What is screen printing?
Screen printing is a method of printing that produces a highly detailed and long lasting print. The basic method involves creating a stencil onto a screen, which is usually an aluminium frame with a tight mesh, and then pushing the ink through to create your design on the fabric underneath. A screen is really just a large stencil that we can use over and over again to produce printed clothing.
Designs can be just one colour, which requires one screen. When we want to change the print colour, for example on a print run of t-shirts that have a black print on white t-shirts, and a white print on a black t-shirt - we can clean the ink off the screen and use a different coloured ink to produce a different coloured print of the same design.
Designs that have more than one colour need one screen per colour, the screens are mounted onto a carousel or press, which one screen on each ‘arm’. The screens need to be mounted and then calibrated to ensure that the different coloured layers match up correctly to produce a multi coloured print.
After printing the garments are cured at high temperatures to ensure a long lasting print.
What is screen printing used for?
We use screen printing to print onto garments - hoodies, vests, sweaters, bags, t-shirts etc. It can also be used to print onto paper and fabric.
What is a press or carousel?
A press is a multi-armed piece of equipment that we mount the screens on to enable us to print your order. The arms of the press hold the screens in place, allowing us to do long runs of consistent prints.
We use both manual and automated presses - our manual press is usually used for shorter print runs of up to 50 garments, or sometimes for specific print techniques. The manual press requires our printers to manually pull the ink through the screen and requires an experienced printer to produce consistent good quality prints. It is a physically demanding job!
Our automated press allows us to efficiently produce long print runs, with the press pulling ink through the screens. It still requires an experienced printer to set up and calibrate the screens, and set the pressure on the squeegees to ensure the correct pressure for the print effect and garment. After the print job has been set up, we usually have 2 people working the auto press - one to load up the t-shirts onto the patterns, and one to take off the t-shirts once printed and put them through the dryer to cure. Although the automated process has allowed us to speed up our production, it still requires humans to keep an eye on it, to ensure each print reaches our required standards.
What is the screen printing process?
Step 1: Artwork
When we receive your artwork - we ensure that it is set up to the dimensions you would like it printed. We then convert all artwork to black, and print out onto a transparent acetate. If your design has multiple colours in it, then we need to print each colour as a separate layer onto it’s own acetate, We often put registration marks onto the acetates to help us with lining up the screens once they’re on the press.
Step 2: Screen Preparation
We then choose the screen that’s most suitable for your design - screens have different meshes - some are better for more detailed work and some are better for bigger bolder prints. .
Step 3: Exposure
We then coat the screen with a light-sensitive emulsion and then put into our drying cabinet to dry the emulsion. We fix the acetate with your design on to the emulsion-coated screen and expose it to super bright light in our exposure unit. The light hardens the emulsion onto the screen where it is exposed, and the parts of screen that are covered with your design stay soft.
Step 4: Washing off
After your design has been exposed onto the screen, we then rinse the screen which removes the liquid emulsion - and creates a stencil of your design on the screen. We then check the screen for any holes or imperfections and filled where necessary.
Step 5: Setting up to print
We then mount your screen on the press, and line it up so it prints in the correct position on the garments. For multi-coloured prints each screen has to be mounted on a separate arm and lined up so that the print matches your design. We can adjust the position of the screens to ensure the design is correctly lined up. This can take some time!
Step 6: Mixing ink and test prints
We mix up inks by hand to match your artwork - and then add the ink to the screen. We then test the screen by printing the design onto blank test garments - this allows us to check that the print is correct, and that every screen is lined up correctly. Step
Step 7: Let’s print!
Once we’re happy with the test prints, we’re ready to print. Between each 1 or 2 pulls of ink, the garment is cured with a flash dryer - this dries out the ink to ensure the next ink layer doesn't' smudge or bleed into the previous layer.
Step 8: Curing
Once all the layers are printed, we take the garment off the carousel/press and put it through the tunnel dryer. The tunnel dryer is a conveyor belt which is approx 4.5m long and very hot dry air is blown over the t-shirts to dry them to ensure a long lasting print. We can adjust the speed of the belt and the heat of the dryer depending on the type of garments and what they’re made from
Step 9: Adding back prints and sleeve prints
Once the design is cured, if your design has back or sleeve prints, then we start the whole process over again. The garments have to have each location printed and cured, before we can add the next print location.
Step 10 Finishing and Extras
After printing, we can then add extra details to give your garments the premium edge. We can de-tag the garment with any manufacturers labels, and then either print in your own label, or create your own custom label and stitch it in. We can also create and add in custom labels to hems and sleeves.
If you’d like to see screen printing or any of our processes in action, then head on over to our Instagram and check out our clips and photos.