Connect with us

Andy MacDougall

Talking Flatstock and Rock Posters with Tuffy Tuffington

Andy revisits his favorite realm of the screen-printing universe.




Tuffy Tuffington is not only a board member of the American Poster Institute, he participates in flatstock shows, like this one in Barcelona. Watch for new locations in 2024 as the API brings posters to the people around the world.
Tuffy Tuffington is not only a board member of the American Poster Institute, he participates in flatstock shows, like this one in Barcelona. Watch for new locations in 2024 as the API brings posters to the people around the world.

WELCOME TO A NEW YEAR and a fresh start. It’s a chance for a do-over or mulligan of 2023, which brought big changes in my personal life and for many others. I could call it my annus horribilis but some people might think I was referring to my ugly butt. So let’s change the subject slightly with some good news …

Meet the New Boss

The Who once quipped, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” In this instance, I’m hoping my new boss is as cool and talented as my old boss, Adrienne Palmer, and the long line of editors at SPmag through the years. Reports from my industry spy network about new editor Marcia Derryberry indicate I must be the only person who doesn’t know her personally. What I do know is she has ink flowing through her veins, was around pre-digital, she kept her hand in and on the heart of the industry through decades of change, and she is here now, ready to go.

Together, we’ll keep our squeegees firmly in hand as we peek around the next corner and see what’s coming down the road. Flying cars? Not quite. But we have screen printers making touch screens on tricorders and wrist radios (Star Trek and Dick Tracy references, for the younger set) and others making Covid test strips to fight one of those pandemics they used to make movies about. We’re still here, and still printing with our antiquated squeegees in a supposed all-digital future.

Art, Ad, or Alchemy? Podcast #19 gave me an opportunity to revisit my favorite realm of the “SPU” (Screen-Printing Universe), where art and ad collide with music and screen printing — flatstock printing like rock posters, to be specific. Like other areas of specialized applications in screen printing, it exists in an alternate parallel universe from the textillions or electronics and functional printers, or the glass printing world — those curved pieces of glass in every vehicle come from somewhere. Each screen-print manufacturer has its tricks, techniques, materials, and machines unique to its version of the process. Yet as different as their products are produced and the materials are used, there are a few things besides squeegees, mesh, and stencils that are common to all of us: Change, evolving markets, and transcendence.

Talking Flatstock and Rock Posters with Tuffy TuffingtonArctic Monkeys have a completely different vibe from Neil Young and require a different look if the poster is going to speak to the fans and the band. When in doubt, throw in an eyeball.

Introducing Lil’ Tuffy

Today, we’re talking with Tuffy Tuffington, a VP of the American Poster Institute, the non-profit that runs the Flatstock Exhibitions of rock poster art. For 20-plus years, the exhibition has taken place at major music festivals around the world. During those years, the rule always was that music-related posters had to be more than 70% of the material in a booth. The other unique thing was buying direct from the artist or printer. No middlemen or dealers were vending; it was straight from the source. There’s a magic in that we have lost of online everything and faceless big box retail. So the vending by artists is staying. But the content rules are changing.

For 2024, the brain trust at the API is dropping this percentage ruling and allowing other poster makers and flatstock printers to participate and exhibit. So expect to see posters for non-musical subjects, for example retro movie posters are a whole sub genre that rose directly out of the rock poster movement. As a former Golden Squeegee/Golden Image judge, I saw that the posters produced in this medium by these artists would consistently win best of show and People’s Choice awards back when there were competitions. This is primo screen printing, period.

There’s comedy shows, political events, all sorts of things the venerable poster still used is for. In the hands of an artist, the communication tool transcends its role as print advertisement and becomes art. They usually are limited edition and, crazily enough, still are screen printed for the most part.


Talking Flatstock and Rock Posters with Tuffy Tuffington Iconic musician Neil Young gets a classic 30’s look for a western mini-tour. Tuffy prints as well as designs. This makes for easy production when the ink starts flying.


What this also means is the flatstock poster shows will grow locations. Although the coordinators intend to keep many of the existing events — including the SXSW show in Austin in March — there will be more regional shows. This will make it easier for artists to exhibit and poster fans to attend and buy. Tuffy explains that change is necessary and good. Using SXSW as an example, it started as a music event running over a week, then expanded. First it was “interactive” the previous week, and then the educational component was added to the week before that. So SXSW spreads over three weeks. The interactive week actually draws more people than the music week now. The slice of the pie didn’t grow smaller, the pie just got bigger. There’s a lesson there for some people.

What else did we learn in our chat with Tuffy? With a pent-up demand from the Covid Blues, live music performances and touring are way up, attendance at events is up, and he says most bands have finally twigged to the economic and logistical advantages having a cool poster available at the merch table brings.

Talking Flatstock and Rock Posters with Tuffy TuffingtonPoster designs are as varied as the musicians they portray, and they best capture an image of a song, or the music, and speak to the fan. That is literally, when it comes to the gig info, but also in a visual language they understand.

Merch Math ’n More

Again with the bigger pie thing; posters don’t cut into merch sales at a concert. They are revenue in addition to other sales. A well-crafted poster has a profit margin equal to or exceeding a T-shirt, with two advantages:

  • 500 posters fit in a much smaller space than 500 shirts or hoodies.
  • Many posters increase in value. They are an investment, not just a fashion accessory.

There’s lots of opportunities too. A 20-date tour might have one or two shirts designed for the entire thing — one shop, one artist, one or two runs. A 20-date tour might have a different poster each night, with the work spread out to printers in the towns on the tour. That means 20 designs, sometimes 20 different artists, and 20 shops producing the runs. Man, that pie is starting to taste good, with lots to go around.

Mr. T has seen personal demand for poster design and production more than double in the past year, exceeding pre-Covid numbers. But he also has been renovicted so many times recently. This long-time San Francisco resident moved to a more rural location a few hours out from the city where rents are lower, the places are bigger, and he’s got some room for a dog and some toys. He still maintains a print studio in SF and makes the commute when he’s got a bunch of art ready to print. Some work he still prints himself on a manual vacuum table, but bigger jobs go to a circle of flatstock printers who are running production lines and semi-automatic presses.

Lured west by the original 90’s tech revolution in the Bay Area, Tuffy was left high and dry when it all crashed. A lucky combination of bartending, bands, and new friendships with local legendary rock poster printers Sperry and Donovan at the Firehouse got him making posters. “They were leaving for Europe for three months and threw me the keys to the studio.”

We cover a lot more in this episode, including a little kayaking adventure we had down the road from my house. Sometimes you need to take a break from printing, whatever it is you print.

Interested in more?

American Poster
The Rebirth of the Rock Poster
Lil’ Tuffy

Upcoming Flatstocks

  • #91 – San Francisco March 2-3, Noise Pop
  • #92 – Austin, March 13-15, SXSW Austin
  • #93 – Boise, March 20-24, Treefort Music Fest

I’ll be live printing posters at Impressions Long Beach January 19-21 with the Ink Kitchen crew, in between halls. If you’ll be there, come by, say hi, and grab a commemorative poster.




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular