What is Screen printing?
There’s a ton of information about screen printing’s history, techniques, and uses all over the internet. We think it’s the best thing ever, and are into reading long articles, books, and everything we can get our hands on about all of the technical stuff involved. That’s why we’re here, to take care of the hard stuff… So here’s our quick summary of what screen printing is and how it works.
Mainly because of the increasing surge in popularity of custom t-shirts, Screen printing is becoming one of the most popular printing processes, with its origins that date back to Ancient China. The name comes from the woven mesh screens that are used as the base of the process. The process is also known as Silk-screening; because originally, the woven mesh screen was made out of silk fiber. Today most screens used for printing are made out of synthetic fibers which are more durable and better to work with than the silk fiber that was used in the past.
Screen printing is a versatile printing process used in many different applications. Depending on the types of inks used, the process is used for printing everything from Circuit boards, Skateboards, Signs, Stickers, Pizza boxes and other packaging, Posters and Fine Art, etc… (We do not print on any of these particular items ourselves, though may know other printers who specialize in printing them.)
At ClassSick Custom we specialize in Screen printing on fabric, or more specifically, clothing. Whether it’s t-shirts for sale at the mall or a concert, small businesses or athletic uniforms; most pieces of clothing with graphics printed on them are Screen printed. Chances are you may own, or have seen something we’ve screen printed here.
We believe screen printing is the best way to imprint a graphic on an article of clothing. While there are other processes, such as heat transfers, vinyl transfers, dye sublimation, and direct to garment printing, Screen printing generally produces the best results in terms of color, detail, and wash-ability. Depending on the amount of items to be printed, screen printing is also, usually, the most cost effective way of creating custom garments.
Screen printing clothing is a multi-part process.
The first step of this process is getting the artwork ready by separating any colors, and printing each individual color on a film transparency. Each color in the design prints out as black on the film, with the rest of the film remaining transparent.
This film is then used in a similar way to how photographic film was used before there were digital cameras. We take the film, and a screen that has been coated with photo-sensitive emulsion, and place both into our exposure unit. Any area that has black printed on the film blocks the light emitted from the exposure unit, while the transparent areas allow light to “burn through” and harden the emulsion.
Next we take the “burned”, or exposed, screen and wash out the areas where the black ink on the film had blocked the light. This creates a stencil on the screen, which will allow ink to pass through the area of the design containing a particular color. After washing out the screen, it is left to dry. Once dried, it is checked to make sure there are only openings in the stencil that we would want ink to go through in the print. Unwanted openings or “pin-holes” are blocked out or taped off. This process is repeated for each color in a design.
Once the screens are prepared, the screen is placed on the press and aligned to print in the right position (if there are multiple screens/ colors each one is aligned to print correctly on top of one another.) Once everything is lined up, we place the appropriate colors of ink in their designated screens.
To print, we use a squeegee to move the ink across the screen. The ink is then deposited through the stencil onto your requested garment. Colors are printed one at a time, until all of the separate colors that make up the design are printed. If printing on dark garments, we may first under base colors with white ink so that they appear bright and vibrant on the dark fabric. Once all of the colors are printed we place the printed garment through our conveyor dryer which dries the ink to a final cure. Once it comes out of the dryer, the garment is then ready to wear for years to come!
Because of all of the steps involved in the process we require a 12 piece minimum to be printed for simpler designs containing fewer than 6 colors. For more complex and colorful artwork such as photographs or paintings, we require a minimum of 48 pieces to be printed.