What is textile screen printing?
Screen printing literally means writing on silk.
Without getting into technicalities, screen printing is simply a printing technique. A decorative process that has been used by civilization for thousands of years. Today, we can find many versions (from automatic to manual) and with different functions but basically, they all follow the same process.
What characterizes screen printing is the use of a mesh as if it were a die. This is achieved by treating it with an emulsion or varnish, which makes parts of the material waterproof. Basically, the sections where we do not want the ink to pass are covered, thus making a negative of the final design.
In the world of T-shirts, screen printing is known for generating vibrant color and good quality designs.
A summary of the history of textile screen printing
The origin of screen printing is difficult to pinpoint as there are different theories and no concrete evidence of where it originated, but these are the most popular.
Some say that the first version of this technique originated in ancient China during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) and from there, it spread across Asia to countries like Japan where it developed. Other versions say that textile screen printing actually began in India during the 4th century, but there are sources that go even further back and talk about Egypt in 3000 BC.
What we do know is that it was not until the 18th century that screen printing began to conquer the world. At first, it was used only for decorating clothing, walls and certain objects, but then during the 19th century, this technique took over the advertising world.
In the 20th century, the technique was patented by a man named Samuel Simon in England. To make the process more streamlined, he began experimenting with new materials. These tests eventually resulted in the materials we use for analog photographs today.
Textile screen printing finally reached the world of T-shirts in the 1960s when American entrepreneur Michael Vasilantone and his wife Fannie founded the textile printing company Vastex. Despite their success, they realized that the printing process was not the fastest. So they set to work on a new machine.
The prototype ended up being a double rotary printing press that made it possible to print several garments in a fraction of the time of before. To this day, this machine is used in the textile industry.
Design for textile screen printing
We will now discuss the design requirements for textile screen printing.
Because screen printing prints colors one at a time and not as a single unit, the designs for this technique must be made in special programs that allow the separation of shades by layers.
These are mathematical calculations that create lines on our monitors. It is a bit abstract but this is an ideal operation for design because it has the potential to create almost infinite figures.
For textile screen printing, software that works with vectors such as Illustrator and Corel Draw is usually preferred. This allows the printer to change the size of the design at will. Unlike pixels which are ruined if stretched too far.
These are small squares of color that when put together create an image. All the pictures you find on the internet are made up of pixels.
If you expand them enough, you will eventually see the squares. The reason why poor quality images look pixelated is because the colored squares get bigger. The smaller they are, the better the image will look.
Programs that work with pixels like Photoshop can also be used depending on how the file is prepared, but they are the exception. The following video shows how to work with vectors in Corel Draw.
File formats that are compatible with this technique include PSD, PDF, TIFF and EPS. Please note that we always recommend saving the files at a minimum quality of 300 d.p.i.
When it comes to screen printing, natural fabrics tend to work better than synthetics. Simply because they absorb liquid better. Those in the second group tend to be plastic and oil based so they repel water.
This is not to say that you can’t print on them. It can be done but the result will not be optimal.
If you don’t know which fabric to choose, stick with cotton. It is the best. Of course, 100% cotton will not always be available. In that case, look for a blend where most of it is cotton. The more natural fiber it has, the better the result.
The thickness of the fabric also plays an important role. Even if you have two types of 100% cotton. Generally, thicker textiles absorb more ink and therefore have a better result.
The price of color
The less colorful the design, the cheaper the print will be. As we have already mentioned, screen printing works in layers. This means that one color is printed at a time, each with its own mesh. Of course, this increases production time and costs.
For this reason, we only recommend screen printing for bulk orders. A small order simply won’t pay off.
How to print on black or dark t-shirts
It is the same process as a white shirt. The only difference is that an extra layer of white ink must be added as a base before printing the design.
If this step is omitted, the black color of the shirt will absorb the print and make it look pale. Note that some printers ignore this step, especially if they are beginners.
Textile screen printing inks are recognized for being thicker than others.
Sometimes standard inks are not enough and it is necessary to resort to special inks. Here are some of the different types:
- High density inks that produce depth and texture – the finish can result in up to 2 cm raised on the fabric.
- Phosphorescent inks – as the name implies, they glow in the dark.
- Puff” ink is another way to achieve a raised effect and is often used on children’s garments
- Velvet inks are used to achieve a ‘suede’ effect on the garment
- Vintage effect inks are designed to achieve a worn effect
- Metallic inks give a shiny effect
Not to be confused with metallic ink. Foil is a kind of foil that functions as a sticker and adheres to the fabric. It is usually combined with ink as it cannot replicate details on its own. It is worth noting that it is also available in standard colors and not only in gold and silver.