In order to avoid screen printing pitfalls, it helps to get a better understanding of the screen printing process. What is a screen print? It is basically a glorified stencil. Screen printers prepare a mesh called a “screen”. They lay this over the t-shirt and stencil on a color. They have to let the paint dry, then repeat the process for second and third colors. Screen printing isn’t just for t-shirts. It can also be for bags, badges, sweatshirts… you name it.
So what are some issues you want to avoid when you are getting t-shirts (or anything else) screen printed?
Create vector artwork
If you can’t create vectors and you don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer or illustrator, be sure you are creating artwork that can be vectorized. How do you do that? Imagine that your artwork is going to be turned into a rubber stamp. You can’t do things like gradients or textures with a rubber stamp, right? If you keep the rubber stamp in mind, your artwork should be pretty easy to vectorize.
Overprint is exactly what it sounds like… a double (or even triple layer) of print. Overprint is especially bad with screen printing because the more paint you have layered onto a shirt, the more likely it is to crack down the road. Also, if you have light-colored paint printed over dark paint, the dark may show through and discolor the artwork. How do you avoid overprint? Get a graphic designer or an illustrator that knows how to build print-ready vector artwork. They will be able to create and finalize artwork without stacking shapes on top of one another. Again, if you don’t have the budget for a graphic designer, chances are, your screen printing company will have a graphics department. Some screen printers will produce shirts with overprint because it can make the process of printing easier. Don’t let them do it. Be sure that when you submit your artwork, you let them know that overprint is not okay.
Don’t print light on dark without a layer of white
The lazy screen printer is okay with printing royal blue directly on charcoal. Why is this bad? Because the dark shirt will show through, making the ink difficult to read. In order to avoid this issue, good screen printers will paint on a layer of white, then let it dry. Next, they will layer on a color. This process makes the color appear brighter and cleaner on the shirt. Be sure to let printers know that you expect two layers when you are printing light on dark, otherwise, they may not give it to you.
Break up big areas of paint
A lot of people are tempted to create big, solid areas of paint for visual effect. Stay away from it. Divide shapes with small lines. Why? Because large areas of solid paint are more likely to crackle. Also, be aware that the paint used for screen printing can trap heat. If you are creating a shirt for runners, they aren’t going to want a giant slab of plastic across their back for a 10k.
More colors and prints = more screens = more money
It’s important to remember that in the process, you need to be realistic. The more colors you add to your project, the more expensive your project will be. For each color, you are adding a significant amount of time on the production end. This also applies to the number of areas you are printing. For example, if you are printing a one-color job on the front, the back, the sleeve and the label area, that will mean four runs to a screen printer. Turn it into a two-color job and suddenly you have eight runs.