The Screen Printing Process

If you’re reading this blog, chances are, you’ve either ordered custom t-shirts before, or you’re planning on ordering them in the near future.  You call a company and explain what you want, and then probably approve a proof and pay.  Alternately, you order online and all those steps are automated.  Did you ever wonder what happens after you hang up the phone or close the web page?  Obviously, all of our orders are in various stages of production at any time, but here’s a quick rundown of our process isolated to your order:

  1. Once the order is finalized, the blank goods are ordered from one of our national distributors.
  2. Your artwork is separated into each of its colors by hand in software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.  Then film positives are printed in solid black on clear film which is used to make the screen.
  3. The screen is exactly what it sounds like.  A large square of mesh stretched over a frame.  The screens are prepped by being coated entirely with a light-sensitive liquid emulsion that dries to a solid coating.  The film with your design in black is used to block light that the screen is exposed to.
  4. Next, the exposed screen is sprayed with water which dissolves the area where the design was blocked out on the screen.  The rest of the coating, having been exposed to the light, is now a hardened barrier.
  5. At some point in this process, the blank t-shirts  for your order have arrived!  The order is pulled and counted and laid out on a cart ready to go to press.
  6. When your job is up, the screen is loaded up on the automatic screen press and the press operator makes sure that it is both centered and straight.  This is a critical step as all shirts in the job will be done with this same setup, and the screen doesn’t move again until the job is done.
  7. Ink is put on the screen and we’re ready to do a press check!
  8. The printer does one print, and the print is double checked for EVERYTHING.  We make sure the print is straight, centered, positioned correctly on the shirt.  We double check the print to make sure the color is accurate and that there are no anomalies in the design comparing it to the proof sheet.
  9. Each shirt is loaded onto the press by hand but goes around and is printed automatically.  As the completed shirts come around, they are pulled off and put into a belt dryer (think pizza oven, seriously!)  The dryer heats the print to its cure temperature and when it comes out the other end, it’s dry and ready for packing.
  10. The shirts are counted and folded and placed in boxes ready to ship.

I hope you enjoyed this small peek into our day.  Give us a call at 1-800-870-3959 if you have any questions.

T-Shirt Printing on Lightweight Triblend and Poly-Cotton materials

One of the most popular t-shirt styles of the last few years has been the lightweight poly-cotton and triblend fabric tees.  These styles offer a more modern, and retail ready quality for your custom t-shirts.  They are really comfortable, and come in stylish colors, interesting fabric textures, and modern washes.

We have worked to develop the best strategies and techniques for printing on these fabrics, which we would like to share with you:

Consider the shirt color and ink color carefully.  Printing a darker ink color on a lighter t-shirt color requires only a single layer of ink in order to get full coverage, which results in a print that is thinner on the fabric.   With darker shirt colors, if you print a color like white, it requires two layers of ink in order for it to be a bright, opaque white on top of the color.  This results in a print that is thicker, and can weigh down the shirt fabric if you have too much coverage in the print area.

Designs for these fabrics should be either light and airy, or smaller in order to make the most of the fabric itself.  If you have a really soft, lightweight t-shirt, and then you print a giant solid circle or rectangle on it, that will weight the fabric down, and make the entire area have a plastic feel to it.  This is especially important in the case of printing the lighter ink color on the darker shirt color.  We recommend designs that have a lot of the shirt color showing through, then even large designs can have a lighter feel to them.

One of our print strategies for printing light ink colors on dark t-shirt colors is to base the inks down.  We use a specific product meant to make the inks more viscous.  This minimizes the weight of the print, and also helps to create a smoother finish.  This can slightly minimize the overall brightness of the ink color, but with two layers of ink, you still get a nice opaque finish to the print.

If you’re looking to have more of a vintage feel to the print, we can limit a light color print to a single layer of ink so that the darker shirt fabric shows through the print.  This results in a thinner layer of ink, and reduces opacity greatly for a neat effect.  This works especially well with distressed artwork, another great idea for reducing the amount of ink that is ultimately laid down on the shirt.  If you are interested in this technique, be sure to talk to us about your design and ink/shirt color choices so we can help you determine if it’s right for you and your design.  Making sure you understand the process and setting your expectations are our number one priority.

Have you used these products in the past?  What are your experiences?  We’d love to hear from you.  Whatever you decide, we’re here to help you.  Give us a call, we’d love to discuss your project!

Custom T-Shirts – Cost, Quality, Speed

What is most important to you in a custom printed t-shirt?

Cost. Quality. Speed.  “Pick two” it is said.  We don’t believe that.  Now, we don’t mean to say that you will always get the absolute lowest cost, highest quality, and fastest speed every time, but it’s important to think of all three as components to a whole.  Let’s look at all three and how they apply to one another:

Cost is more than a dollar amount but, in the end, cost is a number and one that can be directly compared.   We think it’s important to offer custom t-shirts at an affordable price that is competitive within our industry.  It’s says a few things:  One (and most importantly), we want to earn your business, and we understand the importance of staying within budget.  Two, we work to run our business in an efficient manner, with great people, and with great equipment.

Quality is tied directly into how we run our business.  Those same great people, and great equipment ensure we are able to produce quality results consistently.  Quality represents the pride-factor in our business.  Without it, what good are cost and speed?  Quality is more than just the print on the t-shirt.  It starts with the first call or email, and is continued throughout the production process.  We operate under a simple idea.  If we wouldn’t be happy with someone sending us the product for our business, we won’t send it to you.

Speed has always been our thing.  When we started out in the early 2000’s the industry was at about a 2 week production time.  We immediately recognized that as ridiculous.  We have always had a 5 day production time, and we work diligently to meet or beat that standard and we have always offered rush service on an availability basis.  Having a quicker turnaround time makes us work hard to keep that quality level up and adds value to the overall cost.

So, what is most important to you in custom t-shirts?  We’d be interested in any and all feedback.