How we get your design from computer screen to a finished, hand printed shirt.
The art and craft of screen printing has been around for centuries now but with technological advancements and the huge improvement in supplies such as emulsions, inks and capillary film, the process of screen printing has become the tried and tested hero of the garment decoration world. From t-shirts to dog bandanas, if we can lay it flat we can screen print it (saying that, there are some awesome folks who print on all sorts of things that aren't a flat substrate, including skateboards! How cool is that! You can check out one of our faves here.)
Anyway, we digress. We don't do skateboard printing but we CAN print on a lot of other things and we're here to have a look through the process of screen printing from art to shirt.
Join us on our little ramble into our day to day lives.
Step 1. Artwork prep
One of the most important part of any screen printing job is the artwork. If the artwork is cr*p then you're most likely going to get a cr*p print. Now we don't mean the drawing that your son, daughter, niece, nephew or dog has drawn is bad (we love them too), its about making sure your artwork is suitable for print.
Before your artwork is printed, each colour layer needs to be separated and turned to 100% black. This is because the black ink will stop light from passing through to the emulsion (more on that in a minute) and means this part of the screen can be washed out, revealing the beautiful artwork your dog put together.
We use a specialist black ink in our printer to ensure our transparencies/separations/seps/positives or whatever else you like to call them are a really dense black so no light can pass through.
Step 2. Screen prep
First step of ensuring the best possible exposure is to determine your mesh count. In Lehman's terms, the lower a mesh count the more ink you'll lay down, the higher the mesh count the less ink you'll lay down. There are plenty of other factors to take into account when choosing which mesh to use including the level of detail in a design but we won't go into that because as much as we love the geeky side of screen printing, we realise it would put most people to sleep.
After this we wash your screen(s) in a degreaser to get the nasty stuff out and dry followed by coating the screen in photo sensitive emulsion and drying again.
Step 3. Exposure
Now we're not talking about social media here - if you're looking for tips on growing your TikTok or Instagram following (by the way, you can follow us here), you're in the wrong place.
Exposure is where we expose your screen already coated in emulsion to a UV light source, obviously not forgetting to place the positive on the glass before the screen (a mistake we have made...) and leave it there for a minute or so until the emulsion NOT covered by your positive is cured.
Step 4. Washout
We're getting to the fun stuff now because this is where the power tools come in.
Where the positive was, the emulsion will be still soft and not exposed which means when it gets blasted with a pressure washer, it just falls right off. This leaves your design in the screen and it's 'nearly' ready to go on the press.
Step 5. Dry & Post expose
Once washed out, your screens go back into our dryer for a little while to get them bone dry followed by another blast on the exposure unit to doubly make sure that your emulsion is properly exposed. Due to the nature of waterbased inks (they just eat emulsion for breakfast) we like doing a post-expose to make sure the emulsion in your screen doesn't break down during a print run, leaving pin holes etc.
Step 6. Load screens
That is all.
Step 7. Registration
Now this only really applies to 2+ colour designs but we'll tell you about it anyway. This is where we line up each screen to one another to make sure there are no gaps in the ink or overlaps (and to make sure everything is straight - No one wants a wonky print). This can be a bit of a time consuming process but in all honesty we find it quite therapeutic.
Step 8. Tape up
Need we say more?
Step 9. Load ink
Please see above
Step 10. Print test shirt
Again, pretty self explanatory.
Step 11. Print
Into full production. And yes, by this stage it's far too late to ask for changes if you were wondering. Sorry about that.
Step 12. The cure
Not the band, no. Curing is the very last step in the print process and its where we put your shirt through a conveyor dryer (basically a fancy oven with a conveyor belt - yes you can probably reheat food in it. No, we haven't tried) to evaporate the water from the inks and ensure they stay put on the shirt/dog bandana for many many years.
And that's it! Once your shirts are out the door, we reclaim the screens, rinse and repeat.
If you got this far, thank you for persevering through our ramble and get in touch for any of your screen printing needs.