How Screen Printing Works [A Quick Guide]

How Screen Printing Works [A Quick Guide]




How Screen Printing Works: A Step-by-Step Guide - By: Wendy Benson, Owner: Koala-Tees Inc, Screen Printing Since 1983.

Today I am going to explain very quickly how screen printing works; without any further delay.

Have you ever wondered how those awesome designs get printed on t-shirts? It’s all thanks to a process called screen printing. Let’s take a closer look at how screen printing works and why it’s so important to get every step just right!

Step 1: Digital Artwork

Everything starts with a design on a computer. This is called digital artwork. Special software is used to create the design, making sure it looks exactly how it should appear on the shirt. Getting the design right is crucial because it sets the foundation for the whole process.

Step 2: Film Printing

Once the perfect digital design is ready, it's printed onto a special transparent sheet called film. This film acts like a stencil for the screen. It’s important that the film is printed with precision, as any mistakes here will affect the final print. High-quality printers are used to ensure the film is crisp and clear. This attention to detail ensures that the design will look fantastic when transferred to the shirt.

Step 3: Screen Burning

Next, the film is placed on a screen that is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The screen is then exposed to a strong light, which hardens the emulsion where the light hits. The parts of the screen covered by the film remain soft and can be washed away, leaving a stencil of the design on the screen. This step, known as screen burning, must be done accurately to ensure a clear and detailed print.

Step 4: Shirt Printing

Now comes the exciting part—printing the design onto the t-shirt! The screen is laid on top of the shirt and ink is applied to the screen. Using a tool called a squeegee, the ink is spread across the screen. The ink passes through the open areas of the screen and onto the shirt, creating the design. It’s important to do this carefully to make sure the print is even and looks great.

Printing involves a lot of setup time. Each screen must be prepared, the film printed, and the design carefully aligned. This setup process takes time and effort, which is why screen printers usually don’t like to print low quantities. It’s not very cost-effective to spend a lot of time setting up for just a few shirts. However, once the setup is done, printing each additional shirt takes much less time. This is why the price per shirt gets cheaper as you print more. The setup cost is spread out over more shirts, making it more economical for larger orders.

Step 5: Drying

The final step is to dry the ink. The printed shirts are run through a dryer that uses high heat to cure the ink. This makes the design permanent and ensures it won’t wash off or fade easily. Proper drying is essential to make sure the print stays vibrant and durable.

The Importance of Detail

Every step in the screen printing process requires attention to detail. If the digital design is flawed, the film won’t be accurate. If the film isn’t perfect, the screen won’t be either. Any mistakes in screen burning will show up on the shirt. And if the ink isn’t dried correctly, the design won’t last. Focusing on every little detail ensures each shirt produced is of the highest quality.

Types of Screen Printing Techniques

  • One Color Designs: This is the simplest and most cost-effective type of screen printing. Using just one screen and one color of ink, these designs are quick to print and great for bold, straightforward logos and text. It's cheaper to print because there's only one screen to set up and less ink used.

Below is an example of a one color gray Screen print on a black T-Shirt


  • Halftones: Halftones are tiny dots of varying sizes and spacing used to create gradients and shading. This technique allows for detailed and realistic images, even with just one color. 

Below is an example of a halftone fade print.


  • Spot Color: This is the most common type of screen printing, where each color in the design is printed using a separate screen. It’s great for bold, vibrant designs with solid colors. However, the more colors used, the more screens needed, which increases the cost.

Below is an example of a spot color print

  • Simulated Process: This technique uses halftones of a few ink colors to create the appearance of many colors. It’s ideal for creating complex, photo-realistic images. This method can be more expensive due to the detailed setup required. We prefer a mix of simulated process with spot color overlays due to it being able to make many colors while having the important ones stick out.

Below is an example of a Photo-Realistic Screen Print using simulated process printing



  • Multi-Color Designs: When a design has multiple colors, each color needs its own screen. The screens must be perfectly aligned to ensure the colors print correctly on top of each other, which requires great precision. Some screen printing machines can only handle a few colors at a time, so complex designs can be more challenging and costly.

We take pride in our meticulous approach to screen printing. Our dedication to detail ensures that every shirt we produce is something special. So, the next time you wear a cool printed t-shirt, you’ll know the careful process behind it. Screen printing is a mix of art and science, and we love perfecting it here at Koala Tees. Thanks for reading, and remember, every detail matters!

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