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The Screen Printing Process

Think of screen printing as a form of stenciling. We take your custom design and create mesh stencils, or, more appropriately, "screens," from it. Each color of your design requires a separate stencil, so if you've got 8 colors in your design, we need to create 8 screens (plus an additional screen to use as an underbase for printing on dark-colored shirts)! Once all the screens have been created, we use those screens to layer each color onto a t-shirt, one color at a time, creating the final product. It’s an intense, elaborate process, but it can be very rewarding.

1. Preparing the Artwork

So you’ve provided us with a nice, high-resolution or vector version of your design. Cool! We really appreciate it, but we’re not done yet! If we’re printing your design on a dark-colored shirt, we’ll likely have to create an underbase for your design to make sure it’s as vibrant as can be once printed. This involves creating an additional screen of a slightly smaller version of your artwork to act as the underbase coating of the print

2. Making the Screens

Once the artwork is finalized, we will begin creating the required screens from your design. This in itself is a very involved process. We first separate your design into layers based on color. Each color will have its own layer and therefore its own screen. 

To prepare a screen, we take a mesh frame and coat it in photosensitive emulsion and let it dry. We have various mesh counts that have smaller or wider openings in the screen that change how ink runs through it. So, depending on the job, some mesh counts are preferable to others for certain colors and techniques.

Once the screen’s emulsion is dry, we print a layer of your design onto a transparent film. We lay this film onto the emulsion-coated screen and expose it to a strong light. Any part of the screen that is not covered by the design will harden when dry. We then wash out the part of the screen that was not exposed to light, basically leaving a cutout of your design. 

That’s not typically the end of the screen-making process, though! Remember, we have to make a screen for each color of the design (plus the underbase)!

3. Printing the Design 

Once all the screens are complete, your design is ready to be printed. We load our screen printing machine with your choice of shirts to be printed on.

We layer the ink onto the garment using the screens we made for the design. Again, each color is a separate screen. We apply the colored ink to a screen and squeegee it through the mesh, laying an even coat of ink onto the garment.

We start with the white underbase and then layer each color on top of it. This is probably the most labor-intensive part of the process, as we ensure each screen is properly aligned so you get a clean print every time a squeegee hits a screen.

4. Drying and Curing 

After a shirt has finished printing, we send it through our dryer to cure the ink and permanently adhere the design to the fabric. If you need something printed on the back of the shirt or another location, we repeat the process again. Once that's done, the shirt is ready to wear! 

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