What Every Designer Should Know About Screen Printing

November 15, 2010

T-shirt design is a common service that graphic artists are asked to perform, but making the design visually appealing is only half the job: The design should also be set up correctly for screen print. Michael Sartor, owner of Custom Print Tees [www.customprinttees.com] in Columbus, Ohio, shares with us some common mistakes that he receives from designers, a little education on the screen printing process, and instructions on how to set up and submit your next screen print project correctly. Valerie: Mike, tell us a little bit about what you do? Michael: I am the owner of Custom Print Tees, and we customize T-shirts, polos, bags, hats, etc. We specialize in oversize printing and can print over seams, with water base inks, using foils and other specialty designs. We print a lot of small clothing lines along with the standard school/event/reunion/small business work that is the staple of this profession. We also do screen printing, digital printing, and vinyl cut outs for custom names and numbers. Valerie: What are some common mistakes that designers make when submitting designs for screen print? Michael: The biggest mistake that people make is sending their artwork in low-resolution JPEG files, especially screenshots of a design from off of the Internet, and they expect us to be able to use them. Screen printing is done one color at a time. This means that each color in the artwork needs to be isolated and a separate screen used for each one. Artwork is rarely given to us color separated. This is the single most important thing to do for screen printing. Another issue that we often encounter is people wanting last-minute shirts (one to three days and sometimes same-day requests). Screen printing is a several step process that can take days if not properly prepared. Valerie: Can you break down the screen-printing process, and tell us what is needed to submit a design order properly? Michael: The steps in producing custom T-shirts are as follows: Art: Properly scale and color separate the image. Insert crosshairs into the artwork to provide a centerline for alignment. Label each color on artwork, and convert all colors to black. Print each color on a transparent paper referred to as a film; and tape film to prepped screen for burning. Screen: Properly clean the screen and allow it to dry. Coat screen with a light-sensitive fluid called emulsion that gets hard when exposed to light. Allow it to dry overnight in darkness or a safe lit room. Tape the film to a screen and burn on exposure unit (very bright light, often with UV rays) for a predetermined amount of time. Using a power washer or other high-pressure water source, blow out the areas on the screen where the film blocked the light and therefore kept the emulsion soft. After ensuring that all parts were successfully removed from the screen, allow the screen to dry, often in front of a fan. Print: Tape off screen edges with a masking tape, and align the screen to pallet using crosshairs (and sometimes using the film). Put ink in screen; and load shirt onto pallet. Push ink through the screen with a squeegee onto the shirt. Remove the shirt from pallet and place on conveyor belt dryer; the inks need to reach 320 degrees Fahrenheit to cure. Once cured, it is stacked and folded usually in dozens and boxed up. Clean up: Remove the ink from the squeegees and screens, and remove the tape from screen. Using several chemicals, the screens are degreased (ink remover), reclaimed (emulsion remover), and degreased again to allow screen to dry to be recoated. The information we require for a final invoice is as follows:

  • Size and color breakdown of the shirts
  • Photo proof or JPEG of artwork
  • A due date if applicable
  • Shipping or contact info

For more information, you can check out Michael's business Custom Print Tees at www.customprinttees.com.

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