Silk screen printing has existed for centuries, however it remains the industry standard apparel printing process for independent and international brands alike. Compared with modern techniques, such as DTG (Direct to Garment) and vinyl transfer, screen printing still offers unparalleled durability and a variety of applications.
Below is a brief introduction to the screen printing process, from artwork through to curing. If you require merchandise and would like to see the process first-hand, please contact us to schedule a tour of our studio.
STEP 1: SCREEN PREPARATION
The first step in the print process is screen selection and preparation. Prior to printing, screens are stripped, degreased, and coated with a thin layer of photosensitive emulsion, ready for 'exposure'.
Different graphics require different types of mesh, for example, a thick plastisol ink requires an open mesh, allowing the ink to pass through more easily. On the other hand, thin water based inks require tighter mesh, allowing for better definition and preventing bleeding.
STEP 2: ARTWORK
Artwork is the stage where the production process is mapped-out, and graphics transferred from CADs to acetate.
Taking into account variables such as graphic-style, ink type, colours, fabric, etc, artwork is separated and printed onto acetates, creating a series of light-blocking negative stencils.
Each acetate represents a colour within the image, and each colour requires it's own screen. It's for this reason that multi-colour printing is not recommended for small runs, and it's the same reason that multicolour printing becomes cheaper as order volumes increase.
STEP 3: SCREEN EXPOSURE
Freshly coated light-sensitive screens are exposed to intense UV light via an exposure unit. The negatives created in step two are positioned between the light source and the emulsion, blocking light from hitting certain areas, preventing the emulsion from hardening.
Once exposed, the screens are quickly rinsed in a process known as 'wash-out'. A high-pressured water jet pushes through the unhardened areas of the emulsion, revealing the stencil.
After years of R&D, we have our stencil-making down to a tee, and are producing high-definition, hard-wearing stencils, ensuring our prints remain crisp for the duration of each production run.
STEP 4: INK MIX & PRE-PRESS
Pigments are carefully added to translucent bases to create precise pantone matches and tones. Ink bases generally fall into one of two categories, water based or plastisol. Water based inks are generally soft handle and muted, whereas plastisols are vibrant but harder to the touch.
Once inks are mixed, screens are aligned on-press, prints tested, and provided they are satisfactory, production can begin.
All-in, setup can take anything from 1-3 hours depending on complexity - this is why screen printing is suited to runs of 20+pcs.
STEP 5: PRODUCTION
At the start of each run, we take our time to ensure prints are positioned correctly, a small but vital process that is often overlooked by large-scale print houses.
Quality is carefully monitored for the duration of the run, both by the Print Technician and the QC. We are hyper-critical of our work, and know that if something passes our own high standards, it's most likely going to pass yours.
Prints are cured using a 10ft tunnel drier, leaving them to dwell for 2-3 minutes at approximately 170°c. They are then neatly taken off the dryer to ensure creasing is kept to a minimum.
STEP 6: NECK LABELLING
Generally we recommend printed neck labels rather than woven neck labels; not only are they comfier to wear, but it's a more economical process.
One issue with neck prints is ink bleed through the fabric. We take care to ensure neck prints do not show through to the reverse of the fabric, and are well positioned.
We tag and fold garments as standard. This is included in the price that we quote on all sports merchandise, along with all associated artwork, screen costs and delivery charges.