What is screen printing and how does it work?

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Screen Printing, which is also known as Silk Screening, is a method of printing graphics on a t-shirt using thick inks that lay on top of the shirt rather than soaking into the shirt. Screen Printing is what most companies use and, back in the day, was the only major way to create bulk amounts of custom t-shirts. Imprint offers Screen Printing, along with

DTG printing, because in some cases, it’s better to use Screen Printing over DTG.

With thicker inks, screen printing is better for graphics with only one or two ink colors being used. Rather than DTG the screen printing will make these colors pop out at you like jack in the box. The thick ink will have a soft feeling if touched and can make for a really amazing look. If you’re in no rush and have minimal colors for a t-shirt, we recommend Screen Printing. It looks great and is often more affordable for larger quantities.

How Does it Work?

So how does Screen Printing work? Well, it’s not like DTG that’s for sure. Instead, a thin mesh is stretched tightly over a frame (originally the screen was made from silk, however, mostly made from polyester today). A negative of the design is printed onto the screen to be placed against the shirt. Once set correctly, ink is rolled over the screen, only the areas where the design has been printed allows ink to slip through. The ink then sets on the t-shirt and is put aside to dry.

We’ll be honest with you, it’s a lot more complicated than that. There’s a lot of separate chemicals, inks, and techniques that go into making your shirts, but that’s the jist. While it may not be as quick as DTG printing, it can result in a thick and bold design.

No Seriously, How Does It Work?

Ok, don’t say that we didn’t warn you. There’s a reason why silk screening turns out best when done by professional t-shirt companies such as 1 Hour Tees. Experience, know-how, and the right equipment all combine to make the perfect t-shirt.

Here’s an in-depth overview of how we go about screen printing our t-shirts. Cue Discovery Channel’s “How It’s Made?” upbeat industrial-sounding music and let’s dive right in to the wonderful world of silk screening t-shirts.

The Screen

Once you’re A-OK happy with the mockup of how your shirt(s) will look, it’s time to get started. Try to mentally picture the screen on a screen door of a house. We use something like that (but much higher quality). It’s basically a screen with a bunch of tiny little holes.

We take the screen (it’s secured in a metal frame) and start to prepare it. It’s then covered in a layer of emulsion that will prevent ink from coming through. The end result is a two-tone color (green and the color of the screen which is usually a shade of yellow). The colors on the screen don’t matter and won’t affect the final printing process.

We also handle some behind-the-scenes stuff to get ready for a print run. This overall set up for silk screening is much longer than DTG printing as we have to manually do everything by hand.

The Color

This is where the wizardry happens. We take our custom colors and start mixing and matching until we have the exact colors that you specified. We only use high-quality inks that are designed to last a long time. The inks we use are also really thick, which means the design is going to come out looking really good.

There really isn’t any more to it. We just follow the color-mixing instructions and in a few minutes, we’ve created the exact color that you specified.

The Press

The press is where the shirt is silk screened. Picture a 12-armed metal beast from some mythical Viking tale. It spins around and there’s lot of metal parts. On each arm there is place where the wooden silk screen (that we designed for your shirts) is placed.

The t-shirt is stretched over an ironing board looking device. Everything is lined up with frickin’ lasers so the design on all your shirts is located in the same position.

The screens are then lowered on top of the t-shirt. We pour the custom ink concoction on top of it and then use a rubber squeegee to very quickly move the ink from one end of the silk screen to the other. As the ink gets moved over the screen, the t-shirt soaks up the ink on the front and the design starts to appear.

Depending on what colors you wanted, we may have to mix colors (more wizardry) and the t-shirt may undergo two or more silk screenings using different colors (and a different arm of the 12-armed metal beast. The end result is a t-shirt that has the exact same design, and color that you wanted.

The Oven

We then dry our shirts in a dryer. It’s more of a conveyer belt type device that has been set to an exact temperature to ensure the shirts dry in one pass and the colors don’t bleed.

Once the t-shirt comes out on the other end, we inspect it to make sure it looks exactly like the mockup we sent you earlier.

The Final Product

Unlike DTG printing, silk screening is done completely by hand. This type of printing is deal for artwork that only has 1-2 colors or huge quantities.

You can tell a t-shirt has been silk screened If you run your hand over the ink. It will have a raised feel to it. This is due to the ink being put on the front of the t-shirt.

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