T-shirt screen printing is a procedure wherein you use a mesh screen, ink, and a squeegee to transfer a stenciled image from the screen onto the fabric. Most popular media screen print on fabric materials and different types of paper, but other mediums can also be used. This process mainly consists of making the stencil on a fine mesh screen and then applying and pushing ink or paint from the screen onto the t-shirt.
There are many ways to create the stencil to be used. It depends on the medium to be printed on and the type of marking agent, whether ink or paint. Some use masking tape or vinyl to cover parts of the screen, while others use “screen blockers” like glue or lacquer to make their design. Lastly, you can create a stencil with a light-sensitive emulsion that is then processed similarly to a photograph.
The Step-By-Step Process of T-Shirt Screen Printing
It’s important to note that depending on the design, one or more ink or paint colors may be used. This means that the process for multicolored items will need many different screens, as you’ll need one separate and distinct stencil per color. To understand silk screen printing better, here is a step-by-step guide on how it’s done.
Making and Preparing the Design
Before you can make a screen, you’ll first need a design to put on it. These artworks or designs may come from a customer or the person printing the designs. It’s crucial to remember that the quality of the screen print is completely reliant on the quality of the source material. To add, there should be only one color per screen. To make a multicolored design, each color gets its own silk screen.
Transferring the Design Onto a Screen
To make the artwork stick onto the stencil, a film positive should be used for application. The design will be transferred onto the screen by using a transparent sheet with your design printed on it using black ink. A film positive can be created using a compatible printer or simply by having a print shop make it. You can also hand-draw the artwork onto the film, but it may affect the print quality.
Making the Silk Screen
To make the silk screen, a wood or aluminum frame is used with a polyester mesh that is stretched to fit the frame. The mesh holds the image of the design once it is transferred onto the frame. To add the artwork or design onto the screen, an emulsion treatment is needed. In order to prevent bumps or pinholes from appearing in the emulsion, it must be cleaned with a special degreaser.
The emulsion is sensitive to light, thus coating the screen is usually done in a dim space with specialty light-safe yellow light bulbs. You’ll need a scoop coater to put the emulsion on the mesh. Choose an appropriate scoop coater for the size of your screen. A four-inch gap between the outside measurements to the side of the scoop coater is ideal.
Make sure your emulsion is properly prepared by being in a light-free area before coating your screen with it. Pour just enough emulsion into the scoop coater to evenly cover the bottom of the tool to the end caps on each side.
Applying the Design Onto the Screen
After a screen has been coated and dried, you should align your film positive on the mesh and expose it to light using a screen-printing exposure machine or an exposure lamp. The film positive, or the black portion of the film, prevents light from reaching the emulsion while the rest of the screen hardens from the light source. Afterward, simply rinse off the exposed screen with water.
Printing on Your Shirts
The printing press is then set up with the screen on it. The garment that will be printed on is placed flat on the printing board and positioned beneath the screen. Many different presses can be used, but the most common in commercial printing use is an automatic rotary carousel printer. This allows the use of multiple screens for fast application of various color layers for colorful prints.
Once the garment is placed onto the printing board, the screen is lowered. A squeegee is used to move the ink along the entire length of the screen, passing it from top to bottom. As a result, this forces the ink through the stencil’s open spaces and imprints the design on the item underneath. The process is then repeated for the next shirts to be printed on.
After that, a dryer is used to cure the ink and give the printed item a smooth, stain-resistant, and smudge-proof finish. The garment is then properly checked and cleaned to get rid of any residues.
Interested in screen printing but don’t want to have to buy all the needed equipment? A clothing company can help you with that. They offer t-shirt screen printing that can adjust depending on the quantity and complexity of the design you need. Reach out to them today to find out more.