Idea to Fold: The screen printing process
Step 1: Design
You can’t make a great shirt without the right art for your project. Here’s what you need to know about the start to a great shirt…
To be blazed on a screen, designs must in a digital format that can be read by our software programs. If your file type ends in a .ai or .png (vector files), you are good to go. If not, please let us know what you are working with and we’ll help transfer it.
A few things to consider:
Photos are great for framing and hanging on walls, but they don’t often look that great on a shirt. We’re happy to take your photo or drawing and transfer it into a stylized design that will look great on apparel.
Each unique color requires a unique screen. One of the two key factors in cost to produce is the number of screens required. One color is far more cost effective than seven (the other factor is T-shirt quality.
Speaking of shirts, we can find just about anything to meet your style or budget need starting with simple white Ts to form-fitting fashionable shirts.
1) We can take your vector file and print it. Easy.
2) We can turn your design, photo, sketch, or other ideas into a great design in the proper digital format for printing. Easy.
3) We can pick your brain and create amazing designs that will blow you away. Easy.
Step 2: Making the Screens
Screens are very simple things. At a core, they are rectangle frames, comprised of fabric and coating that forces the ink into the right place on the shirt.
Fabrics are measured by thread counts (like your bed sheets), ranging from 25 to 355 threads per inch. We use the appropriate thread count based on the intricacy (fine detail) of the design. At this point, we simply stretch the fabric across the frame, tightly.
Next, we use a light sensitive emulsion coating — applied in a dark room over a 4-hour period — that preps the fabric for film. The film is the piece of the puzzle that dictates where ink passes through. We use a large, specialized light bulb to burn the color layer onto the screen. The dark areas of the film don’t print. The clear area will print.
At this point we use a pressure washer to clean the non-hardened emulsion. This leaves the printing area.
Step 3: Printing
We have several printing presses ranging from highly-automated machines with up to 16 printing heads to hand-crafted manual setups perfect for smaller projects.
We select the right machine to use based on a few factors, including size of order and number of colors being printed (screens).
During setup, we generally line up the screens with colors going in order from light to dark. To ensure design accuracy, we do several test runs to nail alignment. Millimeters count, and we strive for perfection. Dependent on project complexity, set up can take up to an hour. It’s a major part of the process.
Now we ready the ink. This is the part of the process that gives our Boulder production facility that awesome print shop smell. Seriously, designers love walking in here for that very reason.
In this phase, we simply flood the proper ink color into each ink head, then lock squeegees into place (this is what pushes the ink to shirt; manual presses rely on the operator to do this).
Once a shirt is loaded, the screen is set into place for the first layer, then the ink is coated evenly through it, marking a consistent, perfect color on the shirt. As we print each layer, we use a flash dry process that blasts intense heat for a few seconds to cure each layer before the next can be placed. Complexity and color choices will dictate how many flashing stations are needed.
Step 4: Finishing
Once the shirt has all its color, it’s removed from the press and passed onto a drying conveyor to finish the ink curing process. We have several quality control points set up to ensure perfection before the shirts are finally folded, boxed, and shipped.
The good news being that you never have to worry about our precision from steps 2-4. Once we finalize the design and project with you, we’ll schedule it and before you know it, your shirts will be at your doorstep. Then you’ll just need to snap some photos of your employees or family members rocking the Ts to share with us on social media!
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