What is Screen Printing?

Want to know more about how the screen printing process works? Well you’re in the right place!

Screen printing is a method of printing whereby a mesh screen is used to manually apply ink directly onto a garment. Although there is a certain degree of set-up involved, resulting in minimum order requirements, it is by far the most cost effective method of printing high volumes of professional quality t-shirts, hoodies and other garments.

Below is a brief step-by-step guide showing just how we go about printing your awesome merch…

Step 1 – Artwork

A good screen print has a lot to do with the artwork.
Single colour prints generally take little preparation, however prints with multiple colours must be separated into each individual print colour. This is why good quality vector files are imperative for printing designs of more than one colour.

The first step of the screen printing process involves making a ‘positive’ for each print colour within a design. This is usually done by printing the artwork onto a sheet of transparent acetate.

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Step 2 – Coating the screen

Before the artwork can be transferred onto a screen for printing, the screens must be coated with photosensitive emulsion. This must be done in a dark room with a safe light in order to avoid exposing the emulsion.
The screens must be left to dry for several hours before they can be developed.

Step 3 – Developing the screen

Once the coated screens are dry they can be developed using the artwork positives and an exposure unit. An exposure unit is essentially a large light box that is used to expose the screen to very bright light for a short period of time, ‘burning’ the design onto the photosensitive emulsion. The positive blocks the light from exposing the emulsion where the design will be.

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Step 4 – Washing out the screen

As soon as the design has been burned onto the screen it must be washed out with a high pressure hose. This causes the under exposed emulsion to wash out of the stencil leaving the design on the screen.

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Step 5 – Preparing the screen for printing

Once the exposed screen is dry it can be set up on the printing press. The edges of the screen need to be taped where the mesh has not been blocked out with emulsion to avoid any ink going through the mesh other than where the design is.

Step 6 – Registration

If printing more than one colour, the screens must be registered. This means each screen must be lined up exactly so that each colour in the design prints where it should, leaving no gaps in the artwork.
Depending on the complexity of the design, this can be quite a time consuming process.

Step 7 – Finally ready to print!

Once the screens are set up on the printing press, it’s time to start printing.
Firstly the garment is placed on the platen, making sure it is centered and not squint. The screen is pulled down on top of the garment and ink is pulled through the mesh using a squeegee.
If you’re printing a single colour print on a light coloured garment then your job is pretty much done. However, if not, there’s still more…

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Step 8 – Flash Curing

For single colour prints on dark garments that require more than one layer of ink, or prints with multiple colours, the ink must be cured between each application/colour. This is done using a flash dryer.
The printing and flash curing process is repeated for each colour in the design.

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Step 9 – Curing

Once your garment is printed the ink must be fully cured. This is done using a Conveyor Dryer. The ink must be cured so that it does not wash or rub off the garment, leaving a super durable and long lasting print.

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Step 10 – Reclaiming

Once screens of a particular design are no longer required they can be stripped down, reclaimed and cleaned ready for the whole process to start all over again with a new design.