Master Grafix: Screen-printers Seeking a Creative Life

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Sam and Marjorie Jacobs’ art walks the streets, and that’s by design.

The couple, with the rest of the staff at Master Grafix, design and print T-shirts at their West Tupelo workshop with supervision from Janey the dog and cats Stormy and Miss Priss.

It’s incredibly gratifying as artists to see their work out and about.

“What we enjoy most is that people enjoy wearing them,” Marjorie Jacobs said.

Although the screen printing process can be used on all kinds of items, T-shirts are the most common canvas for their art.

“A T-shirt is so universal,” Sam Jacobs said. “It’s an easy way to convey a message.”

Some of their customers come in and know exactly what they want. Other customers give the Master Grafix crew free rein to create something eye-catching. They’ve tapped into folk art for the Tupelo Running Club to create the quirky tie-dyed shirts for its annual marathon.

“It means a lot that people trust us with that,” Sam Jacobs said. “It’s always an honor.”

Since February 2017, the Master Grafix crew has stretched its creative muscles to create a special T-shirt of the month.

“It’s fresh every month,” Sam Jacobs said.

The series started with a MICI ZIBI, the Native American word meaning “Great River” that gave birth to the word Mississippi. It’s been followed by shirts proclaiming “Magnolia State of Mind,” “Everything’s Gravy” and “Home,” featuring the outline of the state in place of the O.

“It’s all geared to the South or Mississippi themes,” Marjorie Jacobs said. “We thought we would stick to our roots.”

The most popular, so far, has been the February 2018 shirt that featured a banjo-playing squirrel. The squirrel went coast to coast with orders from California and New York, Sam Jacobs said.

Love by design

T-shirts and design brought Marjorie and Sam together. The couple met while they were students at the University of Mississippi and worked at Oxford T-shirt company.

Sam Jacobs was majoring in film and theater, but ended up working at Oxford T-shirt because he was having so much fun as the T-shirt chairman for his fraternity.

“I was just doing graphic arts on the side,” Sam Jacobs said. “I just really enjoyed it.”

Marjorie Jacobs was majoring in graphic design and took a position at Oxford T-Shirt as a way to put her studies into action.

“It’s worked out well for us,” Marjorie Jacobs said.

The Jacobses have been a couple for nearly 10 years and married four years ago. They began working for Master Grafix as designers and then took over managing the business for owners Lisa and Dillard Howell in 2009.

“They’re our guardian angels,” Sam Jacobs said.

The process

Before the first drop of ink hits fabric, there’s a lot of work that goes into creating a shirt.

For the T-shirts of the Month, the Jacobses start with the T-shirt color and then pull together the colors, fonts and images that inspire them using graphic design software. They refine by adding texture and shading.

Most screen printing uses the spot color process. Spot color works like stenciling; each ink color is pushed through a cut-out design. When the inks are layered together, the design emerges.

For screen printing, the design is separated into layers. Those layers are burned onto the screens coated with emulsion using a process similar to developing photos. After exposure to light, the emulsion is washed away to leave the design burned into the screens, creating the stencil for each color.

Then the screens are loaded on a printing press – Master Graphix has a 12-station automated carousel as well as a manual press. The ink is loaded onto each screen, where it will be forced through the screen with a squeegee onto the T-shirt. At the end, the shirt will come off the press and go into a dryer to set the ink.

Once the screens are set and filled with ink, there’s still a lot of adjustments to be made. The Master Grafix crew will print and reprint test images to make sure everything is lined up and the colors pop.

“It’s not a perfect science,” Sam Jacobs said. “There’s a lot of trial and error.”

When it’s time to start running the shirts, the shirts are carefully but quickly positioned as the carousel spins between stations. When the printing is done, the shirts come off the printing press and are laid in the dryer. Then the shirts are ready to take their artistic messages out into the world.

“It’s a great creative outlet; we’re fortunate to have that,” Sam Jacobs said. “We’re glad people like it.”


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