Screen printing, the art of turning an idea into a tangible masterpiece, is a process that combines creativity, precision, and skill. The journey from concept to a stunning print can be as intricate as it is rewarding, often involving various steps, each requiring a unique set of skills and techniques.
In this video, we take you behind the scenes of a screen printing project that might just be a masterpiece in the making. It all starts with a bold vision, a striking design, and the need to transform that artwork into a screen-printed reality.
VECTORIZING THE ARTWORK
At the core of this screen printing adventure is the process of vectorization, a crucial step that involves converting artwork into a digital format that can be used for screen printing. A vector image uses mathematical algorithms to create paths and curves, which makes the image infinitely scalable. The lines stay smooth and crisp whether you’re creating artwork for an oversized back print or a business card. Examples of vectorized files are .ai, .eps, .svg, and .pdf (if in vector format).
Darryl, a former screen printer, utilizes Adobe Illustrator, one type of vectorization software, to meticulously trace and digitize the artwork as well as add in registration marks.
And now it's time to get this art on some screens.
CREATING THE SCREENS
With the vectorized artwork in hand, the next step in the journey is to prepare the screens for printing. Starting with a vectorized design, Darryl proceeds to generate a film positive, a crucial element for screen exposure. The screens are meticulously coated with emulsion, and then the film positive is taped to the screen and exposed on the exposure unit. In the video, Darryl uses a BASELAYR V3648 LED Exposure Unit and BASELAYR Complete Emulsion, so he only needs 23 seconds to burn the image onto the screen. Lastly, rinse off the screen to clear the image and place the screen in a rack or drying cabinet to dry it off before printing.
Pro Tip: If you want to see if the screen is properly exposed, head to the ink side of the screen and rub the emulsion. If it feels slimy, the screen is underexposed.
BLENDING THE PERFECT COLORS
Before you get on press, you have to mix some ink. While many printers opt for ink-mixing systems for consistency and efficiency, Darryl prefers the traditional approach (mixing ink colors by eye). In this project, an off-white is the primary ink color of choice, and to achieve the desired shade, the artist combines fluorescent yellow, deep black, and Bolt white ink. This blend produces a unique ink color that will be used to create a distinct print.
RELATED: WHAT'S AN INK MIXING SYSTEM?
THE ART OF REGISTRATION
Once the screens are dried and ready, it's time to take the process to the screen printing press. A critical element in this step is the registration of the screens. To ensure that each color aligns perfectly, registration marks are used on the films and are later matched up on the test print. Darryl uses the registration marks as a guide as he adjusts the printheads using the XY micros for each screen.
ADHERING THE SHIRT
To achieve sharp and precise prints, a platen adhesive is applied to the platen. This adhesive ensures that the garments stick securely in place while printing. Once this step is complete, the garments are loaded onto the printing press.
Precise placement on the platen is crucial. Ensuring center alignment and consistent positioning for all garments is essential to creating consistent prints. Darryl shares that the print should fall about four fingers down from the collar of the shirt. Check to see that the seams of the shirt are evenly hanging off the side to make sure the print is centered.
THE PRINTING PROCESS
With the screens locked into the press and shirts loaded, it's time to bring the artwork to life on the garments. One ink layer at a time, the t-shirt design comes together. Darryl prints one pass of the off-white and sends it under the flash dryer. He leaves it under the flash long enough that it becomes tacky (not wet, doesn't smear) and continues printing the orange on top of the white.
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CURING THE PRINT
Once all the screens have been printed, the garments move through a conveyor dryer to cure the ink. The proper curing of ink is essential to achieve lasting and vibrant prints. After the shirt goes through the dryer and cools down a bit, Darryl performs a stretch test as an initial way to see if the print is fully cured.
RELATED: HOW TO ENSURE PROPER CURING
THE END RESULT
With the printing process complete, Darryl unveils the final shirt—a spooky good print! His manager, Samuel, loves it. The shirt represents the commitment, craftsmanship, and attention to detail that go into screen printing. It's more than a shirt; it's a work of art.
Screen printing, like any craft, is a journey. From the initial concept to the final product, it's a process that combines creativity, skill, and precision. From vectorizing intricate artwork to mixing inks and crafting precise prints, it's a showcase of the dedication and talent that go into each project. This t-shirt serves as a reminder that every screen-printed creation is a work of art, the result of careful planning, attention to detail, and a dash of creative flair. It's a testament to the art of screen printing and the passion that fuels it.