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Screen printing is a method of applying graphics to a T-shirt. It typically involves layering thick inks onto the shirt's surface instead of soaking them into the fabric. Screen printing is also sometimes called silk screening.
Since screen printing generally uses thicker inks, this type of fabric printing is usually better for graphics with one or two colors. If you have more complicated, colorful graphics, direct to garment printing, or DTG, may be a better option.
Major fabric printing methods include:
Screen printing or silk screening
Direct to garment printing
Thermal transfer printing
Sublimation transfer printing
Screen printing works by using a silkscreen with an exposed design. Ink is swiped across the screen with a squeegee tool, and this action sends the ink design through the screen and onto the T-shirt.
When graphics are printed onto a T-shirt using screen-printing techniques, the colors are sometimes allowed to dry between color applications, and subsequent colors are printed with another screen after the T-shirt is realigned on the press.
Traditionally, screen printing has been called silk-screen printing because originally, silk was the primary material used in the process. The mesh portion of the screen was made of silk. In modern times, synthetic threads are commonly used in the silk-screening process, with polyester being one of the most popular choices. Nylon and stainless steel are also used in some screen-printing applications.
If you want to try screen printing at home, you can do it with a little bit of practice and some basic materials. To get started with screen printing, you may need:
A screen, usually made of polyester
A 150W light bulb
A screen-printing squeegee
Two pieces of glass
To print T-shirts at home, you can try the screen-printing method described above. To print a lot of shirts, you may consider using a screen-printing company.
While the exact steps and process varies by company, in general, you can expect to provide the T-shirt company with your desired design, either electronically or in person. You can choose other options, and the screen-printing company typically sends you a mock-up of what the finished design will look like; Then, after you approve it, they produce it according to your specifications.
If you'd rather not go the screen-printing route, you can customize T-shirts in other ways.
Heat transfers, which involve using a printing machine and heat press machine to transfer designs to fabric
Embroidery, which involves intricate stitching using thread and special needles
Direct to garment (DTG) digital printing, a process that uses a special inkjet printer with special ink to print designs onto the fabric directly
Engraved roller printing, a process that involves dye being applied to fabric that’s passed through rollers engraved with designs in a printing machine
When you design a T-shirt, there are a lot of factors to consider. Most of the time, screen-printing companies will ask you to submit a high-resolution file of the design you want printed. Sometimes, the company has in-house graphic designers who can create a design for you based on your specifications or ideas.
Here are a few suggestions for optimizing your T-shirt design:
Ensure any text is readable, and you can do this by selecting the right fabric and paint color combination
Consider creating a contrast between your chosen T-shirt color and the screen-printing ink
Make sure the type size is big enough to read from a distance
Direct to garment printing involves spraying ink directly onto a T-shirt, and then the ink soaks into the garment fibers.
Where DTG uses a printer to spray ink on a garment, screen printing layers ink on top of the fabric. DTG is typically better for more detailed designs, and you may be limited to a color palette for screen printing. This may not be a problem if your design is meant to be simple and uses only three or four colors, for example.
Custom all over print shirts typically have a design printed over the T-shirt's entire length or width instead of just being centered in one area, as it typically is with screen printing.
It's usually advisable to use a T-shirt printing company for all over print T-shirts because they have specialized equipment, like DTG printers, to create intricate all over designs. Screen printing can either be done DIY or with a screen-printing company.