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.