WILKES-BARRE — It’s 8 a.m. on a cold, sunny morning and contractors prepare to install a metal roof at AxelRad Contract Screen Printing, a space the company moved into a year ago. I enter the building, and walk onto the production floor where I’m greeted by two printers.
I approach Mike Butry of Wilkes-Barre and ask him for his title. “We don’t really have titles,” Butry says. “We’ve all been friends for a really long time.”
The door opens behind me. Butry picks up his head and says, “There’s the boss.”
The boss is 31-year-old John Krispin. He looks astute because of his black framed glasses, but he’s dressed for work in a factory during winter, wearing black canvas pants, a fleece jacket and a winter hat. I walk to shake his hand.
“Watch that,” Krispin says pointing to several open buckets of ink. “Don’t get any of that ink on you. It won’t come off.”
Thanking him for the warning, I watch him take a cursory glance over the production floor. He leads me to a receiving area, where he spends a portion of his day getting jobs ready for print.
Krispin is the production manager of the company owned by Dave Maloney, of Exeter, and Matt Trievel, of Bethlehem. Krispin assigns jobs and deals with problems that arise in the printing process. He echoes Butry in mentioning many of the employees are long-time friends.
“Around 10:30 to noon, I get the orders,” Krispin says. He takes me to a computer where the company’s logistics program holds everything from incoming orders to human resources information.
“I enjoy checking in the jobs, because companies expect you to check in on ‘this’ date and ‘this’ time, and I figure the more hands on I am with the job … the more I can get a sense of how it’s going to be throughout the whole cycle,” he says.
Krispin’s receiving duties involve unpacking boxes of blank clothes and making sure the correct garments are coupled with mock-ups, inks and silk screens. He “burns” silk screens and oversees quality control.
He leads me to a basement studio where film prints of artwork are laid on a table. The silk screens are kept under a protective light that will not allow its coating, a photoemulsion, to be hardened by ultraviolet light.
Taking an intricate film print of a Templar knight, Krispin grabs a T-square and aligns the film on a coated silk screen, taping it down. He then places it in a vacuum sealed exposure unit where it’s hit with UV light for a brief period.
“It exposes all the emulsion around (the artwork) and the emulsion underneath is soft enough to be washed out,” Krispin says.
He takes the exposed screen and sets it upright in a sink, washing it in bursts with a pressurized hose. As the soft emulsion washes out, the knight appears. Krispin will do 40 of these per day, but during AxelRad’s busy season he’ll do 100 — with help.
He leaves the knight in a rack to cure and greets Tyler Rice of Dallas, one of AxelRad’s graphic artists.
“We would see the order first,” Rice says. “Basically, we see requests and then it’s our job to design and send over a mock-up, basically a digital proof, for approval to a customer. Once that’s approved, we go straight into separating the artwork to make it print ready. From print ready, we print the films and it would go downstairs to John.”
Back upstairs, Krispin shows me the printing process. Butry is spreading glue on printing pallets to keep shirts in place. He works an automatic press with seven print heads.
I ask Krispin if more colors means more headaches. He responds with a compliment to Butry’s skill.
“Just the nature of having to set up more screens and get more inks and registering the artwork, that’s where the printer has to move the artwork around a bit to make sure everything lines up; it’s naturally going to take longer. But he’s been doing this for years. He knows what he’s doing. He can set up a job pretty fast.”
We watch Butry print a military-like image on several blue tank tops and send them through a 900 degree curing machine. The finished products are vivid and bright.
Krispin will spend the latter part of his day burning screens. Then, he’ll wait for UPS, so he can ship out finished product.
Before I leave, Krispin takes me to the reclamation area, where Nick Rishcoff, of West Wyoming, uses solvent mineral spirits to clean used screens. The smell is noxious.
“He’s a really dedicated worker,” Krispin says. “I don’t think I lasted more than a day in reclaiming.”
Krispin’s affinity for his job is clear from the passion with which he explains it and the urgency of his steps around the production floor. He speaks of the success of his employers with pride.
“We’re two months in on our second year here. Things aren’t slowing down. We’re getting big jobs. We did Breaking Benjamin’s merchandise this past year, which was quite a bit of work for us, and we’re glad they kept the business in the area rather than send it out.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]