How to Show Your Customers the Importance of Printing an Underbase  |

One question printers ask often is whether or not they need to print an underbase. While printing color directly on the shirt can give your prints a great vintage look, if you want to keep your colors vibrant, an underbase helps a lot. An underbase keeps the colors you use truer to the color of ink the bucket. In this video, Josh Dykstra, owner of PRNT SCRN Screen Printing, illustrates just how important an underbase is. 


When you get an order, you quote for the underbase as well. Say your customer wants a two-color print on a navy shirt. You’ll need to use an underbase to keep the colors vibrant on that dark substrate. So really, you’re printing three colors, not two. Make sure you include this in the quote you send to the customer. 

Some clients would rather save a few bucks and skip the underbase. While you can defer to the customer’s wishes, sometimes showing them what they’ll get if they choose to skip the underbase is your best bet. The last thing you want is to have to reprint a run of shirts because a client wouldn’t listen to your recommendation for an underbase. 

Color shift happens to everyone, and printing an underbase is always a good option. To get ahead of customer questions, Josh created a guide that clearly shows what colors will look like with and without an underbase. 



Josh heads to Adobe Illustrator to get started. He creates a graphic to show colors side by side. He’ll use two screens when printing: one with a 1” underbase, and one with a 2” color. This way, half the color will be printed overtop the white underbase, and half will be printed directly to the garment. 

He chooses six colors of plastisol inkviolet, red, green, light royal blue, fuchsia, and yellow— and prints them on a black shirt to create the guide. Once everything is set up, he’s ready to get printing. 

An Adobe Illustrator screen capture of colors in a grid system on a page


The first color to print is the white underbase. Josh floods the screen and then prints the white three times to get a solid underbase. Then, he flashes the white so it’s gelled. Once the underbase is flashed, he makes his way through the colors. 

Since Josh is only printing a 2” rectangle of each color, he had to get creative with the screen. Rather than taping off the other five colored rectangles and printing one color at a time, cleaning the screen between each color, Josh created a grid using cut-up cardboard and tape.

A printer using cut up cardboard to create a grid system with different inks

This grid system blocked the colors from touching each other, and he could print all the colors on one screen. The only problem with this process was that Josh only had one 6” squeegee to use. To make sure he didn’t mix any colors, Josh cleaned the squeegee after every color. 

Once all the colors were printed, Josh cured the garment with his flash dryer. That’s it! He now has a guide to show customers just how much color shift will happen if they skip the underbase. 



Colors overtop the white underbase are much more vibrant than without the underbase. However, Josh only hit each color once. If you really want to get around using the underbase, you can do multiple print passes but it’s not always going to give you a vibrant color at the end of the day. On top of that, it might take you four or five passes to get it to match the underbased color. It’s worth it to use an underbase and save some colored ink. 

A black shirt with "do you need an underbase" written in white, and colors half with an underbase and half without

When asked, “do you need an underbase?”, Josh says “yes.” However, if your client really wants to save a few bucks and is okay with the color not popping off the shirt, you can skip it. Just make sure they know what they’re getting by skipping it. 

By creating a guide on a t-shirt, Josh is now able to show clients exactly what skipping an underbase will mean for the vibrancy of their prints. That way, the client can make an informed decision. Using an underbase will save you time and ink, and the customer will be more satisfied with the final product, even if it costs them a few extra dollars.