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Pixels to Print: Screen Printing

Screen printing, also referred to as silk screening, is a popular printing method when it comes to apparel. In its most basic form, the process involves transferring a stencil design onto a flat surface using a mesh screen, ink, and a squeegee.  

Something unique with this method that differs to other kinds of printing is that each color in the artwork’s design needs its own screen that will allow just one ink color at a time to be applied. So, the more colors in the design, the more time intensive it will be. But the benefit is that once a screen is created it can be used over and over again. Here’s how the process works:

1. Your artwork is separated by color, and each color is printed out onto a single transparent acetate film. These will be used to create the stencil.

2. A mesh screen is prepped with a layer of light-reactive emulsion.

3. Placing one of the acetate films onto the screen, it is then exposed to very bright light. The light hardens the emulsion so the parts of the screen which are covered by the design remain in liquid form.

4. After the screen has been exposed, the unhardened areas are rinsed away, leaving an area in the mesh for ink to pass through.

5. Now, ink is mixed together to create the desired hue and is Pantone matched for accuracy. 

6. The item or garment is laid on a print board underneath the screen, pressed against each other.

7. The ink is added on top of the screen and a squeegee is used to pull the ink along the length of the screen. The ink passes through the open areas of the stencil and transferred onto the item.

8. If multiple items are being printed, the printer can lift up the screen and replace the completed item with a new blank to keep repeating this process for that color. If different color is needed, the garment is moved to the next station where the next color’s screen will be used and new ink is applied on top.

9. Once all colors have been applied, the imprinted item goes through a drying process to cure the ink for a lasting finish.

Bonus: If your garment is darker than white or a pastel color, an underbase of white is applied first and colors are then applied on top to make keep the pigment looking vibrant!

Custom screen-printed t-shirts are a favorite in the promotional world. Utilize NorthPoint’s core services to create your next shirt! Or refer to our previous imprinting blog topics to learn more about alternative imprinting methods such as Dye Sublimation and Heat Transfer.

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