shitloads of purple and tangerine paint, and were ready to go.  We figured it would take an entire Saturday to do the first color pass, and Sunday to do the second.  We’d let them all dry on Monday, and ship them out on Tuesday from my office.


Saturday we began the process (when I say “we,” I mean that I stood and watched while Sandy got everything ready and then occasionally told me what to do).  Quickly, we realized that we were going to need a place to let the booklets dry, so I ran out to Staples and picked up a big roll of twine and 500 paper clips.  When I got home, we strung the twine across our living room, maybe six or seven rows of it, a foot or so apart from each other.

Sandy then screened the first booklet.  It came out awful.  The ink blotched, and it just looked like a Rorschach test.

She tried another, but the ink was all blotchy from the first one, and had gotten all over the place.  So she had to clean out the screen, and let it dry, which took a while.

Second try had much the same result as the first – super-blotchy, runny covers.  “I think I’m using too much ink,” she explained.  “It’s one thing when you’re making a big T-shirt or pillowcase, but this is going to take a while to figure out.”

She experimented for a while, and eventually got it.  The first “real” booklet cover came out great.  She handed it to me, and I promptly smudged it with my fingers.

The second “real” booklet came out great as well.  I took that one, attached a paper clip to it, and paper clipped it to the twine that was stretched across the living room.

After a few hours, we had about a hundred good covers, each paper clipped to the twine stretched across our living room, drying.

By Saturday night at bedtime, we were barking at each other – starving to death, hands aching, covered in purple ink, and we had about 550 covers done.

On the front.

We still had to do the inside of the booklets.  Thankfully, the insides were going to be just one color – purple.  But it was going to take a little longer than we thought.  The ink from the covers still needed to dry.

Sunday, we did the inside of the booklets, which contained a photo of the band that was supposed to be silkscreened onto the booklet.

Advice #2: Don’t try and silkscreen a photo.

We tried again and again, and soon realized it was never going to come out right.  We were just going to have to deal with “best we can” on the inside of the booklets.  The insides also contained type, maybe 14-point Times New Roman.  The thin lines were a bitch to screen, even at 14 points, and it quickly turned into a nightmare.

By the end of Day 2, we were mostly done with the purple ink on the fronts and backs of the booklets.

This is where it starts to get fuzzy.

I think Sandy took the next day off work, to do the tangerine.  I don’t think I knew she was going to do this.  

The beginning passes looked great.  The tangerine matched up perfectly with the purple, creating a great-looking, two-color job.

Then, it started getting messy.

First of all, the purple ink was taking a long time to dry.  After two days of hanging in the living room, the fronts of most of the booklets were still not dry, and the insides of the booklets were tacky to the touch.  Due to the band photo, there was a lot of ink coverage on the inside of the booklet, and the paint was very thick.  It seemed like it might never dry.

Second of all, the orange ink was passing over the purple ink, creating even more paint on the paper.  It seemed like maybe we chose bad paper, because it was almost too light to handle all the ink we were putting on it.  All the moisture of the ink was making even the un-painted parts of the paper almost damp to the touch.

Third of all, the booklets had been hanging on the twine for so long that the paper clips were leaving marks on the paper, and starting to wrinkle the corners a bit.

Fourth of all, by the end of the process we were so impatient that we were just slathering the tangerine paint on top of the booklets, and instead of matching up perfectly with the purple, sometimes it was two or three millimeters off.  Once it was done, it was done – there was nothing you could do about it.

Meanwhile, our living room and kitchen were absolutely littered with garbage – failed booklets, empty paint bottles, pizza boxes, paper plates, used paper towels.  They were everywhere.  We had filled a 55-gallon trash bag with garbage, and there was plenty more.

If we wanted to go upstairs, we had to crawl – it was like the military obstacle courses.  The heavily painted booklets were strung across light twine, with paper clips.  One heavily-painted booklet and paper clip does not weigh much.  But 50 or 60 of them, strung across a 12-foot length of twine, really starts to pull the whole thing downward.  So the twine began to stretch, and eventually was hanging just 4 feet off the ground or so, across the entire length of the living room.

We didn’t anticipate this, and we also figured the whole process would be done in two days, so we didn’t really plan for how to get across the living room to go to bed, or how to keep the dog from knocking down the booklets with her tail.

Each day, we would “test” the ink to see if it dried.  A week went by, and the ink was still tacky.

We still needed to print the insert trays.  The insert trays had to wait until there was room to hang them.  We couldn’t hang them until we could take the booklets down, and we couldn’t take the booklets down until the ink dried.

By Thursday or Friday, we had lost all interest in silkscreening the insert trays.  There was just no fucking way that was going to happen.  The insert trays on a CD have a small area on the left and right sides that become, when inserted into a jewel box, the spine of the CD.  The printing on the spine is very precise, mostly because the type is so small.  There was no way we were going to be able to silkscreen these tray cards, get them soaking wet with ink, and then fold them properly so that the printing would appear on the right place in the spines.

So we brought the originals to Staples and selected paper that most closely represented the recycled paper we had purchased for the booklets.  It wasn’t even a close resemblance, but it was the closest we could get.  Then, we had Staples print them in black ink on the gray paper.

It was awful.

Then, we brought the gray paper home and cut it down to size, and hand-folded each one.  It was a nightmare.  I sat at the kitchen table with a paper cutter we had purchased, slicing the paper down to size in groups as large as the paper cutter could swallow without wrecking or wrinkling the paper.  Finally, we had 500 of them, cut and folded to proper size.

But the booklets were still tacky.

After nearly two weeks of hanging across our living room, most of the booklets were still tacky.  We came to the realization that these would probably never dry properly.  

So we pulled them down off the twine, folded each of them, and shipped them off to the Way To Go!.

As soon as they received them, they called.

“We received your booklets, and the ink’s not dry.”

“I know,” I said.  “I don’t think it’s ever going to dry.”

“We can’t feed these through the machine,” she said.  “We’re going to have to do these by hand.”

“Okay, do what you have to do.”

“That’s going to cost extra.”

Whatever.  It cost extra.  So did Staples, so did the paper cutter, the twine, the paper clips, and the garbage bags.  Not to mention the ridiculous amount of time we spent, screening, hanging, waiting, cutting, folding, and shipping.

Never again.  We figured it out, and it was more expensive to silkscreen than it would have been to do a two-color print job.

I called Adam.

“Change in plans,” I said.  “I don’t want to silkscreen the Flying Suit booklets anymore.  I want to print them.”

“Aww,” he said.  “I was really into the idea of silkscreening them.”

“If you saw the way the cuppa joe booklets came out,” I said, “You’d change your mind.”

“Okay, then,” he said.  “Can we change the artwork?”

“No,” I said.  “It needs to be a two-color job.  I have the art.  I’m shipping it to the manufacturer as soon as I can get films made.”

During all this, Rich had come over and seen what our apartment looked like, and what wrecks we both were.  When I called him to tell him there was no way we were screening Flying Suit, he understood immediately.  I asked him if he could make films, and he agreed. I brought them to work the next day, along with the original drawings from Mike Wolstat, and he made films that very day.  At the end of the day, he met me in the parking lot with a package that was all ready to go – I shipped it to Way To Go! the next morning.

That was the last thing we ever silkscreened, besides T-shirts and pillowcases.

~ by Al on May 7, 2009.

6 Responses to “advice.”

  1. Whew. I had no idea. And to this day (don’t take this wrong, please) whenever someone talks about silkscreening something, even someone experienced (like my brother-in-law, who does shirts) I think of those booklets. I even forgot about the Staples tray card thing. Damn you Mommyheads! Why couldn’t you have been first?!

  2. Good lord.

  3. […] tool we used to silkscreen those fucking cuppa joe CDs.  And a stack of CD booklets, maybe 50 of them, all stuck together.  The paint was still tacky, […]

  4. […] Doug asked me for gas money for cuppa joe to play their record release party, and the one where we silkscreened their CDs so […]

  5. […] day we released Cuppa Joe’s Nurture CD.  You remember, the one we put out in 1994, where we silkscreened the booklets, which then hung in our living room, drying for what seemed like ages.  We were proud […]

  6. […] use to make transparencies for the screens.  When we realized that silkscreening CDs was absolute insanity, we changed our minds and gave the art to Rich so that he could combine the art for each color into […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: