Screen Printing Vs. Other Methods of Garment Printing
If you are looking for a quick estimate or pricing please give us a call or head over to our estimate request page, otherwise stick around and read below to learn about the amazing processes we use to create your garments.
Screen printing has been around for centuries so the process has been perfected over and over again until we have the process we currently use today. This is by far the quickest technique and one of the most cost-effective methods for large quantities and batches.
Let’s start with how screen-printing works. The ‘screen’ in screen-printing used to solely be a silk screen placed inside of a square or rectangular wooden frame. Now, however, we use silk, polyester, and many other mesh fabrics to get the desired images and designs. When choosing which mesh fabric to use for the screen the different design processes rely on the mesh count (the number of fibers in one square inch of the screen). When creating the stencil for the design, you generally start by printing the image onto a clear sheet of plastic. Then, the silk or polyester screen needs to be evenly coated in photo emulsion using a squeegee on both sides and left to dry in the dark. Once dried, the stencil is then placed backwards on top of the screen and placed under a piece of glass under a strong light source for 30 minutes to an hour. After the light has burned the image through the photo emulsion on the screen, the design may need to be touched up with water and a tooth brush to make sure the lines and edges are smoothly cut from the light and to wash out the unexposed emulsion. This ensures that the only ‘holes’ in the mesh screen are from where the light burned out the desired image and so that nothing else will leak onto the garment. The screen is then placed on top of the garment where the design is going to be placed and the desired color of ink is then spread onto the screen and squeegeed through the home-made stencil onto the garment. The design must be heated to ‘cure’ by using a blow dryer, machine dryer, or iron with silicon paper to protect the design. Typically the inks used are much thicker than with other techniques leaving a great quality print that stays vibrant for years and is incredibly durable. However, because this ink is thicker, you must ensure to wash out your screen from the ink as soon as you have completed your design so it won’t dry and ruin the screen for future prints. You can add multiple colors to the garment using this same process and you can ‘block out’ designs you don’t want to print yet by using painter’s tape over the image. Because the stencil has already been made for the first garment, you can re-use the same stencil for the rest of the garments. This makes screen printing one of the best techniques for large quantities. Overall, screen printing has the best quality, is the least time-consuming, and is the most trusted form of t shirt screen printing we have today.
If you aren’t a printing fanatic, you most likely won’t be able to describe the difference between CAD cut vinyl transfer printing and screen-printing. However, the different methods can create drastically different designs, quality, and durability. So, how exactly does screen printing compare to the other methods of printing? Lets start with comparing screen printing to DTG printing, otherwise known as ‘Direct to Garment’ printing.
Screen printing has been around for centuries, however DTG printers were invented recently in 1996. DTG technologies are rapidly changing each year and the new machines create new and interesting looks. Like screen printing, DTG printing requires that the garments are pre-treated and completely dry prior to printing. Unlike screen printing, which does not require pre-treatment. However, DTG does requires an under-base coat of the design on the garment (usually this is a white layer of water-based ink). Once this under-base layer has been created, the DTG machine will then print the design over the white layer. After the design has been printed onto the garment, the garment must undergo a heat press with silicon paper over the design to protect from the heating element; this process ‘cures’ the design for the ink to properly set and allows the ink to feel flush to the garment instead of feeling printed or pressed on. Unlike screen-printing, DTG printing requires the garment to be made completely from 100% cotton.
DTG (direct to garment) printer is capable of creating color gradients and shading. DTG printing is essentially a printer for shirts (or other garments). The printer is able to create very complex designs with limitless color options. One of the downsides to the process and the water-based inks used with DTG printers is that eventually after multiple washes, the colors begin to fade and wash out.
Another type of printing in comparison to screen printing is heat transfer printing. Similar to DTG printing, heat-transfer paper printing requires that the garments are of a specific material, in this case, lighter fabrics such as polyester. The reason behind the specific type of garment is because the process requires fabrics with low heat-sensitivity since this method was originally used to add details to ceramics, thus requiring intense heat to cure the images. Think of heat-transfer paper printing like applying large stickers to something using a heating-iron.
However, in this case we are replacing the sticker with vinyl or heat-transfer paper such as plastisol. This process begins by first printing the design onto the transfer-paper directly, typically by an ink-jet printer, and from there, the transfer paper is applied to the garment and placed in a heat press to ‘melt’ the image onto the garment. Heat transfer printing is a great fit for small orders of garments. The cost of setup is much lower and you can add multiple colors without incurring extra costs to your setup.
Laser or machine cut vinyl transfer printing is great for large batches of simpler designs. What this means is that instead of having a person cut out the vinyl design and transfer it to the garment, the machine cuts it instead resulting in nice clean, smooth edges and, again, less room for error. In order for the machine to precisely know where to cut, the design must be saved in the computer as a vector file, NOT a pixel or JPEG file. The reason for this is that vectors are artwork or designs comprised of mathematical equations and geometric primitives that can indefinitely be scaled to size (shrinking or enlarging without losing the coherency of the image). Similar to screen printing, CAD cut vinyl transfer printing is compatible with all fabrics. The process for CAD cut printing can be time-consuming depending on how complex the design is. Ideally, it is used primarily for simple designs in large quantities, like names, numbers, sports jerseys, etc.
Dye sublimation printing is a method that creates very vivid, long-lasting, durable images, like screen printing but with different Techniques. Dye sublimation printing is where the ink design turns to a gas once heated/pressed, and the gas joins the garments by ‘fusing’ itself to the fibers of the garment instead of simply be printing or transferred on top of it. Because of this, it requires the garments are made from 100% polyester (or a polymer-coated surface) to enable a proper ‘fuse’. This method is popular for all-over printing and very large designs. However, folds, creases, and seams can be incredibly difficult to print onto during sublimation so these areas often remain white (such as under the arm sleeves and side seams).
Our embroidery and screen printing shop is located in Colorado Springs, CO. However, we can ship to anywhere you are. Just ask!