For decades companies have used the free t-shirt marketing strategy to boost sales revenue and get exposure. You’ll see local bands and musicians selling t-shirts as promotional merchandise to advertise their music and make a profit. Even graphic designers themselves use screen printing to turn their designs into walking art (and make a profit.) Artists can find the t-shirt to be a low-cost canvas and it is fairly, easy to complete. Those who are just breaking into the business of silk screen printing may wonder how to screen print shirts professionally. It can be scary and even intimidating. However, we have mapped out (chronologically) the craft of t-shirt making. If you want to know how to screen print shirts professionally follow these steps in numerical order for an easy guide:
- Computer, Printer, and Image Software;
- Screen, Frame, Ink, and Emulsion (Find at local art stores);
- Exposure Unit;
- T-Shirt Press;
1. Buy T-shirts
First thing’s first, you need to get the material that you will be printing on. One of the fundamental building blocks of how to screen print shirts professionally, is, well, t-shirts. Buy plain, unprinted t-shirts in your all your desired colors. These can be ordered in bulk to save money in the long run.
2. Create an Image (or Download the Client’s Image)
This step requires a bit of artistic finesse. Designing an image can be done using digital photoshop software. When you are working with a client, you want to make sure the design fits all their specific needs.
3. Print the Image On Transparencies
Next, you print the design. You will print the carefully constructed image on a translucent clear paper. This needs to be heat transfer paper that is specially made for silk-screening.
Don’t forget to let the transparencies dry properly before moving onto the next step.
4. Spread Polymer On the Screen
A “screen” is a panel typically made of either wood or metal. Screen printing panels have a finely woven polyester mesh stretched over it. You will take an emulsion made of light-sensate photopolymer and spread it onto the screen. This polymer prevents ink from bleeding through in the printing process.
Some companies make pre-made polymer stencils to save you the time and labor involved in this step if you’re an emerging artist just beginning to figure out how to screen print shirts professionally. However, for the most aesthetically pleasing and professional, you’ll want to spread it yourself.
A screen needs to be completed for every different color going onto the t-shirt. (Consider including a background layer of white behind the design, if you want the colors to really pop.) Make sure to let the polymer screens dry under a yellow light before moving on to the next step.
5. Transfer the Image Onto a Screen
In order to get the image transferred onto the polymer, you will need to expose the transparency paper to bright light. In order to do this, you can use a high powered heat-light lamp. The light fixes the emulsion in place through the clear areas of the image transparency.
Load the screen on the exposure unit with the print loaded on top of the polymer. Make sure you lock everything in place before finally switching on the bright high voltage light. This begins the heat activation. The process tends to take roughly two minutes. Some exposure machines even come with a convenient timer that alerts you when it is done.
6. Wash the Screen Out With Water
Once the image is transferred into the polymer, you’ll need to wash the screen out with water. This clears away the unexposed emulsion caused by the transparency shadow. It will leave blank areas for the ink to press through.
After washing the screen, hold the screen up to a light to look for any minor imperfections caused by dust particles. You don’t want to leave any unwanted holes for the ink to bleed through. Cover up these areas with extra emulsion. This is a critical part of how to screen print shirts professionally. This detail is an important step that separates sloppy amateurs from screen printing professionals.
Be sure to let the screen dry before proceeding to the next step.
7. Load the Screen into the Machine
Now that the screen has been burned with the image, washed, and dried we take it to the printing press!
Before loading the press, make sure to tape the sides of the screen anywhere the emulsion didn’t reach (to prevent any ink passing through the edges.) This keeps everything nice and clean. Then, it is time to load the screen into the machine.
If you are not using an automated machine, make sure you lay an adhesive on the palette when loading the machine to hold your t-shirt in place. Apply ink evenly by pressing down on the squeegee and applying consistent pressure while pulling the ink toward yourself.
An automated press will use an automated flood bar to press ink through the shirt using a squeegee. Be sure to spread a thick line of ink across the screen and make sure the consistency of ink is even. The correct amount of ink is crucial to ensuring good coverage on the shirt. This can take a while depending on the order size.
8. Let T-Shirts Dry
It is essential that you give the t-shirts proper time to dry. Whether you are starting small or using conveyor belt dryer, proper drying time is necessary when minding how to screen print shirts professionally.
9. Clean Up and Let Client Know the T-Shirts Are Ready
Once, the t-shirts are dry, make sure to clean off all the materials used before using them again. This ensures things go as smoothly as possible the next time you screen print.
Now that the printing process is over, you’re ready to contact the customer and ship the t-shirts wherever they need to go!
Screen printing is a delicate art and it may take a little bit of time before you figure out the perfect pressure that is necessary to apply the ink evenly or to learn the exact timing it takes for the light exposure. But, follow these steps properly and you’re sure to be in business. Be sure to add your thoughts on this article and how it helped you or share helpful screen printing tips and advice in the comments!