5 Steps-Successful Screen Printing
Ryonet’s 5 Steps to Successful Screen Printing
For those new to screen printing, the following is a review of the screen printing process for you to go through before diving into the five key points, which begin after this thorough review.
The screen printing process starts by taking artwork (whether it’s created from scratch, provided by a client or downloaded from the Internet) and preparing it for printing with a computer program (like CorelDraw, Photoshop or Illustrator). Preparing artwork includes sizing, changing, coloring and color separating. In screen printing, each color in the design typically represents a screen, so you have to separate the colors out of the design in order to create separate screens for each color. There are programs that help make this process easy like Design Studio for Corel and Separation Studio for full color artwork. Once the artwork has been properly prepared, you print out a film positive to create a screen.
A film positive is the positive of your image or separated color channel; you print it out in black ink on a clear transparent background. During the exposure process of making the screen the job of the positive is to block the light from reaching that area of the screen, since this positive is meant to block light in order to make a quality screen, it is very important to create a quality positive. Screen printing begins with art, which is transferred to a positive and finally to a screen. If you do not get the first steps right, you are not going to make a screen. It can not be overstated that printing a quality positive is imperative to creating a quality screen print. In order to create a quality positive you will need to have access to a quality film output printer.
Once the positive is created it is time to expose a screen. In the screen printing process, a screen is prepared in a clean area; it is scrubbed with degreaser to clean the mesh so the image will stick in the best possible way. The screen is then dried in a clean environment and coated with light sensitive emulsion. It is important to coat the screen using precision in order to create a good exposure. The coated screen is left to dry and when it has finished drying you can expose. This entire process is completed in a darkroom. Since light exposes emulsion we have to block out the light (UV) in order to keep the screen fresh and unexposed.
To expose a screen, you place the positive film onto the flat side of the screen and shoot light though it. An important part of the exposure process ensuring that your film is pushed as close as possible to the screen mesh and emulsion—this is called positive contact. If the film is not flush against the mesh stencil, light will work its way around the end of the film and the screen will not expose properly. To expose you can use anything from the sun, a 500 watt halogen light, a tabletop exposure unit or a vacuum exposure unit. However, if your image has a lot of fine detail in it, an exposure unit with a consistent light source and positive contact system (like a compression lid or a vacuum lid) is extremely important.
After exposure you washout the unexposed emulsion with water. Most screen printing shops have a washout sink. This makes washing out and cleaning screens much easier and cleaner. After your screen has been properly washed out, it is dried and then taped around the edges to prevent ink from coming through the edges of the frame.
Now it is time to set up the job and start printing shirts. Setting up or registering a job is a critical part of the process; doing it properly dictates the quality of your print. There are typically registration marks printed out on the film positive colors and burned into your screen during the exposure process. A job can be registered by lining each color/screen to those registration marks. If each screen aligns to the marks, the image should also align. Registering a screen efficiently is very important because every minute you spend setting up and registering your job is a minute that you are not printing shirts and making money. There are some very affordable pre registration templates that drastically improve registration consistently by burning all of the films on the screen in almost the exact same spot. Joystick or Micro Registration also allow you to fine tune the registration of a job and are essential for fine detail prints with multiple colors. Efficient registration is key because if you are spending your time registering your job on your screen printing press you are not spending time printing your job and, as a result, you are not making money.
Once the job is registered it is time to test print for a final proof and then start production. It is amazing how much goes into a job before actual production starts—that is why having the best tools for your operation that fit in your start up budget will allow you to minimize your time setting up and maximize your time printing.
When you start screen printing production there is one thing that is very important to understand: you can not print shirts faster than you can cure/dry shirts. There are two reasons to dry ink on a shirt. The first is for flashing. Whenever you are printing on a dark garment you typically need to lay down a white underbase first; this will allow the color to show up nice and bright. Once you print this white underbase you’ll need to flash cure it so that you can print ink on top of it. Printing wet ink on top of more wet ink only equals a mess; a flash dryer gels the first layer of ink just enough to allow it to support wet ink on top of it. The second reason to dry a shirt is to do a final cure of the ink, which will ensure the ink is set into the garment. While you can use a flash dryer to accomplish this final cure it is faster and ideal to use a conveyor dryer. A conveyor dryer receives the wet shirt on a belt, the belt moves the shirt through a hot oven (which cures the ink on the shirt) and allows you to keep printing. A lot of smaller start-ups do not have the budget for a conveyor to start out with. If that describes you, plan on getting a conveyor as one of your first upgrades as soon as you are able. Once the shirt is printed it is ready for sale and you are ready to make money.
As you progress in your screen printing experience you will see that having the right tools and knowing how to use those tools is directly connected with your ability to operate efficiently.
Ryonet’s Five Key Points of Successful Screen Printing
- Have the right tools/equipment for the job.
- Invest in training and education: understand and practice proper and efficient use of your tools.
- Find your market niche.
- Develop a service obsession.
- Be the best at being better.
Have the right tools for the job.
In order to properly identify the most important tools/screen printing equipment, there are a few things you should think about first. Below are important questions to consider as you evaluate what tools and equipment you need. We have an online form available to complete then email—we encourage you to take advantage of this feature.
- What type of market(s) will you be pursuing with your screen printing (i.e. corporations, schools, athletics, bands etc.)?
- In screen printing, each screen typically represents one color. How many colors do you anticipate needing to print at one time?
- Will you be screen printing on anything other than apparel (i.e. signs, glass, metal etc.)?
- Where will you be screen printing (i.e. shop, office or location within your home etc.)?
- Does your facility have access to a 20 amp 110v circuit or 220v power?
- If things go well in the next year, how many shirts would you anticipate printing per week?
- Screen printing starts with artwork. What artwork skills or programs do you have access too?
- Rate your artwork skills: novice, intermediate or advanced.
- Indicate the artwork program(s) you have access to (i.e. Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw etc.).
- Do you have a home or office inkjet printer? If so, what kind and style/model?
- Give yourself the best chance at achieving success: have or create a budget. Indicate your current budget for your screen printing investment.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. How you answer will indicate what your needs are and help you acquire the right tools based on what you see yourself doing along with the budget you set. This is one of the many steps Ryonet is here to support you in. Our experienced team can help you define your needs and get you started.
We understand everyone starts out with a budget—if some equipment is not obtainable when you start, be sure you identify things as key upgrade pieces to obtain as you grow.
Consider these notes regarding screen printing tools and equipment:
Use good art. If you don’t have good art, you won’t have a good screen. It’s important to have the right tools in order to enhance the art. If you are just doing spot color/athletic/logo prints you definitely need a vector art program like CorelDraw or Illustrator. These programs will allow you to enhance imagery, color, and separate the art. If you are doing full color work you should have a raster program like Photoshop in order to separate gradients and process jobs. There are advanced tools for CorelDraw and full color artwork that help the process go much faster and easier.
Design Studio for CorelDraw separates artwork for you. It allows you to professionally template and mockup designs and options for your client. Additionally, it comes with hundreds of professionally designed clipart images and complete templates for you to show your client if their art doesn’t cut it or if they are unsure what they want. This will make the process more efficient and the outcome of the screen much better for you.
Separation Studio is a raster based program that separates full color artwork. It is perfect if you are doing a lot of high end full color artwork. Separation Studio not only allows you to easily separate a design with 10 times the accuracy and speed of doing it manually, but it also allows you to see how the artwork is going to look on the screen printing press when it is printed.
Create quality film positives. If you create a good looking piece of artwork, but can’t transpose that to the screen, you are out of luck. It’s important to be able to create a crisp and opaque film positive in order to expose a good screen. If you are doing simple vector work and starting out on a budget, you can use an Epson Printer and high quality Water Proof R-Film to accomplish this. Epson printers are the best choice because they lay down the most ink. If you want to do more and have complete control of your films, RIP software is integral to the process. AccuRIP software converts an Epson printer into a dedicated film output device. It prints with all black ink, which equates to a faster, darker and overall better transparency. It also prints high detailed precise halftones (necessary for gradient prints) on the press such as four color process and spot process. Ryonet is the leader when it comes to AccuRIP and Epson Printer packages, you can see them here: If you don’t have access to a good printer, there are services that can print the films for you as you start out
Use a good screen. To make a good screen print, you must first have a good screen. This means using a newer and clean screen that has good tension (the tightness of the mesh) and is flat. The best screens to use are aluminum screens because they hold a higher tension, last longer and do not absorb water—keeping them from warping. It is important to clean the screen with screen degreaser before you start the process.
Work in a clean area. When creating a screen, it’s very important to clean, dry, coat and expose in a clean area. If you are doing this in a dirty area, dirt and dust will quickly works their way into the screen and it will be very difficult to achieve a good result. Since you are dealing with photo sensitive emulsion, it is also very important to have light controlled environment known as a darkroom. A dark room is fairly easy to create, you can learn more about darkrooms here.
Use a pre registration system. If you skip this step you risk a lot of wasted time. A pre registration system will allow you to do most of the alignment in the darkroom before you start printing, this will save you time on press and allow you to start printing faster.
Have a quality exposure system. Making a good screen involves having an exposure system. This involves having a reliable and powerful UV light source with the ability to create a positive contact between the film and the screen by using pressure. Not only is this important in exposing fine detailed designs, but also very important when creating a screen that will hold up during production and be easy to reclaim. These videos explain the importance of proper exposure using a quality exposure source.
Use a rotary screen printing press. A rotary screen printing press is just what it sounds like: a press that has screen arms on the press and the print stations rotate.
Carousel heads. With a carousel press you register your press one time. Joystick or Micro registration is key for quick and accurate registration. If you have a press with registration you will be able to register faster and with more detail than a press without. Once the screen is registered it locks into the print position the same way every time and can be easily lifted up so the next color can spin around and lock into the print position.
Rotating print stations. Rotating print stations allow for the shirt to be printed and then rotated under a flash dryer for gel curing. Presses that have four or more print stations also let that shirt cool down after the flash dryer gels the ink. The more stations you have on your press, the faster you can run the press in production when printing on dark garments that need a flash between colors.
Use a flash dryer. A flash dryer is used to gel a shirt during the production process, the quicker this process can be accomplished the faster production can run. If you invest in a larger and more powerful flash dryer you will be able to flash cure larger designs quicker. A small 16×16 inch flash dryer will often hold up production for an experienced printer. 18×18 inch or 18×24 inch flash dryers will allow for more flexibility and faster production speeds.
Use a conveyor dryer. Shirts can be cured with a flash dryer, but if production speed is your priority, a conveyor dryer is what you must use. A conveyor dryer easily doubles your production compared to using a flash dryer. Since you are going to make the same amount of money per shirt whether you print 50 shirts an hour or 100 shirts an hour, you can see the value of having a conveyor dryer. Larger conveyor dryers can handle larger production capacity and print designs. As a screen printer grows in skill and ability printing 150 plus shirts per hour is very achievable. Think about this when reviewing the production speeds of conveyor dryers you are looking to invest in.
Everyone starts somewhere—the list of tools above is recommended for the most efficient production. If you’re starting with a smaller budget, simply expend as you grow. The important part is identifying where you want to go and what you will need in order to get there.
Ryonet has a variety of complete screen printing starter kits. Investing in a package is a great way to get as much as possible for the best price and not have to second-guess yourself.
Invest in training and education.
No matter where you start, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to waste countless hours figuring out how to do it through trial and error. Time is money, and shirts and ink cost money. When you learn the correct procedures, gain experience, understand proper techniques and learn from other’s mistakes, think of how much faster you could be up to speed as a screen printer. Many resources for learning how to screen printing are right at your fingertips. The important part is actually investing your time and energy by using them!
Hands on training classes. Whenever you can focus on something 100 percent, you will retain and learn more of it.
One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular. Tony Robbins
Ryonet’s hands on screen printing classes allow you to immerse yourself in screen printing and experience the learning process in a fun and interactive atmosphere. Hands on classes are the ideal way to learn the process because they:
- Provide an organized and focused environment.
- Allow you to experience how industry experts work, so you can start out working like a professional.
- Allow you to problem solve and get direction with concepts or techniques that are new and/or challenging.
- Allow you the ultimate group dynamic—as you are surround by printers from many different skill levels. Learning from the experience of others is invaluable.
- Allow you to try dozens of different techniques and print multiple styles of shirts to experience what is possible with screen printing and expand your market potential.
- Let you take home all of the shirts you printed to show family, friends and potential clients what you can do!
Our first class was held in 2005 and since then we have trained over 3,000 students. Ryonet has classes conveniently located throughout the country in Vancouver, Washington, Los Angeles, California, Harrison, Arkansas and Long Island, New York. We have consistently found that those who invest the time to attend classes are more successful than those trying to learn from scratch on their own.
DVD’s. The first Ryonet “Screen Printing 101” DVD was published in 2006 and we have distributed thousands of copies throughout the world since then. Our DVDs cover specific processes, whether it be learning how to screen print or learning an advanced technique. Each DVD provides a step-by-step guide through the process—allowing you to see how to accomplish a technique with detailed instruction and visual aid. The DVDs are an excellent resource as they allow you to easily re-watch something if you would like to try it, see the result you get and then try again if you want. Checkout Ryonet’s extensive screen printing DVD collection here.
YouTube. Ryonet has over 500 videos on YouTube and is the leader in online screen printing videos. YouTube videos are excellent because you can search for exactly what you need to know and watch a short video on that subject. The one thing to consider about YouTube is that while there is an abundance of information available—not all of it is correct. Ensure that the information you are looking at comes from a credible source before you invest a lot of time and resources trusting it.
Reading. Surround yourself with material that informs you and provides current industry communication.
Books: there are plenty of textbook resources out there for the bookworms in the crowd. Ryonet has several books available that cover the process. We also have books on artistic screen printing, artwork and even our own screen printing academy training manual.
Articles: there are multitudes of articles available online covering specific techniques and troubleshooting. Many times articles are accompanied by a video. You can view Ryonet’s article resource page on our website as well as on our official blog.
Magazines: the three most popular magazines in the screen printing industry are: Impressions, Printwear and Screen Printing Magazine. These magazines are excellent resources for current industry information and articles.
Forums. Participate in industry conversations—the exchange of information builds a community around you.
A screen printing open forum is an excellent way to learn from screen printers all over the world. Currently, the top forum in the industry is: www.tshirtforums.com. As with YouTube, there are many people on the forums that may not be as credible as they present themselves to be; ensure you are trusting information from credible sources and get a variety of answers before you jump in head first.
Support. Equip yourself with a team of dedicated experts that are available to educate you and provide excellent service.
This is one of the best things about using Ryonet for supplies and support. We have over 20 qualified support, training and service team members—passionate about helping screen printers learn and successfully print. If you run into problems, you can call 800-314-6390 or email our support team at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Either way, you’ll get a fast and friendly response… this is all part of getting the education you need and service you deserve!
Find a niche.
If you’re a reader we recommend reading a business book by Jim Collins called Good To Great, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. In this book, Jim Collins points out that one of the defining reasons companies are successful over a long period of time is what he calls “the hedgehog concept.” In the forest a hedgehog can do one thing very well, when threatened it rolls up in a ball with razor sharp spikes for protection, other than that it goes about its life fairly normally. A fox on the other hand may be fast, smart, sneaky, cunning. When the two meet and the fox tries to eat the hedgehog, the fox is met with razor sharp spikes. The hedgehog wins and the fox goes hungry. The hedgehog concept is built from three circles: what you can be the best at in the world (or market), what you are passionate about and what is financially equitable for you. Finding your hedgehog is finding in your niche!
All of the successful screen printers in our clientele have a niche and either have or are developing their own “hedgehogs”. How do you find a niche within screen printing?
Ask yourself questions. Which market excites you… what are you passionate about? There are thousands of sub niches in screen printing; we have clients that print for rock bands, Michael Jordan, Nike, schools, athletic teams, artistic posters, glass, the list goes on and on and on. The clients who are more successful focus in a specific area they are passionate about. When you are passionate about something, your own clients will feed off that excitement and be excited to work with you on a project.
Once you have defined your area(s) of interests look for a need. A need is whatever the clients in your niche are not currently experiencing. Many times this is speed of production, quality of print, quality and creativity of design or new and imaginative ideas. Sometimes a need is price, but we encourage you to not be a price slasher. When you start out competing in a market solely based on price, you will run into the fact that this is not sustainable. Your competition is potentially more experienced and has more capacity than you; you will just fight a bottom feeder market with low margins, so find something other than price!
Fill the need. Ensure that you have the ability to confidently fill the need(s) you have defined (this will take education and practice as mentioned previously). Once you are confident you can fill the need, go after it! When you have the ability to be the best at filling the needs in your market (and ensure it is financially profitable) do it. You will thrive in your niche and customers will hear about you—they will even automatically start to find you! You are never limited to a niche, but if your niche is proven don’t loose sight of that by pursuing other markets you may not be as passionate about.
Develop a service obsession.
The next time someone asks you to quote a job for screen printing that they have previously had done elsewhere ask them a few questions. Here are some suggestions:
- What does excellent customer service mean to you?
- Why are you looking for a different printer?
- What are some of the past problems you experienced that you wish to avoid?
Many times you’ll hear a client’s horror stories from working with previous screen printers. When you take the time to ask questions you will better understand what level of expectation your new or potential client is looking for. The only thing to do from there is exceed their expectations! Deliver the job in four days instead of five, custom design a new piece of artwork for their event, throw in a couple of extra shirts (just in case they have any problems) and always follow up to ensure they are 100 percent satisfied! If you make yourself an advocate for your client they will see that you are different than your competition.
Using the following words is never good: can’t, won’t and don’t. Keep the energy positive and upbeat—go out of your way to service your client with a can do attitude. The extra mile that you go now will be the first mile in a long journey you will continue to travel with that client. When you service your clients successfully you’ll need to advertise less because they will tell people about you for free!
You can have anything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want. Zig Ziglar
Be the best at being better.
If you were a runner what would happen if you worked hard to become the fastest runner on the track—then when you became the fastest runner, you stopped working out and practicing? How long would you continue to be the fastest? Not long at all. Unfortunately, this happens in business and in screen printing all the time. As you start, you work so hard to learn and to become successful in business that when you succeed, you think you know enough and then you stop learning and maybe even stop working so hard. Although we always talk about our clients that are doing well and growing, there are plenty of screen printers who are not growing and who are struggling—especially given the state of the economy. The printers who are struggling can almost always be categorized as stagnate. Many have had a certain amount of success and are relying on the knowledge and abilities they learned leading up to that success. While this may have worked before, it is not good enough to continue to thrive and grow. Just like a runner, in order to stay on top you must always work at becoming better. This takes just as much hard work, learning and practice if not more than your initial efforts. Cobb, one of our team members, used this saying often and it has now become one of the core values at Ryonet, “You are never the best because you can always be better than yourself”… don’t work on becoming the best, be the best at being better!” How do you become the best at being better? Repeat key points two through four. Learn and continue in your education. Continue to find better and additional ways to service the needs of your niche. Continue to find better ways to obsess about servicing your clients. As you grow in business you’ll need to personally develop as a business owner in additional to being a screen printer. Find mentors in both business and screen printing, read, exchange knowledge and new ideas among other industry members and always explore and try new things.
When you utilize these five points, you will find that success in screen printing, and in business, become second nature. No mater what: work hard, have fun, actively learn and always work to be the best and being better! Good luck and let us know how we can help!