What in the world is screen printing? Simply, screen printing is the process of using a mesh-based stencil to apply ink onto a surface - shirts, posters, stickers, wood and a variety of other materials. The idea of screen printing arose from the concept of stenciling (and in truth that’s what screen printing is a form of). Screen printing can be traced back to the beginning of recorded history where methods can be found in China as early as 960 AD (during the Song Dynasty).
Screen printing originally started as just another art form. It wasn’t until during the 1960s that you can see screen printing being used for promotional items or propaganda. The 1960s was full of civil rights and social justice movements so there were plenty of opportunities to express yourself and your views. Sharing ideas that turn into movements requires people paying attention, and screen printing provided a method to create stunning graphics that caught viewer attentions.
It didn’t take long after screen printing being introduced to commercialism, before screen printing became a popular choice for artists - the most notable being Andy Warhol.
Today, we are seeing a revival in the screen printing industry as artists are creating new twists to the concept. There is also a call for the industry to become more environmentally friendly with their chemicals and inks. So if you are just starting out in the screen printing business there is a lot of room for creativity and growth and we are excited we get to share that with you!
While we could write a book on how to get started screen printing, we decided not to bore you with that much information in this blog post. Instead, we will discuss some tips and basics to get you started.
Step by Step
This is a general outline used by Texsource staff to explain the process to customers and in Texsource University Classes. If you want a more detailed look at the 16 steps and how to get started screen printing, join us for our Screen Printing 101 class in June!
- Get to know your client and what they are looking for in the design. Don’t forget to take down their contact information to keep in touch as well as their deposit. It’s important to take a deposit at the start of a project so you can order the materials needed for the print job.
- Place your material order.
- Create the artwork and layout for the job you are going to be printing. Some sample art programs you might use are CorelDraw or Adobe Software.
- Get the artwork approved by the client. This is a really important step! You may like what you have designed, but that does not necessarily mean that your design fits best with what the client is looking for. It is best practice to make sure that your client approves the artwork before moving forward.
- Complete your artwork separations and outputs. It is helpful, and creates a clean print, when your printed artwork is very opaque.
- Before you print, be sure to degrease and prep the screen that you will be using.
- Coat the screens and let it dry.
- Expose the coated screens. To help prevent pin-holes in your print, keep your exposure unit glass clean!
- Rinse out the image and set the screens out to dry. The trick to rinsing out the image is to wet the screens on both sides and allow the water to start to break down the unexposed emulsion.
- Tape and block out the screens.
- Set your screens and make sure that the artwork is lined up right. If you need additional help with alignment, use a t-square to create a good template to follow for your artwork.
- Print according to color sequence - light to dark! ALWAYS test before production.
- Inspect the garments to make sure there are not any unwanted spots. Don’t fear if you find some, there are products to help remove unwanted plastisol.
- When you are finished printing you can scoop the ink and put it back into the container for future usage.
- Now you are ready to reclaim your screen. You will start by removing the ink, then remove the emulsion, de-haze your screen, and finally degrease it.
- Finally you have made it to step 16! This is where you get the products delivered to the client and receive your payment. Congratulations!
Guide to the Right Mesh
It is important that the mesh you select is right for the inks you will be using in your print. Mesh counts range from 40 to 305 and higher! We won’t discuss all of the mesh counts (you will get that in class), but here are a few of the most popular:
86 count mesh is used for printing a bold copy onto dark colored fabrics.
110 count mesh is considered the industry’s “do it all” mesh.
200 count mesh is used for printing onto light colored fabrics.
305 count mesh is used during four color process printing.
If you screen ever gets worn out or torn, Texsource can re-stretch your screens or we have products available for the DIY-er!
Mesh colors are another thing to consider. There is white mesh and gold (dyed) mesh. White mesh is used in lower mesh counts which are typically used for spot color work or large text. Gold mesh is used for counts higher than 200 resulting in a more defined edge and crisper print. The other thing that makes the two mesh colors different is the exposure time - the gold mesh will have a longer exposure time than a white mesh.
Other Things to Consider
There are 3 classifications of emulsions - Photopolymer, Dual Cure and Diazo. All of these can be used when printing with plastisol ink. Photopolymer emulsions are direct emulsions with ultra fast exposure times. Dual cure emulsion is resistant to both solvent and waterbased inks. Diazo is formulated to use with waterbased, solvent and plastisol inks which leads us into the next category - ink selection.
Ink selection is extremely important for your print job. Not all inks work on every material. Inks can also be particular about the mesh count. If the mesh count is too high or too low it could result in a poor print. I think that with as many colors of inks there are in the world there are just as many categories. That’s an exaggeration of course, but there are still quite a few you will encounter during your screen printing career. Some of the categories you will see are general purpose, low bleed, and super opaque. General purpose inks are generally used for for printing on 100% cotton. If you want to use a multi-purpose ink on another type of material, you will more than likely need to print an under lay.
Low bleed inks are best used for printing on 100% polyester materials or dye migrating garments like athletic apparel. Super opaque inks are high opacity inks designed for maximum coverage on dark colored garments.
After making a decision on those important factors the rest is up to you! Getting into the groove of printing, running your print shop, how you design the artwork - all of that is personal preference and that’s something we couldn’t give you a definitive guide on. The elements outlined in this post were to give you some basic knowledge and get you started. If you want any more details about the process, we highly recommend you attend our Screen Printing 101 class. The people who teach the class are highly knowledgeable, hands-on and excited about sharing this process with you.
Now, it’s time for you to get printing!