The Screen-Print Set-Up

Silk-screen printing has been around since it first appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD).

When art is supplied, there’s a process where they create the screens. They basically block out the negative of what you want printed, then push the ink through, creating a positive of the image. Art stores have kits if you want to play with it. There’s an art to the swipe: pressure needs to be just ‘so’ in order to keep from pushing ink through. We use organic thread, and equipment that allows for larger jobs, but it’s essentially the same process used almost a thousand years ago. For most of our business uses, we’ll likely hire someone.

Specifics to consider regarding a screen-print design:

    • Keep the design to a few colors. Keep in mind that the more colors you want, the more it will cost you to print. You can get pretty dramatic results with just a few colors. This design has only 2 colors, with use of negative space (the blue shirt).
    • Don’t go too small. Screens can only hold a shape up to around 1/8 inch. You can get away with block lettering down to a certain point size. Be sure to consider the fabric (course or fine?), how people will be viewing it (far or close?), and why (advertisement, entertainment… etc).
    • A type of process can be achieved, mixing ink colors with dots can be done, but requires additional setup. It takes Photoshop work and some magical pixilation filters. It’s do-able for an artist, but not all artists or shops offer this.
    • What color are you printing on? What is the opacity of the ink? This is important to how the final image will appear. Most screen print ink is ‘plastisol’, which is an inorganic ink, and mostly not transparent, but it still depends on the colors and the shop. The ink may not be opaque and could show thru lighter colors.
    • “Trapping” keeps your design from looking funny if there is “sway” in the print. If the printer doesn’t physically line up the colors on top of each other exactly right each time an impression is made, you could end up with gaps between colors without proper trapping. Most printers do this automatically on output.


    • When printing any colors on dark material a layer of white will need to be printed first. This could be important if there are budget restrictions.
    • Water-soluble inks are more environmentally friendly, and have a “softer feel”. But, it’s hard to find a shop that uses them. I don’t think the color stays as vibrant over the long term.
    • There are choices, sometimes. Puffy ink being one of them. Inquire about capabilities BEFORE you think about design. The more interesting you can make it, the more ROI.
    • Screen-printed banners and signs usually hold colors longer out-of-doors, than if they are process printed.
    • Know that the colors always fade in the sun. Reds and oranges faster than greens and blues. Sometimes it takes 2 years, sometimes 5. Ask about that, and consider color on the most important elements.
    • If you are doing yard signs or magnets, don’t use too many words. People are driving. They won’t read it all. Keep it direct.
    • Ask about tints and gradients before you design. Sometimes, they don’t look so good. I am not advocating getting really picky with your screen-printer. I can tell you from experience, don’t. I would suggest that you simply ask if your design will print well. They should steer you clear if not.
    • A fun way to break up a block-y design is to add “distress” to it. This is where you add a layer that essentially blocks out a texture so that the ink isn’t 100%. It gives it an old worn look.



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