Century-old printing presses breathe new life into Graphic Arts merit badge

With our modern fixation on shiny new technology, it’s refreshing to see Scouts get excited about something from the predigital age.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Lancaster, Pa., where one Scouter has channeled his passion for Gutenberg-style printing into a volunteer Scouting role.

In 2009, Ken Kulakowsky, who has been involved with Scouting since he was a Cub Scout in 1957, began hosting Graphic Arts merit badge workshops. Using technology invented in 1440 on printing presses built 100 years ago, Scouts earn one of the BSA’s least-earned merit badges.

Kulakowsky’s original Graphic Arts merit badge workshop saw 15 Scouts in attendance. Now he hosts five workshops a year with 26 Scouts at each one. There’s a waiting list of 50 Scouts; demand exceeds the amount of space inside the printing lab.

And it’s not just Scouts from the Pennsylvania Dutch Council who show up. Scouts have attended from as far north as Albany, N.Y., and Centerbrook, Conn. They have come from Fayetteville, N.C., in the South and Pittsburgh in the West.

What Scouts get to do

  • Design a memo pad and print it using the letterpress process developed by Gutenberg in the 15th century
  • Screen-print a specially designed T-shirt
  • See firsthand the offset printing process and take home a BSA Scout Law memo pad
  • Tour the Graphic Communications labs of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology — Pennsylvania’s top-rated technical college
  • Converse with a group of dedicated .918 Club volunteers who do everything possible to help the Scouts succeed

There are still two more workshops in 2017. Learn more here.

How rare is Graphic Arts MB?

In 2016, Graphic Arts ranked in the bottom 15 percent of all merit badges based on popularity (107th out of 137). Just 3,251 Boy Scouts earned the merit badge last year.


  1. This is such a well run, interesting workshop! Ken and his team do a fantastic job. Both of my boys attended and really enjoyed earning this merit badge. Thanks Ken and the .918 Club!

  2. That is a great program. As a young person out of college I was drawn into the Supply Management field or purchasing and had to learn all about all those things in that Merit Badge to understand the modern printing and design work. That program would have been wonderful knowledge to have going into the field.

  3. This is one area where we need more people. Getting a graphics merit badge is a great way to get started. I noticed that a university graphics department is involved. That is a great way to get the space and expertise for teaching.

  4. The International Printing Museum in Los Angeles (http://www.printmuseum.org/) hosts boy scout merit badge days throughout the year. Dozens of active and retired printers show up to take a small group of scouts through a hands-on day-long of skills using typesetting machines, pouring metal type molds, printing using numerous machines, T-shirt and flyer printing, book-binding, aper-making, and other skills. This is without a doubt one of the best run programs by a devoted crew I have ever seen, and they’ve done this for years. their website for these merit badges: http://www.printmuseum.org/special-events/boy-scout-merit-badge-day/

  5. When it comes to any ART the inter-net is a tremendous resource. You don’t have to be Norman Rockwell to come up with a master piece. A Great Patrol meeting activity. ‘Hands On’ and fun, fun, fun!

  6. My son took this merit badge class 4 years ago, and he still talks about it. The counselors were top notch, and it’s a well run program.

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