Screen Printing T-Shirts: Design Your Own T-Shirt for Screen Printing

With screen printing t-shirts, you can either design your own t-shirts or use one of the standard designs offered by those firms that specialize in t-shirt printing. However if you want to design your own t-shirt, there are certain aspects of screen printing you should understand, because they impact on the type of design you can use.

First, a brief description of what is involved in screen printing:

Screen Printing T-Shirts: the Process

a) The Screen

At one time this process was known as silk screen printing, because the screens used were made from silk. It was a popular printing technique in China, hence the silk, but modern polymer fibres now enable us to use synthetic screens which are considerably less expensive.

Although the artwork is needed before the screens can be made, an explanation of the technique will be necessary so you can understand the limitations in your design. First, a mesh is required with holes large enough to allow the ink to be squeezed through it. An average mesh will be 110 (110 threads/inch), with lower for thicker inks and block images, and higher for thinner inks and more definition.

The mesh is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion, and the artwork placed under it. Light is exposed up through the screen, and where the light hits the screen, the chemical solidifies and covers the mesh. The design area stops the light, so when the screen is washed, the area of the design is clear of emulsion, while the rest is solid. This is true whether screen printing t-shirts or any other item.

b) The Printing

The screen is mounted in a box, and the garment is placed under the box. Ink is poured into the box and a tool known as a ‘squeegee’ is pulled across, forcing the ink through the mesh. The ink is then dried, leaving the image on the t-shirt.

As you can imagine, this process is suitable only for a single colour per printing because only one colour can be poured in the mesh box or they would run together. For more colours, the process has to be repeated. Only delineated areas of individual colour can be printed, so it is not possible to merge one shade into another when screen printing t-shirts.

It should be apparent that a new screen is needed for each different colour unless the pattern is exactly the same. This adds to the cost, and screen printing t-shirts is expensive for individual garments. There is a fixed set-up cost and then an additional cost for each colour. The more t-shirts that are printed in a run, then the cheaper it gets for each individual garment.

Other printing methods, such as digital printing, can print multiple colours without any increase in price. So why use screen printing for t-shirts rather than just digital? There are a number of reasons:

Advantages of Screen T-Shirt Printing

* Screen printing is advantageous if you design your own t-shirt with large areas of block colour. Digital printing, and other methods, cannot print large areas as effectively as screen.

* Screen printing t-shirts is very opaque, and can cover any deep colour beneath it. Digital printing struggles to print light shades on top of dark, such as pale blue on bright yellow, without it looking green.

* Screen printing is great for whites, and even with DTG jet printers, white on dark often lasts no more than two or three washes. Screen inks are far more stable and are thicker so give greater coverage. You need offer no specific washing instructions.

* Screen is extremely cost effective if you have only one colour, and if you have longer runs screen beats most other methods for economy and price.

* The colours are brighter and stand out more when screen printing t-shirts

Negatives of Screen Printing T-Shirts

However, there are also a few negatives to screen printing t-shirts, namely:

* Too expensive for small orders with more than one colour in the design.
* Takes time: most t-shirt printers will quote two weeks or more.
* You have limitations on your artwork.

However, while screen t-shirt printing does have a few negatives associated with the technique, it is nevertheless preferred by most buyers and t-shirt designers because of the benefits.

The printers themselves will prefer digital forms of DTG printing, but if you find a t-shirt printer that will print your garments with your own design using screen at an acceptable price, you will have brighter and more durable t-shirts than if any other method was employed.

Screen printing t-shirts is currently one of the most used methods used by garment printers, but if you want to design your own t-shirt then it is best to have only one or two colours at most if you want the benefits of screen printing.

The Screen Printing Process

Screen printing is said to be the most versatile among all the other printing processes. However, the printing process of screen printing is very crucial and tedious in which many complicated steps are involved. The first step for the printing is to place a screen on top of a substrate, in which the substrate can be materials such as a paper or a fabric. The ink is then placed on top of the screen, with the fill bar to fill the mesh opening with inks. After that, the operator will begin by lifting the screen. This is to ensure that the screen does not have any contact with the substrate. The operator will then use a slight amount of downward force to pull the fill bar to the front of the screen.

The squeegee is then being used to move the mesh down to the substrate and the squeegee will then be pushed to the rear of the screen. In the meantime, the tension of the mesh will pull the mesh away from the substrate, in which this action will leave the ink upon the substrate surface.

The above is the common process of screen printing. However, there are actually different types of screen printing process, namely the ‘flat-bed’, the ‘cylinder’, and the commonly used type, the rotary’. The screen can be used many times, in which it has to be cleaned after each use. This requires the reclaiming process. In this process, the ink is removed from the screen and it also involves the spraying of stencil removers, which come in the form of liquid, gels, or powders. Another process called the ‘de-hazing’ process will remove the haze of the blurry images left on the screen.

In summary, the screen printing process – if being described in an easier context – would be as follows: in the screen printing process, the ink will be passed through a screen (or a ‘mesh’), which will be fixed on a frame before it is passed through the screen. Then, a stencil will be applied on the screen. The stencil openings are also responsible in determining the image that needs to be imprinted on the screen. The different types of screens are being used for different colors. The process is then repeated until the desired outcome is obtained.

Besides, there is also another screen printing technique known as the silk printing technique. This printing technique is also known as serigraphs in which it involves multiple printing technique which requires the use of stencils with the function to transfer the designs. In a single print, many colors can be used by using multiple stencils. This technique is commonly used by modern artists and recently, it has also been developed into a commercial medium.

In conclusion, screen printing is a useful technique in preparing gifts for multiple uses such as personal use, corporate use, and so on. The outcome of the printing technique is in high-quality and of course, this will gives out positive impression to the recipients.

Dye Sublimation Printing Vs Screen Printing – What’s the Difference?

LAST UPDATED ON: October 10, 2018

The two styles of printing are markedly different. The similarities are that both are printed on substrates and both produce an image. Aside from that? Not so much.

Screen Printing

The screen-printing process uses a very labor intensive set up that you don’t have with dye sublimation printing.

I’ll walk you through the screen printing process as I know it quite intimately, since this is where I began my career in the graphics business.

Central to the screen printing process is the screen (duh, right?). The screen is still often called a silkscreen, although silk has not been used for many decades since the advent of nylon thread.

The Screen Mesh

There are many types of screen mesh, starting at around 100 threads per square inch and going up to several hundred threads per square inch. The more coarse mesh is becoming less common as it is used with oil-based enamel inks which have been replaced, by and large, with UV inks, which we run through a 220 mesh count as the ink particulates are much smaller than with the older solvent inks.

The screen mesh is typically stretched and glued to a wood or aluminum frame, or attached to expandable frames or roller frames. When stretching the mesh over a frame, we typically take the pounds per square inch (as shown on a “Newton Meter) up to 25 or 26, and let the fabric stretch out over-night.

By the time 16 to 24 hours have passed, the meter will show that the tension has dropped off to around 15 pounds per square inch, and we repeat the process, and the screens should have about the proper tension at around 20-22 lbs. per square inch tension, creating a taut screen that will deliver a good, clean print.

Once the screen is tensioned and attached to a frame, we typically use a fabric tape to tape around the edges of the frame, both inside and out. This is a semi-permanent solution to having ink leak out around the edges of the emulsion.

The Emulsion

Now the screen is ready for the photo sensitive emulsion, which is applied with a scoop coater, a variable length tray that emulsion is poured into. After applying the emulsion to the screen, we move the screen to a flat, curtained drying/storage cabinet, where it dries. Different systems of coated screen storage will dry the coated screens at different rates, but ours are usually ready to expose within a couple of hours unless we put a fan on them.

Once the Screen is dry

Once the emulsion-coated screens are dry, we can now place the film on the print side of the screen, in reverse, tape it in place, and move it to a vacuum frame. The vacuum frame has a large piece of glass upon which the screen is placed, print side against the glass. A “blanket” is placed over the screen frame, and a vacuum motor engaged, and the screen is pressed tight against the glass.

The vacuum frame is now rotated to face an exposure light, which is typically on a timer. The light is turned on, and the photo sensitive emulsion is exposed, but the areas that are behind the film positive remain susceptible to water. After the set amount of time, typically 6 to 10 minutes, the light will turn off, and the vacuum frame rotated back to laying flat, the pressure released, and the screen removed and moved to a washout tank.

Moving to a Wash Tank

There are semi-automated washout tanks which, once you put the screen into it, it will expose the image with water in a short amount of time. At this point we allow the screen to dry, and we’re ready to place it on the screen printing press.

After making sure there are no pin holes (if there are, we use a blockout emulsion to fill them in), we tape the edges to make sure ink won’t leak out around the edges of the print (more of an issue on a clamshell press than one that lifts up and down, leaving the screen flat at all times). We line up the substrate, put in blockers, micro-adjust the screen to the substrate, and we’re ready to print.

Screen Press Weakness

The biggest weakness of screen printing is that we have to make a new screen for every color printed, making the set up time for screen printing quite time consuming. However, because the printing process is very fast, if there are a large quantity of signs or decals or banners, etc.

Next, we pour ink onto the screen, and print whatever it is we’re printing, say, bumper stickers or car window decals or stickers, or window sticker for a business, or signs, or whatever our clients order.

After printing, the excess ink is scooped back into the ink bucket, and the screen removed to a washout tank, degreased, and prepped to repeat the process again.

Dye Sublimation Printing

Dye sublimation printing of displays and banners is virtually always done on polyester fabric because the chemistry of polyester is suited to dye sub printing. The chemistry involved in dye sublimation printing is fascinating to me, not just because it’s a complex process, but because the end result is by far the most perfect printing of cloth banners, posters, and displays available.

The Ink Set

There are four dyes involved, similar to an inkjet printer. The color coding for dye sublimate printing is a bit different that the CMYK printing that inkjet printers perform. The code for the dyes is CMYO (cyan magenta yellow overprint clear).

The Special Paper

These dyes are printed on a special transfer paper, then removed from the printer and matched up with an oxford, satin, knit, or other polyester material and sent through heated rollers at approx.. 400F combined with the pressure of the rollers.

The Process

In this process, the dye converts to a gas, and with the aid of the heat and pressure, becomes fused with the polyester fibers, and creates an absolutely gorgeous print (assuming the dyes and polyester are good quality).

How Does Screen Printing Actually Work?

Screen printing, or silk screening, is an age-old process to print on just about any material. With new machinery it is even possible to print on cylinders which, with traditional screen printing methods, would be impossible. The original silk used for a screen has been replaced today with a nylon material that has a very, very tight mesh. It does still have the feel and appearance of silk.

The screen material is stretched over a frame, often made of wood. It is a lot like a screen window that you would have in your house, although the screen mesh is much tighter, meaning the weave is much closer together. The screen is coated on both sides with a product called “emulsion”. Emulsion is a photo sensitive material that will coat the nylon mesh. When it is exposed to light the emulsion hardens and bonds with the screen mesh. Nothing happens to the emulsion where light is blocked from reaching it and it is later washed away.

The process involves three basic steps. One is to prepare your artwork, image or text and get that made into a piece of film. This film is clear with the artwork or text being black. Second is to lay this film on top of your screen and expose it to a light source for a pre-determined amount of time. Third you will lay your screen onto the material to be printed on and drag ink over it with a squeegee.

Let’s say we want to print the letters “ABC”. We would start by creating a piece of film that would have the three letters on it, probably right in the center. The three letters would be black on this piece of film and the rest would be transparent. This piece of film is laid flat onto the screen and a piece of glass is laid over it to keep everything from moving. When we expose this to light the clear areas on the film will harden the emulsion and make it permanent on the screen. After the exposure the screen is washed with running water and the parts of the emulsion that were not exposed to light will wash away. In this scenario we will have our letters “ABC” on our screen where ink will pass through and print to whatever material is below it because the unexposed emulsion will wash away.

If we wanted to print each of the letters in a different color, let’s say red, white and blue, we would need a separate screen for each of the three letters, but we would have to have each letter in the correct position so that they didn’t print on top of each other or out of position. The easiest way to do that with our “ABC” scenario is to set up the three separate screens and then block the “B” and the “C” with paper or a tape and do the exposure of just the “A”. We’ll call this our red screen. We’ll block the “A” and the “C” off our next screen and call that our white screen. Now we’ll block the “A” and “B” and call this our blue screen. Now we have three separate screens, each in a separate frame and each with part of our “ABC” image. We could make three separate pieces of film as well, each one with just one letter, but that takes extra materials.

When printing this “ABC” image we will print the “A” screen, then the “B” screen and finally the “C” screen to come up with our three color image. Care must be taken to register your frame in the exact same spot each time so that all text and images on the screen show up in the correct spots on the finished product.

To print the screen is laid down on the material that you want to print. Everything must be held securely in place so the frame, nor the material moves at all. The color of ink you want to use is then applied to the screen above the image. If we are printing the “A” then that screen is placed over the material and red ink is placed onto the screen. We will then take a squeegee and pull the red ink down over the letter “A” and then back up again to go over it a second time. This will have printed the letter “A” in red ink onto whatever you are printing on, a t-shirt, poster or whatever. Repeat this process with the other two letters and ink colors to finish the product.

Screen printing is one of the best ways to print onto cloth and paper among many other things. Modern equipment allows you to mass produce products like t-shirts. A typical t-shirt printer will be set up with stations and several people will operate the machine at the same time, each printing one color. The Screen printing machine would then index, or revolve, to move the t-shirt into the next position and print that color.