Screen Printing 101
Screen printing dates back several centuries to ancient China, but it’s far from old-fashioned. It’s also known as silk screening. As you can gather from the name, the procedure involves fine mesh screens used like a stencil. Learn about the basics of this kind of garment printing to figure out if it’s right for your needs.
Like every other type of garment printing and embroidery, the process begins with quality artwork. The digital copies of the design need to feature a minimum resolution of 300 DPI. This measurement means there are 300 dots per square inch in the graphic. It’s possible to print multiple colors with crispness and perfect alignment, but screen printing works best for designs with a limited number of colors. Gradients and ombre designs are not done with this printing method, but nearly any other look you want is possible.
Preparing the Screens
Once the printing team receives your artwork, they separate it into layers by color. For example, all the white parts of a design become a separate image. The printer adds register marks so that the various layers are easy to align after separation. Each layer is printed on a see-through material like vellum or plastic film.
At this point the screen that lends its name to the process enters the picture. In the past, these screens were crafted from silk cloth or woven hair. Modern garment printers rely on polyester instead.
A technician covers the mesh with a liquid known as emulsion. The emulsion is light-sensitive. The screen is overlaid with the clear sheets featuring your artwork. When placed in a light box, the emulsion hardens except where covered by your designs. This means the printing specialist simply rinses out the wet emulsion and ends up with a crisp, clear stencil. Each of the separated layers ends up on its own screen.
Clean and dry screens are used in the printing press. While you might think of an inkjet document printer when you hear the term, the press is much simpler. It’s a large rotating stand with many arms and each arm holds one screen. This press allows the printing specialist to rotate the arms and seamlessly print each layer without having to fuss with changing out ink-covered screens. The press also includes a frame for holding the T-shirt or other garment so it doesn’t move during the process.
The person handling the printing decides which color goes on first and so on based on the final design. The first screen is lowered onto the clamped garment and aligned with the register marks. Ink is poured onto the screen and forced through the mesh with a rubber squeegee. This process continues until the artwork is complete.
Some T-shirt printers still use manual presses, but most rely on automatic devices. A computer controls the movement of the arms, checks the registration, and presses the ink through the screen. Either way, screen printing creates thick layers of ink that pop against the background. It’s one of the most affordable options for creating custom garments. You’ll also appreciate the longevity of today’s screen printing inks. They can handle years of wear and washing without fading or cracking.
Contact TeamLine if this introduction to screen printing piqued your interest. Get your questions answered and place your custom garment order to get your custom T-shirt or other garment project off to a great start.