Screen printing in India: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis

With advancement taking place at all levels, screen printing has evolved as indispensable and a ‘versatile’ printing process. Bhargav Mistry, managing director, Grafica Flextronica and DMI (Dhirubhai Mistry Institute for Print Education Research and Training) pens down some of his views about screen printing in the form of a quick SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of Indian screen printing industry scenario. Screen printing process evolved over the years. Today, it offers ample innovation and creativity, thus playing a major role in printing industry because of the availability of advanced screen printing machines, UV technology coupled with availability of innovative special effects inks. Screen printing is now quicker, cheaper, produces better quality images and offers a number of special applications. But advanced screen printing with high level of automation is not everybody’s cup of tea. Having advanced machines in place is not sufficient to run a profitable screen printing business. There is no profit from the press of a button like an ATM card. There is no short cut. Because not only does the set-up process take considerably longer than other techniques, but being able to truly master printing high quality images using the screen printing process also takes much longer, because there are a number of variables involved. Today, there exist different systems designed to help the screen printers to achieve better result. But it revolves around the simple concept or standardisation of the entire screen printing process.

Bhargav Mistry explaining applications of screen printing.Strengths: Automation and UV technology: One of our valued customers who had 15 manual tables has now as many as seven semi automatic screen printing machines. There are many screen printers whose business has doubled or tripled over the years ever since they switched over to automation along with UV. So, semi automatic and fully automatic screen printing machines are now making inroads into Indian screen printing industry in a big way. In the last decade, from a predominantly manual printing process there has been a big shift to semi-automatic and now fully automatic printing machines. Going by our own company’s sales performance, there has been steep increase in the number of screen printing machines (and UV curing machines) sold in the last couple of years than it was five to ten years ago. Also, a noteworthy transformation is that there has been quantum leap in the number of visitors to our pavilions at various printing industry exhibitions than it was 5-10 years ago. That’s because screen printing not only involves low investment which is a big advantage for those wanting to join the screen printing business, but also there has been widespread applications of this versatile process and greater awareness about the immense benefits of and need for automation.

‘Quality’ improvement: Quality in screen printing seems to have come a long way. Today, with automatic precision machines, it is possible to get a result that years ago would have been a dream.

New trend – combination of processes: There has been a growing trend of offset printers/packaging companies setting up inhouse screen printing unit instead of outsourcing. There are many digital printers who have set up screen printing units to meet the market demand for ‘total print solution’. Screen printing is the perfect complement to offset and it works in tandem to help generate more business.

Weaknesses: Education – lack of knowledge! I was not surprised when international screen printing expert Michel Caza told that in France they have two dozen printing institutes to teach screen printing technology where as in India there is none other than DMI, run by Grafica. I would say knowledge is the key to success to any business. What’s the use if screen printers have fully automatic screen printing line without having a proper knowledge? In screen printing industry there is not only lack of ‘knowledge’ but also lack of ‘knowers of knowledge’. In spite of this drawback, over the years, bravo, our screen printers have made drastic improvements due to their sheer hard work and inclination to learn from self help, by reading technical articles, attending exhibitions, seminars etc.

I think the technical education think tanks in India should really make an immediate analysis of the printing education offered in various institutes which is MINUS “advanced screen printing”, they touch upon only some basics and outdated elements of screen printing… very sad especially when the Indian screen printing is adopting automation in a big way and the need for trained screen printing professionals is shooting up. In the recent past, there has been a growing trend of offset printers embracing screen printing, whereas the printing institutes emphasizes more on offset and other printing technology. I fully agree with Narendra P of Pragati Press, Hyderabad who recently said that the old mindset ‘screen printing business can easily be started with an investment as low as Rs. 500-1000 to print visiting cards, letterheads, etc, has to change now. That’s because technological development in screen printing has moved much ahead of this thinking. I strongly also agree with his view point that in screen printing every step is a ‘science’. So without learning this ‘science’ nothing can be printed qualitatively. By learning new techniques we can assimilate it in our daily practice.

Opporutnities: Applications, unlimited: Screen-printing is a fantastic technology that is used by many industries with so many old, new and not yet discovered applications – both flat (plastics, cloth, metal, thin to thick papers, sunpack/sunboard, rubber, leather, wood, glass, footwears, PCBs, ceramics, etc) and non-flat substrates, by using appropriate machinery and inks. Further, this process is also widely used in packaging, labels, Smart-cards – the list of screen printing application is endless.

Growing trend – value addition through various UV special effect inks/varnishes: What was started as Spot UV – matt and gloss – today with the availability of various UV special effects, screen printers have now great chance to excite consumers. The range and variety of effect is extensive and it provides the marketer, print buyer and designer with a number of exciting possibilities.

Use of non-paper substrates: Continuous advancements and developments in polymer technology, expertise and cost-effective manufacturing, plastic substrates are replacing traditional materials in many fields (environmental conditions apply!). These include: PVC, polypropylene, HIPS, lenticular films, polycarbonate etc. Polypropylene sheets are extensively used for blister packaging, cardboard boxes, etc. Preferred by screen printers because of its low density and very economical cost, polypropylene also finds application in disposable containers, embossing, gift box making out of clear sheets, freight packaging, etc. There all sheets are the best suited for screen printing.

Great shift – Indian screen printers: I still recall what Michel Caza, said at the FESPA Munich 2010 workshop titled ‘The future of screen printing goes through innovation — a comparison between western and Asian Countries’. He was of the view that “Graphics and signage are only 20 percent of screen applications where as 35 percent lies in textile printing and about 45 percent in industrial applications.” This clearly sums up the potentials and future of screen printing process.

Screen printers should now take the call: During the presentation at FESPA Munich show, which was focused on the ‘how European countries are moving towards screen and how in Indian screen printing is moving with the latest trend’, Michel had also mentioned that because of industrial production getting shifted to Asian countries, screen printing is also getting more and more attention in this (Asian) region and that is the advantage for screen printers who are into industrial screen printing such as PCB, membrane switches, etc.

Moreover, even Mike Young’s presentation on ‘Emerging technologies’ proves that screen printing has a promising future. He sees a great future provided the screen printers in India remove all bottlenecks the major being “clean-room environment in the screen making and printing setup.” That’s because he saw hard working and sincere efforts by Indian screen printers to achieve quality through high level of automation. Mike was also quite optimistic about Indian screen printers. He says that Indian screen printers can face the challenges ahead with determination, enthusiasm, passion and courage.

Participation in awards competitions – great opportunity to printers: I have been witnessing a growing number of entries and award winners in two major international competitions – SGIA/ FESPA sponsored besides national competitions such as Screen Print India Award, SPAI-FESPA India competitions, etc. That’s not only good but a healthy sign, because ultimately it increases appetite for quality improvement on various counts – complexity, image definition, precision and sharpness; colour appearance, application of use, creativity, etc. Majority of the printers still hesitate to participate in these competitions due to obvious reasons.

Threats: a) Manual screen printing: If our screen printers are catering to industrial printing they should immediately dump manual screen printing tables as there are strict quality and delivery requirements in industrial segment. I have numerous screen printers who have switched over to automation due to all side effects of manual screen printing – it is tedious, laborious, time consuming, wastage-ridden. I was told by many international experts that India lags behind several decades in screen printing but it is not too late. b) Use of poor quality raw materials. c) Use of out-dated methods: Wooden frames, nylon white fabric instead of polyester yellow fabric, lack of standardisation in screen making although it is well known fact that screen is the heart of printing. d) Using solvent although UV available for many applications.

Perhaps due to these reasons there is a growing trend in India that more and more OEMs are now setting up their own screen printing units. For example: tiles and ceramic industry, electronic industry, leather industry, garment industry, packaging and offset industry and many more who earlier used to outsource.

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