Guide to Screen Printing T-shirts. The Screen Printing Process 101

by Jun 20, 2019

If you’re looking to start your own clothing brand, produce a number of T-shirts for your fan base, promote your brand or you’re simply interested in the various printing techniques for garments, then this article is a good start to get an understanding of one of the most popular printing techniques: the screen printing method.  

You might be unfamiliar with the actual term, but at some point in your life, you must have worn a t-shirt or a hoodie that was done using the screen printing process. The screen printing technique often carries the name of “silk screen printing” or if you prefer a more technical name then use “serigraphy” which is the same thing.

What is Screen Printing?

 

The technique of screen printing t-shirts is often referred to as a form of art due to its meticulous nature. The reason is that each colour has to be individually applied to the printing surface. This technique involves using a stencil (or ‘’screen” as most of the industry specialists call it) that applies one single colour at a time. If the design uses more colours, then more stencils will be created to apply the other colours. You might be unfamiliar with the actual term, but at some point in your life, you must have worn a t-shirt or a hoodie that was done using the screen printing process. The screen printing technique often carries the name of “silk screen printing” or if you prefer a more technical name then use “serigraphy” which is the same thing.

The History of Screen Printing

 

Assumed to be one of the oldest technique present to date, the screen printing method has an ambiguous birthplace. The common assumption sheds light on this matter and informs us that screen printing dates back to the ancient empire of China where it later spread all over the territories of Asia, the first place to reach being Japan. Then it further continued to spread all the way to India and Egypt. It was’t until the early days of the XVIII century that screen printing was introduced to Europe but it remained hard to perform. That was until our ancient grandfathers were able to import the silk mesh which made it easier to utilise this process.

It makes perfect sense to assume that screen printing was popular with garnishing fabrics, walls and other objects, but it soon developed into an art used by the advertising people as well. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century when screen-printing became more available to people. You might have heard of the glorious PopArt movement coined by Andy Warhol – he would be one of the first to try it out in his famous art. 

Advancements in technology were already being planned out by 60s. And that was thanks to a guy named Michael Vasilantone and his wife, who together had a textile company. Looking for new ways to improve his processes and his entrepreneurial success- Michael had a spark of genius and he invented a dual rotatory printing press which greatly allowed them to make huge improvements on their timing. Screen printing just became quicker and more efficient thanks to them. You’d be surprised to find out that this machine is still being used in today’s industry. 

The Technical Side 

Like any other printing technique, one always starts out with the artwork which will represent the starting point for how the entire process should continue. In screen printing, the printer will be required to pay a lot of precision to how each layer of colours is placed on the top of the other (depending of course on how many colours your design has). And for each layer, the printer will also need to take care of all the extra technical details which are prepared in different software, such as Adobe Illustrator, or Corel Draw. 

 A rule of thumb is that whenever you decide to get something printed with the screen printing technique, you will want to favour vectors over pixels. And if you’re wondering why that’s down to the amazing capability of vectors to be enlarged without losing the quality. The vectors are based on precise mathematical shapes which allow the user who manipulates them to resize the shape without ending up with a mushy artwork. So.. Vectors are your friends in this battle. 

 And the last thing you might want to take into account: when saving the final design, some of the compatible formats you need to remember are png, psd, jpeg, tiff and bmp. Oh, and don’t forget to save that file with a 300 d.p.i quality. You don’t want to risk having a design that looks as if it’s been done in the 80’s. (Nothing wrong with the 80’s if that’s what you’re after!)

What Fabrics are Ideal for Screen Printing?

Like any other printing technique, one always starts out with the artwork which will represent the starting point for how the entire process should continue. In screen printing, the printer will be required to pay a lot of precision to how each layer of colours is placed on the top of the other (depending of course on how many colours your design has). And for each layer, the printer will also need to take care of all the extra technical details which are prepared in different software, such as Adobe Illustrator, or Corel Draw. 

 A rule of thumb is that whenever you decide to get something printed with the screen printing technique, you will want to favour vectors over pixels. And if you’re wondering why that’s down to the amazing capability of vectors to be enlarged without losing the quality. The vectors are based on precise mathematical shapes which allow the user who manipulates them to resize the shape without ending up with a mushy artwork. So.. Vectors are your friends in this battle. 

 And the last thing you might want to take into account: when saving the final design, some of the compatible formats you need to remember are png, PSD, jpeg, tiff and BMP. Oh, and don’t forget to save that file with a 300 d.p.i quality. You don’t want to risk having a design that looks as if it’s been done in the 80s. (Nothing wrong with the 80s if that’s what you’re after!)

Screen Printing Inks

Depending on you are trying to achieve, and what is the purpose of your t-shirt, you have a couple of options for different inks. But one thing is for sure, inks for screen printing are going to give you a rich result.

  • The high-density inks. As the name might suggest, the end design will give that tangible print which feels nice to the touch. The artwork is going to look slightly raised on the fabric which gives you that extra-dimensional edge that you might wanna go for. 
  • Glow in the dark, which can be easily a great thing for a night event, is a great way to have that glow in the night look.
  • Puff inks are desirable if you want to have something for kids. 
  • Suede inks are exactly what you might be thinking of – they will get you an exact suede-like texture on the garments
  • Metallic inks are ideal if you want to go for an extra look of sparkle and glam
  • Vintage inks will give you an old fashioned visual of your artwork.

What Do I Need for the Screen Printing Process?

Regardless of you want to become the next Andy Warhol, want to open your own garment printing business using the screen technique or are just curious, here is what you will need to get started

  • Screen 
  • An emulsion kit
  • Brushes
  • A foil to have the designed printed on(Needs to be transparent)
  • Pressurised water (the one that comes out of your hose or shower-head)
  • Inks
  • Squeegee

The Actual Printing Process

 

Because it can be both a manual or an automatic procedure, you will have to then print the actual design onto your chosen fabric. Regardless, you will then place your garment on a flat surface. This is where it gets a bit messy! You will then have to place the screen on the top of the garment, and then it is followed by the ink, which you will have to apply on the top of the screen. Using the squeegee the ink will be spread across the surface evenly. If the process is a manual one, the printer will have to be extra sure the amount of ink and pressure are correct, otherwise the process could be ruined instantly.

 

You can use the screens again on a different garment but you will have to clean them. It’s pretty straightforward from here on: you’ll have to remove the screen and wait for the ink to dry on the garment. You can use some sort of a dryer to make the drying process faster. If you do have multiple colours, you will need to apply different screens for it.

 

Benefits of Using the Process of Screen Print for T-shirts:

  • Create vibrant designs for your t-shirts;
  • Works really well for dark fabrics;
  • It feels nice to the touch as the inks are somehow thicker and it produces a nice visual effect;
  • Long-term lifespan and quality are ensured;
  • Authentic and sleek finish;
  • Scalability – if your batch is larger, the price you pay is smaller;
  • Large volumes of t-shirts are printed in only a matter of time;
  • No margin of error when it comes to matching your print colour.

Should I Use Screen Printing for my T-shirts?

Over the years, screen printing t-shirts have been ideal for those who wanted to produce large quantities of t-shirts. As you could tell already, given its detailed approach, screen printing is slightly more costly as compared to other techniques. The quality of the machines used in the process has an impact as well on the overall efficiency of the process. Our goal is to ensure our clients that their order comes in a timely and efficient manner while the quality of the products remains high.

We also recommend a screen printing service for works that have a large design and require a high level of vibrancy, or when using black or other dark coloured garments. The reason why screen-printing dark t-shirts is preferred to any other technique lies in the fact that the ink is applied in more than one layer of colour which, in turn, ensures the overall high quality of the t-shirt.

So What Do You Need to Remember?

  • Think about your designs: are your t-shirts going to use bold graphics?
  • Are you going to print typographic t-shirts?
  • Is your design minimalistic and uses only a limited amount of colours?
  • Are you looking to produce more than ten t-shirts?

If you answered YES to all of the questions above, then you might want to have screen-printed t-shirts then.  Head over to our t-shirt printing page and get inspired!

Don’t hesitate to drop us a message or comment below if you have any questions.