Screen Printing Basics

Did you ever wonder how t-shirts are printed? Well, you've come to the right place. We like to educate our customers, because knowing is half the battle.

The difference between a cut stencil and a mesh stencilIf you've ever spray painted a stencil, you've got the basic concept of screen printing. In fact, you can try this DIY project to make your own t-shirts at home, without any special equipment. But you'll quickly find the limitations of stenciling. In screen printing, the stencil is made on mesh, which allows us to have "islands" in our design, unlike a traditional stencil.

How to burn a screenThe mesh is first coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion, which hardens when exposed to light, or "burned". We make a film positive which selectively blocks the light, allowing the un-hardened emulsion to be washed away with water. We're now ready to go to press and start printing!

Multiple color registrationThe first step in the printing phase is registration, or lining up our images on press. This is especially important in multi-color work, as we will have a different screen for each ink color. They all need to line up with each other exactly. A good quality carousel-type press is essential for this type of printing.

Using a squeegee to print a t-shirtNow we can force ink through the open area of the mesh with a squeegee. Just like spraying paint through a stencil, only a bit more refined. There a few different types of ink we can use:

The final printed t-shirtORabbit Designs offers all three types of ink. After the ink cures, the shirts are ready to go! In the case of discharge, they should be washed before wearing. This is a simplified version of the process, but hopefully it helps you to understand what's involved in turning your artwork into a finished product. Speaking of artwork, we'll discuss that in the next section.