What is a screen for screen printing on t-shirts and apparel?

If you have heard the term “screen printing” you have probably wondered why it is called that and if there is an actual screen involved. The answer is that, yes, screen printing does use something called screens to print the shirts and that is what the name is derived from. A screen is a printing tool that is made of a finely woven fabric called mesh, which is stretched over a wooden or aluminum frame. Nylon and steel make up the majority of the materials used to make mesh screens. Areas of the screen are then blocked off to create a design printing template. Screen printing on t-shirts is considered very high quality and long lasting.

The screen used in screen printing uses a woven mesh that supports an ink-blocking stencil. The stencil forms open areas of mesh that allow ink and other printable materials to be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is then rolled across the screen stencil, forcing ink beyond the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas onto the printing surface. The open areas are where the ink will appear, thereby creating the design one ink color at a time for each screen.

As indicated above, t-shirts and other items printed with multiple colors in the design require one screen for each color. As you can imagine the more screens used the higher the cost associated with the print job. Another factor to take into consideration is that items that are printed with designs in multiple locations such as front, back, side and sleeve, must use one screen per location per color. For this reason, items are priced depending on how many colors are used on the shirt and how many locations are used.

You may be wondering why each location needs a new screen. The reason for this is that if a design is screened onto the front and still needs a design on the back as well, then the t-shirt will then have to be removed from the screen printing machine and flipped over to receive a design on the back. A brand new screen must obviously then be used, otherwise the design printed on the back would be identical to the one printed on the front design. Thus the number of screens adds up quickly if you have multiple locations with multiple ink colors in each location. For the most cost effective screen printing job it is best to keep the number of ink colors and locations to a minimum.

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