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What you need to know about Screen Printing

When it comes to getting your design printed on garments it is easy to get a bit overwhelmed by the choice of different decoration methods available so, knowing a little bit more about the printing process is potentially very useful. This knowledge can be used during the design process to create artwork that is best suited to your requirements.


In this post, the first of a series on garment decoration methods, we provide an overview of Screen Printing and how to get the best results.



Screen printed t-shirts for a St. Patrick’s day event

What is it?

We will be doing another article in the future going into much more detail about screen printing. In short, however, screen printing is a method of printing where a fine, permeable mesh is stretched across a frame to create a screen. Parts of the screen are blocked out so that the ink can only pass through the open areas on to the garment below. Ink is then evenly spread over the screen and squeezed through the mesh using a rubber-edged blade, called a squeegee, to create the print.




A separate screen is needed for each colour required and the inks are laid down one after another. One of the skills of the printer is to make sure that the different colours are perfectly in alignment.

The mesh used to be made of silk which is why, even today, people often refer to silk screen printing. Nowadays the screens tend to use man-made fibres instead.

The good points

There are very few downsides to screen printing. It is a popular method that has been around for a long time but it is not necessarily the best option available for every job. Lets have a look at some of it’s best features first.

It’s tough

Screen prints are very resilient and long lasting. They will survive many washes with minimal fading and it is not unusual for the print to last longer than the garment itself.

It’s vibrant

A standard home or office printer produces the colours required by printing a mixture of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) inks. Hence this is often known as CMYK printing. However, there are many colours that are difficult to produce using this method and will come out looking quite dull and washed out. This is why some professional photo and fine art printers have up to twelve inks to print with.


This is not an issue with screen printing because you print with the exact colour ink that you want. It also means that if your logo or design has to abide by strict guidelines or uses particular Pantone colours then these colours can be matched exactly.

It’s very cost-effective

I hesitate to use the word ‘cheap’ here as screen printed garments have a premium look and feel to them but screen printing is the cheapest option available for medium-to-long print runs. Once the screens have been set up then printing higher volumes of garments becomes very cost-effective.

The down-sides

In truth, there are no real down-sides to screen printing. However, there are some factors you might want to take into account.

Short-run printing

As you might have guessed from the earlier paragraph about cost-effectiveness, shorter print runs still need to have the screens set up just like the longer jobs. This means the set-up costs are the same and so end up having a higher cost-per-garment than the longer runs. More colours mean more screens and so increases the number of prints required to make it cost-effective. As a rule of thumb, for a single colour print you need to be looking at 10-15 garments to make screen printing the cheapest option and about 20-30 garments for two colours etc.


If you only need a few garments or your design has many colours then there may be better options available.



Photographic print

Screen printing is great for designs that have a small number of colours which are clearly delineated from each other. But what about photographic prints which have a wide range of colours and fine detail? Well, actually screen printing can handle these cases quite well.

One way is to actually screen print in CMYK and this will provide a faithful reproduction of most photographic images. However, better results can often be achieved by picking out the most prominent colours from the image and printing them. Have a look at one of our favourite examples from our archive.

A high level of detail can be achieved with screen printing

As you can see, with a judicious choice of print colour, photographic images can be reproduced accurately and vibrantly.

The best approach to dealing with photographic images really depends on the actual image itself.

Print area

The garments have to sit on a platen while printing and the screens have a maximum size so for general screen printing jobs the maximum print area is approximately 350mm by 380mm. You can, of course, print on both front and back if required.

In conclusion

If you require a large number of prints and there are a small number of colours in your design then screen printing is undoubtedly the best option available. Not only does it produce the best results but it is also the most cost-effective method available.


If you require fewer items or your design is quite complex then screen printing might not be the best option.

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