The Magic of Screen Printing at Printshop Northwest

Andrew and Emily Youngren at Printshop Northwest
Andrew and Emily Youngren

In today’s screen-filled world, the opportunities to flex creative muscles with tangible objects can feel few and far between. But there’s a special magic when we let go of the digital mockup and allow our minds to wonder, ‘What if?’ To experiment with colors and stencils. To make something completely unique.

That’s exactly the kind of experience Andrew and Emily Youngren offer at Printshop Northwest. At their boutique San Juans printing chain (they have locations in both Orcas Island’s Eastsound and San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor) they sell a host of pre-printed and design-your-own clothing.

“That’s the fun of it — giving people the opportunity to partake in some risk-taking and creativity. That’s when people just light up,” says Emily.

Transparent prints at Printshop Northwest
Andrew Youngren Printing Shirts

While the business is roughly 10 years old, Andrew has been screen printing since high school. Originally from Orcas Island, he worked farmers’ markets during those early days. Back then, he didn’t give much thought of it becoming a full-fledged business, let alone what shape it would take. Today, designs take the forefront. 

“We really wanted to be a place to have local art and represent local artists. So that’s what we focus on,” explains Andrew.

Each design was created by a local artist, including some by Andrew. The original pieces begin in a variety of modalities, ranging from pen and ink drawings to relief carvings. The Youngrens then digitize them and print them onto a transparent mesh with a light-sensitive emulsion.

Each artist is compensated on a commission basis, an untraditional payment format that allows the artist to maintain ownership of their work and maximize their earnings. “That’s really important to us. We want this space to be inspirational and supportive for everyone,” says Andrew.

Pre-printed and custom prints can be ordered through their website, but the real magic happens when you visit them in person.

Free Print Fridays

They host the occasional Free Print Friday. The shop picks a design for the day and visitors are invited to bring their own shirt to have printed. “Not only is this a fun event, this can be a great way to upcycle a shirt you love that has a stain. If you’re a parent, like we are, you know this happens often,” explains Emily. Follow @printshopnorthwest on Instagram to get the inside scoop on upcoming Friday prints.

Andrew Youngren holding up a printed sweatshirt
Drying sweatshirt at Printshop Northwest

Being Part of the Printing Process

If you’re looking for a memorable souvenir, creating your own shirt (or hat, sweatshirt, etc.) at Printshop Northwest is arguably one of the best things to do on Orcas Island.

“People will come in and ask about doing something we’ve never done before. They might say, ‘Can we do the bigfoot in yellow on a green shirt?’ No one in the room knows what it’s going to look like. So we find out together. Every once in a while, it doesn’t work. But often, they’ve created a completely unique piece that’s fabulous,” said Emily.

Water-Based Textile Ink

While the origins of screen printing can be traced to China in AD 221, the modern-day approach is often a much faster and chemically-heavy process. “Most screen printers are focused on volume and use plastisol, which is a plastic-based ink,” said Andrew.

While plastisol has some advantages, primarily the bright colors it can produce, it’s not a very environmentally-friendly option — requiring harsh chemicals for cleanup and adding additional plastic into the environment. “We use a water-based textile ink. It’s more eco-friendly,” explained Andrew.

For the casual observer, the subtle colors produced by this environmentally-friendly ink offer a laidback vibe that’s in keeping with the island lifestyle. It also allows the print shop staff to heat-cure products under a flash dryer, making a freshly printed shirt wearable in a matter of minutes. 

Andrew and Emily Youngren outside Printshop Northwest

Meet More Island Artists

Zackarya Leck, Orcas Island Artist-Blacksmith

Zackarya Leck Orcas Island Artist-Blacksmith
On the western horseshoe of Orcas Island, Zackarya Leck turns iron to playdough in his 2,000-degree forge.

The Magic of Salt

Brady Ryan inspects the harvest while his son plays outside. Photo by La Vie Photo.
With seawater and sunshine, Brady Ryan produces roughly 20,000 pounds of salt a year on San Juan Island — delivering a taste of the sea.