Screen Printing: The Ultimate Guide

Posted by needtshirtsnow 05/20/2023 0 Comment(s)

Screen Printing: The Ultimate Guide




Screen Printing T-Shirts: A Popular Customization Method


Screen printing is a widely used technique for customizing t-shirts and other apparel. It's by far the most popular t-shirt printing method. This method involves transferring ink through a mesh screen onto the fabric, creating a durable and vibrant design. Screen printing has been popular for decades due to its versatility, cost-effectiveness, and ability to produce high-quality results, making it the go-to choice for many businesses, organizations, and individuals. 


Step-by-Step Process to Screen Print T-Shirts


Screen printing t-shirts involves several stages, from preparing the design to curing the final print. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:


Step 1: Design Preparation


  1. Create or choose a design suitable for screen printing, keeping in mind factors like color limitations and design complexity.

  2. Separate the design into individual colors, as each color requires its own screen.

  3. Print each color layer onto a transparent film called a positive, which will be used to create the stencil on the screen.


Step 2: Screen Preparation


  1. Choose screens with appropriate mesh counts for your design and ink type.

  2. Coat the screens evenly with a light-sensitive emulsion using a scoop coater.

  3. Allow the coated screens to dry in a dark, dust-free environment.


Step 3: Exposing the Screens


  1. Place the positive film with the design onto the dried, emulsion-coated screen.

  2. Use an exposure unit or a UV light source to expose the screen, causing the emulsion to harden where the light passes through the film.

  3. After the appropriate exposure time, remove the positive film.


Step 4: Developing the Screens


  1. Rinse the screen with high-pressure water in a washout booth or sink to wash out the unexposed emulsion, revealing the stencil of the design.

  2. Allow the screen to dry completely before proceeding.


Step 5: Setting up the Printing Press


  1. Attach the screens to the printing press, ensuring they are properly aligned and registered for multicolor designs.

  2. Place a platen or pallet on the press for holding the t-shirt during printing.

  3. Load the corresponding ink for each screen.


Step 6: Printing the T-Shirts


  1. Place a t-shirt onto the platen, ensuring it is smooth and properly aligned.

  2. Lower the screen onto the t-shirt and apply ink using a squeegee, pushing or pulling the ink across the stencil to transfer the design onto the fabric.

  3. If your design has multiple colors, repeat this process for each color, ensuring proper alignment between layers.


Step 7: Flash Drying Between Colors (if applicable)


After printing each color, use a flash dryer or heat gun to partially dry the ink before applying the next color. This prevents colors from mixing and ensures clean print results.


Step 8: Curing the Ink


After completing the printing process, fully cure the ink by passing the t-shirt through a conveyor dryer or using a heat press. This step ensures the ink bonds permanently with the fabric and can withstand washing and wear.


Step 9: Cleanup and Maintenance


  1. Remove any leftover ink from the screens and store it properly for future use.

  2. Clean the screens with an appropriate screen cleaner, ensuring all ink and emulsion residue is removed.

  3. Maintain your equipment by cleaning and inspecting it regularly to ensure optimal performance.


By following these steps, you'll be able to create high-quality, custom screen-printed t-shirts. As you gain experience and refine your skills, you can experiment with more complex designs, various ink types, and different printing techniques to expand your creative possibilities.


Advantages of Screen Printing T-Shirts


Screen printing offers several benefits that make it a popular choice for customizing t-shirts:


  1. High-Quality Results: Screen printing produces vibrant, sharp designs with crisp edges and consistent color application. The ink bonds well with the fabric, ensuring a long-lasting print that can withstand regular wear and washing.

  2. Cost-Effective for Large Orders: While the initial setup for screen printing can be time-consuming and require some investment in equipment and materials, the cost per shirt decreases significantly as the number of shirts being printed increases. This makes screen printing an ideal choice for businesses, organizations, or events requiring large quantities of custom t-shirts.

  3. Versatility: Screen printing can be used on various types of fabrics, including cotton, polyester, and blends. It also allows for printing on different areas of the t-shirt, such as sleeves, pockets, or the back, providing flexibility in design placement.

  4. Wide Range of Ink Options: Screen printing offers a variety of ink types, such as plastisol, water-based, and discharge inks, each with its own unique properties and effects. This allows for a broad range of creative possibilities when designing custom t-shirts.


While screen printing may not be the best option for small orders or designs with numerous colors and intricate details, it remains a popular and reliable choice for customizing t-shirts in bulk. With its high-quality results, versatility, and cost-effectiveness, screen printing continues to be a favorite method for producing eye-catching and durable custom apparel.



Equipment Needed to Screen Print T-Shirts




To begin screen printing t-shirts, you'll need a range of equipment and tools to create high-quality, professional-looking results. Here's a list of essential items required for screen printing:


  1. Screens: Screens are made of a wooden or aluminum frame with a fine mesh stretched across it. The mesh count varies depending on the design's detail and the ink being used. You'll need a separate screen for each color in your design.

  2. Emulsion: A light-sensitive emulsion is applied to the screens to create the stencil for your design. The emulsion reacts to ultraviolet (UV) light, hardening where the light hits and leaving the unexposed areas washable.

  3. Positive Films: Your design is printed onto transparent films called positives, which are used to block UV light during the screen exposure process, creating the stencil on the screen.

  4. Exposure Unit: An exposure unit uses UV light to expose the emulsion-coated screens with the positives placed on top. This can be a specialized unit or a homemade setup using a UV light source and a flat surface.

  5. Washout Booth or Sink: After exposing the screens, you'll need a washout booth or a sink with a high-pressure water spray to wash out the unexposed emulsion, revealing the stencil of your design.

  6. Inks: Screen printing inks come in various types, such as plastisol, water-based, and discharge inks. Choose the ink that best suits your needs based on factors like fabric type, desired print effect, and environmental considerations.

  7. Squeegees: Squeegees are used to push ink through the screen and onto the t-shirt. They have a rubber blade and come in different sizes and durometers (hardness levels) to accommodate various designs and ink types.

  8. Printing Press: A printing press holds the screens and t-shirts in place during the printing process. Manual presses are suitable for beginners and small-scale operations, while automatic presses are more efficient for larger production runs.

  9. Platens/Pallets: Platens or pallets are flat surfaces attached to the printing press where the t-shirt is placed during printing. They come in various sizes and shapes to accommodate different garments and print locations.

  10. Flash Dryer or Heat Gun: After printing each color, the ink needs to be partially dried or "flashed" before applying the next color. A flash dryer or heat gun can be used to achieve this without fully curing the ink.

  11. Conveyor Dryer or Heat Press: Once the printing process is complete, the ink must be fully cured to ensure it bonds permanently to the fabric. A conveyor dryer or heat press provides consistent heat to cure the ink properly.

  12. Screen Printing Accessories: Additional items such as screen printing tape, scoop coaters (for applying emulsion), spatulas (for mixing and handling ink), and cleaning supplies (for maintaining screens and equipment) are also essential for a smooth screen printing process.


As you gather your screen printing equipment, keep in mind that there are variations in quality and price. Start with the essentials and gradually invest in more advanced tools as you gain experience and grow your screen printing operation. With the right equipment and practice, you'll soon be creating professional-quality custom t-shirts.


The Cost of Screen Printing T-Shirts


Screen printing is one of the most popular and widely-used methods for creating custom t-shirts. It involves transferring a design onto a t-shirt using a mesh screen, ink, and a squeegee. The cost of screen printing t-shirts can vary depending on several factors, including the number of colors, the complexity of the design, the type of ink used, and the quantity of shirts being printed. Here, we will break down the different aspects that contribute to the cost of screen printing t-shirts.


1. Setup Costs


The initial setup costs for screen printing can be significant. This includes purchasing or leasing the necessary equipment, such as screens, squeegees, inks, and a printing press. Additionally, you may need a darkroom or exposure unit to create the screens and a flash dryer or conveyor dryer to cure the ink. If you are starting from scratch, you can expect to invest anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or more to set up your screen printing operation.


2. Design and Screen Preparation


The process of creating the design and preparing the screen also adds to the cost of screen printing. Each color in the design requires a separate screen, which means that multi-colored designs can be more expensive to produce. The cost of creating the screens typically ranges from $20 to $50 per screen, depending on the size and complexity of the design.


3. Ink and Material Costs


The type and amount of ink used in screen printing will affect the overall cost. High-quality, eco-friendly inks tend to cost more than standard inks. Additionally, the number of colors and the size of the design will determine how much ink is needed. On average, ink costs can range from $0.05 to $0.50 per shirt, depending on these factors.


The cost of the t-shirts themselves will also contribute to the overall cost. High-quality, premium t-shirts will be more expensive than basic, budget-friendly options. T-shirt costs can range anywhere from $2 to $10 or more per shirt, depending on the brand and quality.


4. Labor and Production Time


The time and labor involved in screen printing can significantly impact the cost. Manual screen printing presses require more hands-on work and can be slower than automated presses, which can increase labor costs. On the other hand, automated presses can be more expensive to purchase and maintain. The production time will also affect the cost, as rush orders will typically incur additional fees.


5. Quantity and Price Breaks


One of the key factors that influences the cost of screen printing t-shirts is the quantity being printed. Screen printing is a process that becomes more cost-effective with higher quantities due to the fixed setup costs. As a result, the cost per shirt decreases as the order size increases, making bulk orders more economical. Many screen printers offer price breaks at specific quantities, so it's essential to consider this when determining your order size.


In conclusion, the cost to screen print t-shirts depends on various factors such as setup costs, design and screen preparation, ink and material costs, labor and production time, and the quantity being printed. By understanding these factors, you can make informed decisions when choosing a screen printer and budgeting for your custom t-shirt project.


The Price of Screen Printed Shirts


Screen printed t-shirts are an excellent way to showcase your brand, promote an event, or create unique merchandise for your business. However, understanding the pricing for screen printed shirts can be complex due to the various factors that influence the final cost. Here, we will discuss the key factors that affect the price of screen-printed t-shirts and provide a general idea of what you can expect to pay.


1. Quantity


One of the most significant factors affecting the price of screen-printed shirts is the quantity being ordered. Generally, the more shirts you order, the lower the cost per shirt. This is because many of the expenses associated with screen printing, such as setup costs and screen preparation, are fixed costs that can be spread across a larger number of shirts. Many screen printing companies offer price breaks at specific quantities, so it's essential to consider this when determining your order size.


2. T-Shirt Quality and Style


The quality and style of the t-shirts being printed on will also impact the overall price. High-quality, premium t-shirts will be more expensive than basic, budget-friendly options. Additionally, different styles, such as long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, or tank tops, may have varying prices. The T-shirts alone can cost anywhere from $2 to $10 or more per shirt, depending on the brand and quality.


3. Number of Colors and Complexity of Design


The number of colors in your design and the complexity of the design itself will influence the price of screen printed shirts. Each color in the design requires a separate screen, which means that multi-colored designs can be more expensive to produce. Additionally, more complex designs may require more time and effort to prepare the screens, adding to the cost. On average, you can expect to pay between $20 and $50 per screen, depending on the size and complexity of the design.


4. Number of Print Locations


The number of print locations on the shirt, such as front, back, and sleeves, will also affect the price. Each additional print location requires additional setup, screens, and labor, increasing the overall cost.


5. Ink Type


The type of ink used in screen printing can impact the price of the final product. Specialty inks, such as metallic, glow-in-the-dark, or eco-friendly inks, may cost more than standard plastisol inks. On average, ink costs can range from $0.05 to $0.50 per shirt, depending on the type of ink used and the number of colors in the design.


6. Production Time and Rush Fees


The turnaround time for your screen printed shirts can also influence the price. If you require a quick turnaround, you may need to pay rush fees to expedite the production process. On the other hand, if you have a flexible timeline, you may be able to save money by opting for a slower production time.


Price Range for Screen Printed Shirts


Considering all the factors mentioned above, the price of screen printed shirts can vary widely. For a small order of basic, single-color shirts, you may pay between $8 to $15 per shirt. However, for larger orders with multiple colors and print locations, the price per shirt can drop significantly, potentially down to $3 to $7 per shirt, depending on the specific details of your order.


In conclusion, the price of screen printed shirts depends on various factors, including quantity, t-shirt quality, style, number of colors and complexity of design, number of print locations, ink type, and production time. By understanding these factors, you can make informed decisions when budgeting for your custom screen printed shirts and choosing the right screen printing company to suit your needs.



Different Types of Items That Can Be Screen Printed


Screen printing is a versatile printing technique that can be applied to various items, not just limited to clothing. It involves transferring a design onto a substrate using a mesh screen, ink, and a squeegee. The adaptability of screen printing makes it ideal for creating custom designs on a wide range of products. Here, we will explore different types of items that can be screen printed.


1. Apparel


Apparel is the most common and popular item for screen printing. This includes:


  • T-shirts: The classic choice for screen printing, t-shirts are a popular choice for promoting events, businesses, or showcasing unique designs.

  • Sweatshirts and Hoodies: Screen printing can also be used on heavier materials like sweatshirts and hoodies, making them perfect for sports teams, clubs, or merchandise.

  • Tank Tops: Ideal for summer events or athletic wear, tank tops can also be screen printed with custom designs.

  • Hats and Caps: From baseball caps to beanies, headwear can be customized using screen printing techniques.


2. Bags and Accessories


Screen printing can also be applied to a variety of bags and accessories, such as:


  • Tote Bags: Custom screen printed tote bags are an eco-friendly promotional item or a stylish accessory featuring unique designs.

  • Backpacks: Customize backpacks for schools, sports teams, or organizations using screen printing.

  • Drawstring Bags: These lightweight bags are perfect for events, giveaways, or promotional items with your custom screen printed design.

  • Pouches and Cosmetic Bags: Smaller items like pouches and cosmetic bags can also be screen printed for a personalized touch.


3. Home and Office Items


Screen printing can also be used to customize items for home and office use, including:


  • Pillows and Cushions: Add a touch of personalization to your home decor with custom screen printed pillows and cushions.

  • Aprons: Screen printed aprons are perfect for restaurants, cooking classes, or promotional events.

  • Towels: Customize beach towels, hand towels, or golf towels with your unique screen printed design.

  • Mouse Pads: Create custom mouse pads for office use or promotional giveaways using screen printing techniques.


4. Promotional Items and Giveaways


Screen printing is an excellent option for creating custom promotional items and giveaways, such as:


  • Koozies: Keep beverages cold with custom screen printed koozies featuring your logo or design.

  • Banners and Flags: Large-scale items like banners and flags can also be screen printed for advertising or event promotion.

  • Lanyards: Customize lanyards for conferences, events, or organizations with screen printed designs.

  • Umbrellas: Screen printed umbrellas are a unique promotional item that can showcase your brand or design.


5. Art Prints and Posters


Screen printing is also a popular choice for creating limited edition art prints and posters. The technique allows for vibrant colors and fine details, making it ideal for reproducing artwork or creating custom designs.


In conclusion, screen printing is a versatile and adaptable printing method that can be applied to various items, including apparel, bags and accessories, home and office items, promotional items and giveaways, and art prints and posters. This wide range of possibilities makes screen printing an excellent choice for businesses, artists, and individuals looking to create unique, custom designs.


The Best T-shirts for Screen Printing


Screen printing is a popular method for creating custom t-shirts, as it produces vibrant, long-lasting designs. Choosing the right shirt for screen printing is crucial to ensure a high-quality final product. Factors to consider include fabric type, weight, and color. Here are some of the best shirts for screen printing:


1. Gildan Ultra Cotton (G200)

The Gildan Ultra Cotton is a heavyweight, 100% cotton shirt that provides an excellent surface for screen printing. Its durability and affordability make it a popular choice for bulk orders and a wide variety of designs.


2. Bella + Canvas Unisex Jersey Tee (3001)

The Bella + Canvas 3001 is made from soft, combed, and ring-spun cotton, providing a comfortable feel and a smooth surface for screen printing. Its modern fit and wide range of colors make it suitable for fashion-forward designs.


3. Next Level Premium Fitted Crew (3600)

The Next Level 3600 is a lightweight, 100% combed ring-spun cotton shirt with a slightly fitted cut. It's soft texture and high-quality fabric make it ideal for screen printing intricate designs or multi-color prints.


4.American Apparel Fine Jersey Tee (2001)

The American Apparel 2001 is made from high-quality, combed ring-spun cotton and features a modern fit. Its soft texture and premium construction make it an excellent choice for screen printing designs that require a fashionable look and feel.


5. Anvil Lightweight Tee (980)

The Anvil 980 is a lightweight, 100% ring-spun cotton shirt that offers a soft feel and a comfortable fit. Its smooth surface makes it well-suited for detailed screen printing designs, while its range of colors allows for versatility in design options.


When choosing the best shirts for screen printing, consider factors such as fabric type, weight, and color to ensure a successful print job. By selecting a high-quality shirt that aligns with your design needs, you can create custom apparel that is both visually appealing and comfortable to wear.

Leave a Comment

Why Choose Need T-shirts Now?

Free Account

Create a Free Account to save your custom T-shirt designs

Free T-shirt Design

Design Your Custom Shirt on our website not only Free but Easy and Fast. Create a Free T-shirt Mockup and save it or share your design on social media.

We have the Lowest Prices

Custom T-shirts Starting at only $7.99 each with NO MINIMUM. If you find custom t-shirts this price anywhere else let us know ASAP.


We specialize in T-shirt Rush Orders. So its no surprise we have a 1-hour t-shirt printing option at checkout.

Fast Shipping Methods

We have the Fastest T-shirt Shipping methods available to choose from. You might as well say we offer t-shirt printing near you. 


We use Eco-Friendly Water Based Inks for DTG Printing. Most of the T-shirts that we use for dtg printing are 100% cotton.

No Minimum Orders

No Minimum Orders. We specialize in printing any amount of t-shirts. We can print event shirts, business shirts, birthday shirts, Team shirts, Individual Shirts, and more.

Custom T-shirt APP

We have Custom T-shirt apps for both Android and IOS. Create a T-shirt Design and share the t-shirt mockup with your friends and family. Our T-shirt Design app is FREE.