Graphic Design is the most vital aspect of screen printing. It’s the idea. It’s the decoration. Without it that custom product is just.. Blank. But how does that custom design go from a computer screen to a piece of fabric? While there are no wands or spells involved, there is a certain type of magic that goes behind this technique. Let’s dive in.
In screen printing, a 6 color design is way more expensive than a 1 color design. That’s weird, right? Why would the number of colors matter? Each color adds on how much per shirt? $1.00, $1.50? Why?
Well, have you ever seen one of these?
This is called a screen. That’s right, it's the “screen” part of screen printing. Each one of these screens needs to be coated in a goopy substance called emulsion. This needs to be done in a dark room because emulsion is light sensitive. Think of a photography dark room. It then will dry over a period of minutes or hours depending if you have airflow circulating. Then a piece of film (these look like the transparent sheets of paper teachers used to put on overhead projectors) with your design is placed on the dry emulsion and exposed to a lot of light over a period of seconds to minutes depending on the light’s strength and type of emulsion. Last you’ll take a hose or pressure washer to spray the screen, allowing all of the emulsion that was covered by the design to wash away. Now you have a 1 color screen that’s ready to print!
If you think about it though, how would designs with multiple colors be printed? Each screen can only print one color at a time. So we would have to make multiple screens, right?
Yep, that’s right! And to make sure all the colors line up correctly, we put registration marks (the little bullseyes in each corner) on each screen. Before printing the actual products we cover them up though so those bullseyes aren’t printed on the final product.
For every color, there’s a new screen. So does the price per color make more sense now? With each screen needing to be cleaned after use, coated with emulsion, dried, exposed to a new design, and lined up we are talking a couple hours of work per screen, per color. Not to mention the additional time each individual shirt takes to produce now that it requires two or more prints instead of one.
I think it's safe to say you now have the basics down. 4 color design= 4 screens. That’s basic math and it will never change… well unless your design requires an underbase. Oh man, what’s that now? What does that mean? In the most basic terms it can mean a 4 color design= 5 screens = 5 color pricing. But how is that fair? How can this be avoided? When are underbases needed, and what are they exactly anyways?
A white underbase is primarily required when printing a colorful lighter image on darker shirts. Without the white underbase the ink would blend into the dark fabric. A color like red would turn maroon, lime would turn forest green, and royal blue to navy. With a white underbase there is a layer of fresh ink for the colorful ink to sit on, keeping it nice and vibrant.
So if you want to avoid paying for an extra color, printing dark on light is the way to go!
Time to dig into one of the cooler techniques screen printing has to offer. Halftones.
Halftones are one of the greatest secret weapons a screen printing graphic designer has in their arsenal. It's how colors can blend. With each color in screen printing needing to be printed separately and completely solid, this is the only way certain prints are possible. If you want a smooth yellow fading to orange fading to red, there most certainly will be hundreds of little dots in the pattern making it possible. And the best news is this process saves money by reducing colors! It is all an optical illusion brought to you by the magic of halftones. Saving money in style. Can it get any better?
We saved the most extensive process for last. That’s the full color process.
As you can see this process can really bring any image to life. When there’s enough variety of colors to play with and blend, you can end up with far more colors visually represented than are physically printed. Typically this process does require around 7 colors. The only downside to this is there’s an 84 shirt minimum rather than 12 when you get over 6 colors at Your Shirts Ink. But if you do order that many, rest assured you will receive an impeccable product.
Screen printing is an art form which is created through various tools. Graphic Design is represented across all these tools from the vectorized pdf file, to the screen, to the shirt. Whether you are looking for a crisp one color print, or an extensive full color print, it's imperative to make sure your print shop’s graphic design department is capable. At Your Shirts Ink our graphic designers are ready to prepare any design for print.