New To Screen Printing? Here's Some Terms You Should Know  |

If you’re new to the screen printing world, all the terms and details may be a little overwhelming. To help you out, we’ve compiled an alphabetical list of common screen printing terms, along with plenty of helpful links, to help you get started.

Block-out: An emulsion-like liquid that is used to fill in pin holes and to block out any area of the screen that you do not want ink to pass through. There are two types: normal for plastisol inks and water-resistant for water-based inks.

Burn: To expose an emulsion-coated screen to a light source to create a stencil.

Capillary Film: A light sensitive emulsion film, used to create a stencil, that when applied to a screen with water adheres to the mesh by capillary action.

Coating: The process of applying direct emulsion to a screen.

Conveyor Dryer: A stationary heat source using a conveyor belt to pass garments under for a predetermined length of time to cure inks.

Curable Reducer: A liquid ink, added to plastisol ink, to quickly reduce viscosity.

Cure: The process of using heat to completely fuse (cure) ink. 

a press on a table with fn-ink on a shelf

Photo by Salt & Pine Co.


Darkroom: A room devoid of white light/ultraviolet (light that does not have the frequency used in curing/exposing emulsion) used for creating, coating, and exposing screens.

Degrease: The process of washing a screen with a cleaning solution to remove all traces of dirt and oils prior to coating with emulsion.

Dehaze: A more aggressive cleaning agent to remove ghost images and emulsion haze from a screen.


Diazo: A yellow powder that when added to an emulsion behaves as an Anti-Halation Additive. The powder helps with resolving extra detail and will also improve emulsion resistance qualities. When added, the emulsion will have a short shelf life.

Diazo Emulsion: A two-part photosensitive emulsion.

Discharge Ink: Works by removing the dye in the garment (needs a discharge activation powder) and creates a very soft-hand print. Discharge Base can be tinted with color pigments, but exact colors can be difficult to control.

DPI: Dots per inch, a measure of spatial printing or video dot density, in particular the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch (2.54 cm). The higher DPI, the higher resolution.

Durometer: Unit of measurement used to describe the “hardness” of squeegee material. The lower the number, the softer it is. 

person coating a screen

Photo by Golden Press Studio.

Emulsion: Light sensitive chemical in either liquid or sheet form that is applied to a screen and used for the purpose of making a stencil. Only used in a darkroom.


Flash Dry: To set or gel the ink so it is dry to the touch, but not cured. Typically done with base white and/or overprinted colors.

Flocking: A print process consisting of a plastisol glue printed onto the fabric and then flock material is applied (while on the press) for a velvet touch.

Foil: A print process consisting of a plastisol glue printed onto the fabric and then foil material is applied (with a heat press) to create a mirror effect.


Four-Color Process: Also known as CMYK. A printing technique utilizing four ink colors (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) to print as many colors as possible with these colors.

Halftone: A color or grayscale image that has been converted into a series of large and small dots.

Halftone Dot Types: Shapes of halftone dots. Round is the most common dot type selected, but square, elliptical, line and diamond shaped dots can also be used.

Infrared: Specific energy wavelengths which produce heat. IR radiation is typically used to develop the heat in a heating element of a flash cure unit or electrical textile dryer.

a hand moving a screen on a press

Photo by Symmetree Clothing.

Manual Press: Press used in screen printing industry to manually print a design onto a shirt. 

Mesh: Woven material that is stretched on the screen frame, coated with emulsion and used to create a screen stencil.

Mesh Count: The number of threads in one square inch of screen fabric, measured in both directions. The lower the number, the thicker the mesh and the larger the screen opening. The higher the number, the finer the thread and the smaller the screen opening.


Micro-registration: A mechanical adjustment on the printhead of a screen printing press used for precise movement and alignment when lining up or adjusting a print job.

Off-contact: A printing method in which the screen hovers over the garment or platen.

Pinholes: Unwanted tiny specs that appear in the stencil after exposure.

PMS: Pantone Matching System is a standardized color system (in book format) for mixing various inks to achieve the specified color on the standardized color chip. By following this formula, you can mix the same color your customer sees on their color book. Colors can be listed as either coated or uncoated.

person holding up a film with a fish design on it

Photo by Rogue Lab.

Positive: Also known as film or film positive. Any media used to completely block out UV light in the design area during the exposure process.

Print Side: The side of the screen that touches the substrate being printed on.

Reclaim: To remove emulsion from a screen so the screen can be reused. 


Registration: The process of lining up the screen image to the original art and/or separations on a printing press.

Re-tension-able Frames: Special frames that allow the mesh to be secured on the frame without the use of adhesives or extra stretching equipment. The mesh is tensioned with a roller tightening system.

Safelight: A light that should be used when working with light-sensitive materials like emulsion or capillary films to prevent accidental exposure to ultraviolet light. A yellow “bug light” works well for this purpose.

Squeegee: Wooden or metal handled tool with a urethane blade used to drive ink through a stencil by pulling or pushing the squeegee across the screen.

Squeegee Side: The side of the screen the ink sits and where the squeegee is used.

a stack of screens

Photo by Stark Screen Printing.

Spot Color: A premixed, ready-for-use ink color intended to be used directly off the shelf. 

Stencil: The portion of an exposed screen containing the image to be printed.

Step Wedge Test: Exposure test to determine proper exposure time with a series of stepped exposures on one screen.

Substrate: Term for the item that is being printed. Example: a t-shirt.

Tension: The “tightness” of the screen mesh, measured in newtons.

Underbase: A coating of ink printed first and flashed to act as a base for which all other colors are to be printed on. Underbasing is usually required when printing multi-color designs on colored shirts.


Underexposed: Insufficient screen exposure time, resulting in a soft stencil that can break down prematurely during the print run.

Viscosity: Commonly perceived as the “thickness” or “thinness” of an ink.

Wash Test: Laundering a printed garment in a washing machine to determine if the print is fully cured. The ink will wash off an undercured garment during the wash test.

Washout Booth: Booth used for washing out stencils and reclaiming screens.

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