Secrets of the print lab

Students learn offset printing, letterpress and screen printing

A student prepares a plate for inking in “the print lab.”

Josh Zytkiewicz

A student prepares a plate for inking in “the print lab.”

Robin Gee, Artistic Director

While many students may have noticed in passing the gallery that has become part of the Truax Gateway, many may not know about the Graphic Design program’s better kept secret, The Center for Printing Arts.

Taking over part of the space left when the Printing Program was being closed down, The Center, known fondly by many students in the Graphic Design Program as “The Print Lab,” is host to facilities for offset printing, letterpress and screen printing.

Deb Vogt, an instructor in the Graphic Design Program, says that after watching the trends in the industry and the growing popularity of screen printing and letterpress, she suggested that part of the old printing program’s space should be kept and used to hold classes in these fields.

She worked with retired Madison College instructor Dave Stuber to set up the space. Through swapping out some old offset presses and using donations, they were able to acquire all their equipment with their only large expense being moving costs.

Vogt said, “Once we got the equipment we were able to start offering courses. I think the first semester we actually offered a screen printing course and the next semester was letterpress.”

From there came the idea of The Enterprise Center, which encompasses both The Center for Printing Arts, and the gallery in the Truax Gateway, which groups can pay to rent for a period of time. The Center has only recently begun to sell some of the products created by students taking classes there. While instructors hope that The Enterprise Center will eventually become self-sustaining like the Pastry Arts Program’s bakery, it is still in infancy.

Students and instructors are taught how to use iPad technology to charge balances to an account, which is a big step. Their first official pop-sale was during the first week of classes, Jan. 20th-22nd. All proceeds from the sale went back into The Center to pay for materials and production costs.

Beth Ketter, a Graphic Design Instructor, says, “The intention here isn’t really to make money. It’s to teach the students the skills of developing products, and how to sell them using an entrepreneurial skill set.” The sales also serve to inform students and faculty about the classes The Center offers and to promote the Graphic Design Program.

A big expense for The Center is paper and ink, which are very costly, and The Center for Printing Arts has to charge their students a materials fee when they take classes because of that.

All of the products in the pop-up sale are student-made, either from the letterpress and screen printing classes, or from some of the other core graphic design class. The students are involved in every aspect of creation, from the concepts for products, the process of printing and producing products, to packaging and pricing, and sale at the pop-up sale.

Ketter says that the teachers are leading the projects and working alongside students to solve problems in production. “We have students who volunteered to be involved in the process. They are mostly students who have taken the classes and who are interested in learning how to do these things.”

In addition to creating products, the students are learning how to maximize the materials being used. Students will walk away with the skills needed to create their own printed work outside of the classroom and set up their own Etsy shop or stand at a craft fair. Even students who don’t choose to set up a business benefit from the classes by learning to think through the creation of a product from start to finish.

Screen printing and letterpress have become hot commodities on online stores like Etsy, and at craft fairs. Ketter said, “There’s a lot of interest on the part of our students to learn how to do those things.” She said the instructors in The Center for Printing Arts would like for their students to have an entrepreneurial spirit, to learn how to think about creating products that people would be interested in buying, and how to think about pricing, displaying and selling them.

In the future The Center hopes to develop a permanent storefront that possibly could be placed in a corner of the gallery. Ketter believes, “It would be a wonderful chance for our students to have all their stuff out there [where they] learn how to actually run a storefront or a little shop.”

The Center also hopes to expand into workshops, weekend retreats, and a co-op, where students and alumni who have taken the introductory classes at The Center could join for a fee to use the space during open lab times. Ketter says, “It’s kind of building community around the space. It’s really hard to find good letterpress shops to work in; in fact, it’s almost impossible in Madison.”

There’s one small co-op in Madison outside of the UW, which requires anyone wishing to use their facilities to be a student. According to Vogt, alumni from the Graphic Design Program are coming back to take classes at The Center. Eventually it will be open to current students, alumni, and members of the community who have been introduced to the equipment.

The Center is planning for a Valentine’s Day sale. Stuber says that while it was mainly the instructors who put together the January sale, students will be heavily involved in setting up arranging the displays, packaging of the products, and sign development for the Valentine’s Pop-Up sale. Both letterpress and screen printed Valentine prints will be for sale. There will be twelve different Valentines for sale.

The sale will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 11-12. in the B-section of the first floor, outside of the mailroom near the Public Safety Office. Swing by and show your support for these local artists!