Perhaps you’ve heard of serigraphy T-shirts or silk printed or silk screen printed T-shirts? In fact, they’re all referring to the same thing. What is screen printing? The best way to discover the processes and benefits of this huge printing method, is right here. 

If you’ve ordered with us before, then you’d probably know that screen printing is hands down our most popular method. If you’re new to ordering customised wholesale printed T-shirts, then consider screen printing to be the ideal option when you need to print bulk orders featuring more stylised designs. 

Table of Contents 

What You Need to Know 

  • The Backstory 
  • It’s Growth 
  • The various Methods 
  • Advantages of Screen Printing 
  • Disadvantages of Screen Printing 

Creating Your best Design

  • Keep it Simple 
  • Utilise Vectors 
  • What Format to Save your Design with 

Choosing the proper Fabrics, Inks and Materials For Screen Printing

  • Natural & Synthetic Fabrics 
  • Review Thread Count and Density of the Fabric 
  • How do we Print on Dark Colored T-shirts? 
  • Inks are made to Impress  
  • Colours and their Cost  
  • Screen Printing isn’t possible without Screens 

Screen Printing Preparation Phase Step-by-Step 

  • Prep Step 1: Decide on a Screen and Mesh Count 
  • Prep Step 2: Cover the Screen with Emulsion  
  • Prep Step 3: Let the Screen Dry 
  • Prep Step 4: Create the Stencil 
  • Prep Step 5: Expose it to Ultraviolet Light 
  • Prep Step 6: Wash It Off and Separate those Colours 

The Printing Process revealed 

  • Applying the Design 
  • Heat Curing 
  • Screen Printing Manually 
  • Screen Printing Automatically  
  • Necessary Supplies  

Summary and the Myths of Screen Printing  

Frequently Asked Questions 

What You Need to Know About Screen Printing

What Is Screen Printing? — The Backstory 

Popular opinion suggests that screen printing originated either during the dynastic ages in China sometime between 960 – 1279 AD or in 4th century India or in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. Whatever the case may be, it didn’t become popular in Europe until silk mesh became easier to import from the East in the 18th century. 

The Printers’ National Environmental Assistance Center says, ”screen printing is arguably the most versatile of all printing processes.”

Nowadays, it is the heart and soul of many bulk printing operations. In the next section you’ll see the astounding variety of customised products have been developed through the use of this effective method.

It’s Growth

At first, the method was mostly used to decorate clothing, walls and some objects.

It wasn’t until the 19th century when it became popular in the world of advertising. It specifically took off when Andy Warhol used the method to compose the “Marilyn Diptych” in 1962.

Since then it’s been on a non-stop accession.

Screen prints, over time, have become a significantly popular cultural aesthetic seen on movie posters, record album covers, flyers, shirts, commercial fonts in advertising and in artwork. It was in the 1940s that screen printing arose, but it exploded into popularity from the 1960s onward as the most prominent T-shirt printing method! 

Screen Printing Techniques The various Methods

Since screen print has been around for a long time, inventors and entrepreneurs alike were able to develop subtechniques and new methods. Depending on your printing needs we can apply one method or another to provide you with the best quality, order volume, speed and appearance.

1. Rotary Printing  

This was the genius way to scale up production levels and speed up the entire process. Michael Vasilantone in 1963 took flat screens, placed the ink and squeegee inside and wrapped it up to form a tube. Once attached to a machine, the speeds of the roller and web are aligned to make it a continuous process. And thus, the rotary printing press was born.   

2. Stenciling

Throughout history all the colours were either hand painted, hand drawn, photocopied or printed (using a computer printer) onto transparent overlays. The film necessary to complete the process needs to be made from a material that blocks ultraviolet light (e.g. card stock). It’s a specific process which requires additional steps but we’ve explained it all in detail below in the section, what we do in the Preparation Phase.

If you appreciate photo image finishes opposed to the hand drawn stencils then thank Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens. They were the first to experiment, in 1910, with photo-reactive chemicals like potassium, sodium or ammonium chromate and dichromate. What they found after sensitising emulsions with chromic acid salt was that they’d created photo-reactive stencils. This opened the doors to printing more detailed and photo-realistic designs. 

We know the word ‘chemicals’ doesn’t have the best ring to it, but nowadays commercial screen printing uses sensitisers far safer and less toxic than before.

3. Digital Hybrid 

Is the daughter of two of the most common fabric embellishment technologies in use today; analog screen printing and traditional digital direct to garment (DTG) printing. 

It combines an automatic screen printing press with a CMYK digital enhancement during one of the screen printing stations. With this method, we can support various data options and that puts an endless amount of customisation possibilities at your fingertips. 

hybrid printing machine

Advantages of Screen Printing 

#1. We’re talking Vibrant Designs

Screen printing produces more vibrant and bolder colours that are challenging to replicate with other printing techniques. Techniques like direct to garment (DTG) use thinner inks like cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) dots to recreate their images and while it is great for details, results are usually paler in comparison to screen printing.

#2. Unparalleled Speed and Efficiency

What is screen printing most? Efficient! Once the screen has been made, the screen printing process is actually the quickest of all the garment printing techniques. Some screen printing machines are so fast that they can print up to 4,600 T-shirts in one hour.

#3. Bulk Order Friendly (so call your contacts)

We go through the same amount of setup to customise 1 T-shirt or 1,000 T-shirts, so it’s perfect for us if you’re wanting a large order. The more you order, the less you pay per item because setup costs are reduced if production volume is increased. Additionally, screen printing is a great option if you’re needing the same design printed on different garments, models or sizes.

#4. Great Variety

There are a lot of different types of screen printing inks that create various effects and textures (explained below in Inks are made to Impress). Some machines also work with screens large enough to cover an extended area (for example pants) which opens up more customisation possibilities for our customers. 

Note: So think creatively and fashionably because with screen printing you can apply any colour you like and design trendy finishes.

#5. State of the Art Colour Quality 

Not only comes from the fact that we are printing experts with years of experience. But also from the consistency of the inks, screen printed garments keep their vibrancy for years.

#6. Very Long Lasting 

Due to the natural composition of the inks, designs constructed using this method can withstand far more stress than others without losing colour nor image quality.

#7. Versatile as a Swiss Army knife

It is hard to find a printing method as versatile as screen printing. It can be performed on almost any surface; almost any kind of fabric, wood, plastic and even metal — among many others — as long as it is flat.

#8. It’s a Straightforward Process

It is a simple process that does not change regardless if it’s automated or done by hand (see the section titled Printing Process Step-by-Step). The tools necessary are not hard to replace and won’t become obsolete as fast as other technologies in the industry.

Disadvantages of Screen Printing 

#1. High Set Up Costs

As you will come to realise, the time we spend actually printing is much less compared to the time we spend preparing the design and creating the screens. This, unfortunately, creates high set up costs mostly for low order volumes. Essentially, the cost per item is higher when ordering in low quantities, so sometimes there is a minimum number of units (items per order) for screen printing. For orders of many units you’ll see these set up costs even out within the cost per item.  

#2. Unsustainable to a point

Although modern efforts have been made to create eco-friendly inks and screens, the reality is that water based inks were not made to be eco-friendly. During screen printing, water is used not only to mix up inks but also clean the screens. 

Manufacturers produce hundreds of garments a day — if not thousands — so there’s a great potential for water waste if a facility doesn’t have a water recycling system in place.

#3. Colours can Add Up 

Turns out that having to create a screen for each colour complicates the process and therefore makes it more expensive. It’s better to prepare designs with as few tones as possible and as simple as possible. But our design experts work with you from the start to find that perfect balance.

#4. Not a Piece of Cake

It might sound like a contradiction, but screen printing can be quite complex depending on the design and project because it requires more steps than other printing methods.

Note: On the surface, choosing this method isn’t advisable if you’re seeking to print photo-realistic images on garments. With screen printing it’s difficult to replicate all the colours and hairline details present in photos (e.g. landscapes, dyed hair, etc.). But if you’re wanting photo-realistic results then our design experts will match your artwork to the best fitting printing method. 

Creating Your Best Design

In order to screen print, colours have to be added one at a time onto the garment. So our design team has to re-create or separate the final artwork into multiple layers. 

It’s called the “four-colour process”. The artwork is created and then separated into four colours (CMYK). This means a lot of designs can be simulated using only 4 screens, reducing costs, time, and set-up.

To get this job done, we normally work with Illustrator and Corel Draw. Though, in some special cases, we can use Photoshop.

Keep it Simple

Like we mentioned earlier, the less complex the design is and the fewer amount of colours utilised the better the results will be. It also will be cheaper to produce. 

But worry not! 

What is screen printing most of all, is bold and brilliant! You should feel safe in the knowledge that no matter how complicated the artwork is, your final product will look great. 

Utilise Vectors

Instead of saving your design in pixels, we recommend saving it in vectors. It’s more effective. You’ll be able to see the design with better quality after we prepare it for you on a variety of garments to sample. 

What Format to Save your Design with

We know you’re creative and you’ve got your own style but just make sure your design is saved in either one of these vector formats; EPS, .AI, TIFF, or PSD. These formats permit us to open up the design again and revise text or other details within the graphic that need to be edited easier than pixel based files (JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP).

Note: Keep in mind that if your files weren’t saved with a quality of 300 d.p.i. or better, then we can’t guarantee that the end result will look as good as it did on the computer. 

Read this in-depth artwork for T-shirt printing guide if you want to learn more.

Choosing the proper Fabrics, Inks and Materials for Screen Printing

T-shirt fabrics

We offer our customers a lot of choices so that you can fully customise your garments. Screen printing is already a versatile technique but we’ve upgraded it to the next level for you. 

You see, with screen printing it’s as if we are painting a design onto a fabric. In most cases the ‘paint’ is either plastisol ink or water-based ink whereas the fabric is mostly cotton.  

Don’t sweat it if you’ve got other ideas in mind. Let us in on them and we will use our resources to print your dreams. You can even ask us for a sample beforehand! 

Natural & Synthetic Fabrics

All the fabrics we offer our customers are 100% suited for screen printing. The following sentences are only recommendations. 

Choose natural fabrics over synthetic ones. They tend to absorb liquids better which means all the colours you’re trying to print onto the fabric will be brighter and bolder. 

The best natural fabric to choose is cotton. Ideally you’d want to select apparel that is 100% cotton, organic cotton or the highest percentage you can budget for. 

Basic cotton is the traditional choice across the screen printing industry. This fabric is cheap, durable, works great with screen printing and is regularly ordered in large quantities. 

Ringspun cotton is the higher quality and softer to the touch option. It’s price is more expensive but it’s perceived as trendier and more luxurious.

Try to stay away from choosing shiny and thin fabrics for the reason that they don’t absorb the ink as well as cotton does. But don’t worry if you end up liking a thinner T-shirt. We will match it with the appropriate ink(s) to make sure your design does not have that ‘washed out’ look. 

“Cotton blends” impose the same printing challenges as 100% synthetic fabrics do. For best results with both fabrics, we recommend using plastisol ink during the printing process.   

If the garment you’re looking for isn’t available in 100% cotton, then we suggest choosing polyester to make up the other 10%, 20%, 30%. Yes, polyester is a synthetic material but it’s the best option to blend with cotton for screen printing and it will even provide the garment with more flexibility and breathability.

If you’ve made the decision to go with a T-shirt, we’ve broken down simple tests to check T-shirt quality before and after ordering. 

Review Thread Count and Density of the Fabric

Shirts with higher thread counts are softer and tend to print well because they are more tightly woven (denser). Density is a good indication of quality and durability. Not weight. Be conscious that the heavier a fabric is, it doesn’t mean it will support the design you’ve created better than lighter fabrics. It’s better to use the proper thread count and density.

How do we Print on Dark Colored T-shirts?

We use the same process but place an extra layer of white ink as a base before the printing process begins. That way the colours from the artwork will neither vanish into the dark fabric nor appear pale.

Inks are made to Impress

Aside from the standard inks, you can be rest assured that we’ve got a variety of high-quality and specialty inks at our disposal. 

The most common choices are plastisol inks and water based inks. The difference between the two is that water based inks have a more natural appearance and are less chemically created. Moreover, the printed garment feels softer in the end.

Whether you like the sound of plastisol compared to water based inks or vice versa or one of our specialty inks below, we will let you know which one best matches the type of fabric you’ve selected. 

Here’s a break down of our regular options in order of popularity:

  1. Plastisol inks are the most commonly used because they give off good colour capacity and a clean finish. The finish has a plastic feel to it, hence the name, but it’s a very durable choice. 
  2. Water based inks are ideal for printing darker inks onto lighter coloured garments and for large surface print jobs. They are the second most traditionally chosen ink. The result is a much softer feel than what plastisol inks give off and are priced cheaper than plastisol inks.  
  3. High-density inks give you depth and texture — almost like Braille. The finish is slightly raised by about one-eighth of an inch above the fabric and is best applied when working with a lower mesh count.
  4. PVC and phthalate free inks are the newest members to the bunch. They eliminate the use of the two main toxic components in plastisol ink without sacrificing any of the benefits and the soft feel.
  5. Nylobond is a special ink additive used when we need to print onto technical or waterproof fabrics.

If you’re wanting your artwork stand out from the rest – even in the dark – then consider mixing in any of the following inks:

  • Suede inks can be added to any colour plastisol ink in order to achieve a milky finish and suede-feel effect on a garment. We recommend not overdoing it and applying less than 50% suede if you go with this option.  
  • Glow in the dark inks achieve exactly what it promises – a glow in the dark finish. 
  • Glitter or shimmer inks are created by mixing in typically gold or silver flakes with one of the regular inks from above. If gold or silver isn’t your thing then we’d be happy to mix up a different colour for you. 
  • Puff inks a.k.a. expanding inks are an additive to plastisol inks that contain a foaming agent which reacts to heat and forms a raised — almost 3D like — design. They’re ideal for logos, children’s clothes and other apparel. 
  • Vintage effect inks are designed to produce a weathered look. 
  • Metallic inks work like glitter but the shining and sparkling particles are smaller and therefore more subtle. 
  • Mirrored silver ink is a highly reflective, solvent-based ink, similar to the silver stripes on a construction worker’s jacket. It’s different than glow in the dark. 
  • UV glow inks and photochromic inks change their colour when they are exposed to UV light. After applying the inks your design will appear off-white (similar to Glow in the dark inks) until it is exposed to UV light and after it will reveal the chosen colour. Perfect for blacklight parties!
  • Gloss inks create a shiny finish as well. We start by laying a clear base over previously printed inks and the result is similar to a laminated print. 
  • Foil refers to a special process which heat presses a “sticker” or “thin sheet of reflective material” permanently onto a fabric. The foil doesn’t stand out on its own too much, so we combine it with an adhesive glue or a plastisol ink base layer to make the design really pop. 
  • Discharge inks use Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate to activate the dye in fabric to discharge (for example the blue in a blue T-shirt) from the original fabric colour. It only works on dark coloured fabrics that are 100% cotton. Discharge inks come in both clear and normal colours. 
    • It’s especially effective for distressed prints and under-basing dark garments that need multiple plastisol ink layers printed. It adds variety to the design and gives it that natural soft feel.
  • Caviar beads are technically a glue made out of small plastic beads that are printed in the form of the artwork. Best results are achieved if printed on solid block areas and thus you’ll notice the interesting tactile surface more.
  • Cracking ink intentionally cracks or peals on the surface of the design after drying. Regular inks should never crack after printing but, if it does occur, it’s because the ink hadn’t been cured fully.

Colours and their Cost

After reading the section on Creating Your Best Design you’ve picked up that this technique only lets us apply one colour at a time. 

Sometimes it’s a short four step process where each step has a different coloured screen; cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). Other times we understand you’d like to shake things up, be a little dramatic and mix in some other inks (e.g. suede, gloss or cracking) and that’s perfectly okay! 

Just remember what we said earlier that the fewer the amount of colours, the better the results will be (Keep it Simple). And did you also get that it will be cheaper to produce a less colourful design? 

The colour of the garment you choose also plays a factor in screen printing. But we are experts in screen printing and know the trick to making each colour of your designs pop, even on dark coloured T-shirts.  

Screen Printing Isn’t Possible Without Screens

A screen is made by stretching a piece of mesh over a frame. If there’s no tension in the mesh, the results aren’t going to look good. Normally the mesh is made of nylon or another synthetic polymer while the frame could be wooden or made of aluminum — depending on the sophistication of the machine. 

The size screens we utilise depend on the objective at hand. Larger screens let us create oversize prints and print on larger items, such as blankets, towels or long pant legs.

If you’ve designed an image that requires a higher and more delicate degree of detail, we apply a small orifice to the screen to help recreate it on the garment. 

Screen Printing Preparation PhaseStep-by-Step

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes at printing facilities? 

These preparation steps for screen printing come after the design has been properly prepared in vectors, saved in either one of the correct formats (see What Format to Save your Design with) and a designer from our team has created a version of your design in solid black. 

This solid black version will be printed on to a transparent film in order to block off the light. We clue you in on why it’s necessary in STEP 4: Create the Stencil

Prep Step 1: Decide on a Screen and Mesh Count 

After the design is all ready to go, a screen and a mesh count must be selected. 

Depending on the detail of the design being printed, you’ll need a specific mesh count. A higher mesh count makes it easier to print finer details while maintaining a fair coating of ink. 

A mesh count measures the total number of fibers in one square inch. Screens with low mesh count screens have wider openings which permit more (and bolder) ink to flow through and can hold more emulsion. Printing on darker coloured fabrics is also made easier when using screens with a lower mesh count. 

After years of experience and our own screen printing experiments, we’ve put together these guidelines: 

  • 25-40 mesh count screens are perfect for glitter or shimmer inks.
  • 60 mesh count screens can be used to create block numbers and letters like the ones on athletic jerseys.
  • 80-86 mesh count screens are commonly used to print heavy underbases and puff a.k.a expanding inks.
  • 110-160 mesh count screens are the most versatile and the most popular in screen printing on average.
  • 180-200 mesh count screens are ideal for printing somewhat detailed images in light inks onto dark fabrics.
  • 230-280 mesh count screens will leave you with softer results yet the prints will appear less bright or vivid compared with designs printed using lower mesh counts. 

NOTE: Water-based inks dry out faster on finer screens. As a tip, you can add a retarder to your inks which extends the ink transferring process and your printing project.

Prep Step 2: Cover the Screen with Emulsion 

Next, the emulsion has to be prepared and mixed properly. When it’s ready, the mesh screen gets coated with the photosensitive emulsion. This creates the green background you might have seen before on a screen printing screen. 

The three types of Screen Printing Emulsion: 

Depending on the required level of viscosity, resistance to water and solid contents necessary in order to produce the best stencil, we’ll go with one of these three options: 

#1 Diazo (ingredient: benzene diazonium)

Tends to be a favourite for new printers because it’s cheaper and more forgiving. These emulsions need longer exposure (about 15 minutes more) to cure completely and need to be manually mixed. It’s not suitable for detailed prints or prints featuring halftones because Diazo stencils are normally thick.

#2 SBQ-based (ingredient: Styryl Basolium Quaternary

No mixing is required but cautiousness is. These emulsions cure extremely quickly — we’re talking seconds — when exposed to ultraviolet light. It’s the most expensive emulsion option because it allows more detailed work to be carried out. This emulsion has delicate bonds that create a thinner stencil, nevertheless if a thicker stencil is needed we can apply multiple coats.

#3 Dual-cure emulsions 

Are a combo of Diazo and SBQ that require mixing. This type of emulsion ranges in the middle in terms of overall cure time (less time than Diazo), price (cheaper than SBQ) and thickness of the final stencil (thicker than SBQ).

Prep Step 2 is a simple procedure but it must be done carefully so the ink ends up evenly distributed and the design appears professional.

Sometimes, the screen and frame are also lined with tape in order to prevent ink from reaching unwanted parts of the frame or screen. UV and water-based inks require tape (the stronger the better) since they have lower viscosities and a greater tendency to bleed through.

Note: When using a lower mesh count screen, we have to expose the screens longer to the UV light which allows the coating of emulsion to properly set and avoids pin-holes. On the other hand, higher mesh count screens require less emulsion and less exposure.

Prep Step 3: Let the Screen Dry 

For the photosensitive emulsion to work properly, it must be left to dry in a cold, dark room. If it gets exposed to light (Prep Step 6) too soon, you will most likely have to start the process all over again.

Prep Step 4: Create the Stencil 

A stencil is formed by blocking off parts of the screen in the negative parts of the design. Essentially creating an outline of the design on the substrate.

Once the screen is dry, using some sort of soft adhesive (that does not rip off the emulsion) the stencil is placed on top of the screen under a strong source of light (the next step). 

Prep Step 5: Expose it to Ultraviolet Light

curing for screen printing

Once your design is ready to go, we place an overlay on top of the screen and expose it to around 350-420 nanometers of UV light for around one hour.  

When light hits the emulsion, a strong bond is formed between the emulsion’s photosensitisers and its resins. What will happen is the parts of the screen that have not been covered with the design will harden while the rest will remain soft.

Screen printing emulsion is similar to plastisol ink. Just as plastisol ink cures when exposed to heat, emulsion cures when exposed to UV light. 

Prep Step 6: Wash It Off and Separate those Colours

Afterwards, we wash the screen off carefully using pressurised water. What comes next is magic! 

An area of the mesh remains, perfectly clean and with the identical shape as the design/image you and our designers created. But what happens to the rest of the emulsion? Well it dissolves and washes away, leaving a negative stencil of the image on the mesh.

If your design features more than one colour, the process is repeated so that each colour in your design is separated into individual layers on different screens. So, if your design has two colours, we’ll need two screens.

Whew! Now we are ready for printing.

NOTE: Screens can be used again for more printing jobs if they’re cleaned properly. They might get stained over time, but those colours won’t show up on the garment.

The Screen Printing Process revealed 

The process of screen printing is simple. It is available in both manual and automated versions. It is practised professionally and as a hobby by designers, artists, manufacturers and anything in between. 

It’s one of the reasons why it has existed for so long but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a learning curve. 

Applying the Design 

Now that the design, screen and stencil are all ready, it’s officially time to start the actual printing process. 

Imagine, for a second, you’ve ordered a T-shirt. Depending on whether the job is done by hand or with a machine, the T-shirt will be either placed on a flat surface like a table or on the machine itself. A controlled layer of ink will then be applied on top of the screen starting from the bottom and working upwards. Afterwards a floodbar is used to push the ink through the holes in the mesh. 

The ink needs to be evenly distributed across the surface with the help of a squeegee. When the squeegee reaches the end of the screen tension in the mesh pulls (snaps) the mesh off of the substrate leaving the leftover ink on its surface.

Next remove the screen, wait for the ink to dry on the garment and proceed to the heat curing step. 

If it’s done by hand, the press person must be careful with the pressure and the amount of ink they apply so it comes out proportional. The three most popular press techniques are flat-bed, cylinder, and rotary and are paired with either manual or automatic screen printing presses.

Again, if the design contains multiple colours, this process will be repeated for each colour. Along with repeating the process, it’s possible to re-use the screens (after they’ve been fully cleaned).

Note: Screens occasionally need to be “dehazed” before you re-coat them with emulsion. This ensures that there isn’t ink residue stuck inside crossing threads in the mesh and avoids unwanted but faint outlines or “ghost images” repeating between uses.

Heat Curing 

Once the garment has been printed, it will need to be heat cured to ensure that the print is sealed and remains in place. If you decide to skip this step, you’ll watch your design fade away in the wash.

During curing, the ink needs to reach a certain temperature in order to successfully bond with the fabric. We can’t be so specific here because different types of ink need to be cured at different temperatures and for different lengths of time. 

Screen Printing Manually 

Whether we chose to print manually or automatically we still have to make use of a screen printing machine. Printing press machines come in manual (a.k.a. “Handbench”), semi-automatic or fully automatic and are the most efficient way to print multiple copies of your design on garments. 

The quality of the garments is not affected if it’s done by hand or by machine, in fact, some people may argue that the manual labour has a better finish since it is done with more care.

Manually simply means that an operator or operators will perform all the following steps by hand: 

  • Distributing the ink on the screen
  • Lowering the screen onto the substrate
  • Pushing/pulling the squeegee over the screen
  • Raising the screen and rotating the carousel (if applicable)

Only 1-2 people are required to manually complete each step and it’s popular for new printing companies. Larger shops normally keep a manual machine on hand to execute small orders, speciality print jobs and garment samples. 

Limits to printing manually are only faced when demand is outpacing production and when the quantity to fulfill an order is physically impossible to take on. In either of those cases, it’s best to transition to automatic. 

Screen Printing Automatically 

Is the less labour intensive choice. Most printing companies will decide to use a semi-automatic or fully automatic printer paired with rotary screens to speed up the process. 

Except for distributing the ink and loading and unloading garments, everything else is automated such as: 

  • lifting and lowering flood bars and squeegees
  • rotating and raising the carousel 
  • moving the print carriage to and fro 
  • and drying

Machines are typically powered by electricity and/or air pressure (pneumatically-powered). An electric machine is an attractive option for screen printers with limited office space for an air compressor. 

Likewise, in the automatic screen printing process only 1 or 2 operators are needed depending on the printing machine being used and printing job. For example, if the operator is able to set job parameters in the machine then only one person is required. Although, if multiple people work at the same time loading and unloading the machine, production can be ramped up. 

Note: Automatic machines typically permit printers to work with larger screens which frees up the possibility to print on larger items. See Screen Printing isn’t possible without Screens for specific examples.

Necessary Supplies

We work with: 

  • A variety of garments and other printable materials 
  • Frames
  • Screens
  • Photo emulsion kits
  • Sensitisers
  • Brushes
  • A pitch black room 
  • Transparent materials (to print the design)
  • Pallet or flat material (to place the garment on top of)
  • Small piece of cardboard or wood to fit inside the garment (in order to print onto a T-shirt, for example)
  • Light sources 
  • Pressurised water 
  • Inks
  • Squeegees

… to get your design from point A to Z.

A quality squeegee makes all the difference in screen printing. Start by selecting the right blade for the printing process and the most comfortable blade holder (handle) to reduce fatigue. Blades come in V-shaped (single or double) for printing on uneven surfaces, square shaped (also called Straight Edge) for most standard printing jobs or round shaped (ball nose) for heavy plastisol ink applications or specialty inks like puff inks; as well as different lengths and durometers. As a rule of thumb, a softer blade (55 durometers) is able to deposit more ink, whereas a hard blade (80 durometers) is better suited for prints requiring fine details or the four colour process.  

Summary and the Myths of Screen Printing 

At the end of the day screen printing may seem like a lengthy process, but the ability to reuse screens has made this customisation technique highly efficient and perfect for larger orders. 

It’s befitting both artists and businesspeople as well as special events and everyday life because of its innate versatility.

Many extras and options are available for both customers and printers to choose from. We’ve covered everything from multicoloured to graphic designs, Diazo to SBQ based emulsions, screen printing on T-shirts or blankets, using a squeegee with 55 or 80 durometers, printing manually or automatically, the time it takes to cure each design and everything in between. It’s all explained right here in this guide. 

For instance, clothing items printed with multicoloured designs generally apply a wet on wet technique and dry on the press. While graphic items can dry during the time each screen gets realigned and re-pressed. 

Despite having all these choices to make, the screen printing process will remain the same. 

Screen Printing Images

Screen Printing Myths 

Don’t take everybody’s word as the truth and fall victim to wrong information. Below we’ve gathered the internet’s most popular screen printing myths and provided you with the truth once and for all. But if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for here, then it will surely be mentioned in the FAQ’s section that follows. 

Screen printing methods cannot recreate gradients”

Contrary to popular belief, sophisticated printing machines now have the power to recreate intricate colour changes and blend inks in such a way that looks like gradient. Commonly, older machines are to blame for this misconception, as they print using a half-tone technique to produce this desired gradient effect. Even still, it has to be said that direct-to-garment printing has slightly more capability for this effect. 

screen printing gradients

The Screen printing process cannot run small orders”

This statement is misleading. We can run small orders of 25 to 100 screen-printed garments. However, as screen printing is most cost-effective when it comes to large orders we highly recommend using it from 100 items per order or above.

“You can only screen print on T-shirts”

Completely inaccurate. With today’s state of the art printing machines, screen printing companies are able to screen print custom designs and logos on virtually any textile and product imaginable. Everything from aprons to drink koozies is fair game. 

“Screen printing ink can crack or fade”

Modern tools and water-based inks used in screen printing methods have become resistant to cracking or fading in recent years. Many companies guarantee to apply a deep coat of ink into the fabric to prevent fading. Moreover, with silkscreen printing, the ink is pressed into the fibers which helps to prevent cracking better than an overlay (a design placed on top of the clothing) would.

“Screen printing has a low ROI”

Screen printing on fabric is a great way to promote your business. Brand recognition, especially on clothing items and accessories both around your company’s office and during marketing events, helps turn impressions into lasting customer relationships. 

It has one of the best price per unit cost for large orders, so profit margins can be expected to be higher than the margins associated with other techniques (if you’re planning on selling your customised products). 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I place a small order with screen printing? 

Yes you can! For more than 50 orders that is. Trust us, that less than 50 incurs far too much in setup cost! As to screen print professionally you need to build the screens and expertly seperate colours, among other technical methods. Therefore, with that in mind, doing this process timidly is just not worth the trouble. 

Not to worry! If you really need less than 50, we recommend using DTG or transfer print. 

How much does it cost to screen print a T-shirt?

The cost of screen printing a T-shirt will depend upon a number of factors, including the number of colours required, how detailed the design is, the price per unit for the fabric you’ve selected to print on, the amount of T-shirts you require and if the T-shirt is light or dark coloured. 

Here’s a rough overview of the costs for screen printing at Printsome:

  • 100 T-shirts with a 2 colour print onto a coloured T-shirt – approximately £6.50 per shirt
  • 200 T-shirts with a 3 colour print onto a white T-shirt – approximately £5 per shirt
  • 500 T-shirts with a 4 colour print onto a white T-shirt – approximately £4 per shirt

Which fabric is best for screen printing?

Screen printing is an incredibly versatile printing technique. All fabrics can be printed using this method, aside from jackets and fleece fabrics, where embroidery is recommended.

How many colours can I print?

As many colours as you like! Remember that dark coloured fabrics require a white base layer before printing the design and each additional colour costs extra because it adds a step to production. Our team will advise you during the design phase how many colours are best for your project or if it’s recommendable to switch to another printing technique.

Are there extra fees and hidden costs associated with screen printing? 

Most companies both online and offline will provide you with straight up costs structures for your screen printing needs. You will, almost every time, get a price discount when you purchase in large volumes instead of spending more money per unit.

I have an event coming up soon and need my garments asap, is screen printing a fast option? 

After the screen is created, screen printing is the fastest customisation option available and we are good at working with your timeline. We advise allowing us at least a week’s margin to complete express orders requiring both pre-production and shipping. Although, we can provide a faster 48-72 hour production and shipping turnaround with other techniques aside from screen printing. Ask your Printsome printing consultant for the estimated completion time. 

How long does it take to screen print a T-shirt?

It typically takes us around 5-7 working days to print and deliver screen printed T-shirts to addresses within the UK.

Does screen printing work on jackets and other apparel items?

Screen printing is very versatile so you’ll be able to match the right product with your company’s identity. In most cases, jackets, hats and bags are printed using embroidery because it offers a longer lasting finish for these garments. But it still is possible to screen print on all three. Mesh and synthetic fabrics as well as pants, shirts and hoodies are more likely and most popularly printed by screen printing.  

Are the myths really relevant?

There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet and we felt that it’s necessary to debunk what you might read elsewhere. We’ve counted on our expertise, printing partners and screen printing community to bring you the honest truth. If you need more clarification or have any doubts or questions, shoot us an email. 

Do I have to provide any of the supplies we mentioned? 

No, we take care of everything necessary to make your screen printing idea a reality. This article is only supposed to serve as an in-depth resource and explanation of what goes on behind the scenes at a screen printing facility. 

As our most popular print technique, (flies out the door), we really don’t have to sell you on this, but we thought we’d give you a little educational treat anyway. In this blog we have scaled across every corner of screen printing techniques to give you an all-access-pass to what-you-need-to-know! We’ve delved into its history and popularisation. Divulged the advantages and disadvantages of silkscreen. Touched on the all-important design aspect, but without negating the proper ingredients; such as tools, fabris, inks and the pros and cons of each. Enjoyed an in-depth overview of the printing process and the technology therein. And topped it all off with a shining finish of myths debunked, and a cheeky little FAQ. But as we said, we don’t need to convince you on this – the product practically sells itself.

This Is How We Screen Print at Printsome

Interested in printing high-quality T-shirts and apparel in London or anywhere in the UK? Prinstome manages printing orders of any size among a variety of printing techniques. We are experts in bulk printing for businesses and events. No matter if you are needing a batch of 25 items or bulk production of thousands of customised garments; we have you covered! Get a quick quote here (and the best customer service, too!).


He goes by Rafa and he is the Team Manager of the Printsome-Insights blog. Since the foundation of the company he has been an advisory and is heavily involved with Printsome's marketing. He is a startups ecosystem promoter and business developer and works closely with interns to help them realise their potential in the company. When he is not the guru for new interns, he is golfing and drawing!

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