Getting Started… Screen Printing

A behind-the-scenes peek into the process.

Start with some art. Doesn’t have to be pretty – we work from rough concepts daily. From a sketch or drawing, we redraw/scan/retouch/color separate to make it high quality and ready to print.

Put it on film. This next step is where your art is printed onto specially coated clear film positives, using a waterproof, opaque black ink. For multi-color graphics, this step is critical to have all the parts of the design line up, or register, correctly.

Make a Screen. Fine screen mesh (it’s not silk these days, but polyester) is tightly stretched on a wood or aluminum frame. The mesh fabric is coated with a glue-like, light-sensitive emulsion, and once that dried, the film that we made in the previous step is placed between the screen and a halogen light source. The black areas on the film block the light from the emulsion, and wash away to reveal open areas that will allow ink to come through.

Go to Press. Next, the screen is dried and clamped onto the press. When there are multiple colors in a design, the press operator lines the screens up to one another precisely, using a series of registration marks. This process has many other small steps, such as mixing custom ink colors to match Pantone formulas or other items.

Print! Finally, once the screens are perfectly registered and the pre-production proofs are OK’d, production can begin. The shirts are pulled onto flat platens on the rotating stations of the press. The screens are lowered to be parallel to the shirt surface, but not touching, and a squeegee is pulled across the screen using just the right amount of pressure.

And the Cure. The last but soooo not least step is curing the ink on the shirts. This is critical – screen printing ink needs to reach proper cure temperature in a heated conveyor dryer in order to produce a lasting print.

Getting Started… Art Guidelines

A topic that comes up frequently is how to prepare art files for printing.

Vector art vs. Raster art – what’s the difference?

Vector art is resolution independent and totally scaleable without loss of quality. We prefer this type of art for best results, and always convert fonts to outlines to avoid issues. Vector file formats are .EPS, .AI, .PDF.

Raster art is resolution dependent, meaning the graphic can’t be enlarged without losing quality. If you choose to supply raster-based art, build your file at actual size you want the image to print at, and make the resolution 300-600dpi. Save as RGB. Raster image extension examples are .PSD, .PNG, .TIF, .JPG, .BMP.

Either way, it’s good to be sure your art is a minimum of 300dpi at the final print size. If any images were placed in the file, include them if they are not linked. Ad double check that all those fonts are converted to outlines!

All about art proofs: when we send art for your approval, please carefully review all the elements. There are times when we may need to re-typeset some text, and your approval of the art proof means you did not see anything needing editing, and it is approved by you, to print as shown on proof.

Color proofs are created digitally, and the color can vary slightly from one monitor to another (and can be very “off” on cell phone screens, just FYI!). The final printed product can also vary slightly from the color proof due to differences between printing processes.