It all seems easy when you come to pick up your order and your shirts are nicely folded in a box with your awesome print facing right side up. But do you know what is really takes to get your design onto your desired garment? Do you know how much work went into it?
Much of the work lies in the screen making process, the process in which a screen maker develops your artwork onto a screen. A screen is made up a silk mesh which is stretched out, really tightly, over a wood, or aluminum frame. We like to use aluminum frames because they do not warp and allow the mesh not to get too loose. If the mesh does eventually get loose, common when printing with automatic presses because of the pressure, the frame can be re-stretched with new mesh. This allows your investment to keep working for you, you buy the screen one and keep using the frame. In addition, you can recycle screens (we call it reclaim) to allow you to use the same screen with numerous different designs on it.
So how do screens work you might ask? It’s actually really simple if you break it down and think about it. It starts off with a frame that has mesh stretched over it. The the screen is washed and rinsed off with screen degreaser, this takes off small dust and dirt particles which are sitting on the mesh – kind of like washing the screen with soap to prepare it for the next step. After the screen has dried fully, the screen maker then applied what is called emulsion to the screen. Emulsion is a substance that is applied in a liquid format and is light sensitive, so must be handled in a dark room. It is similar to the material used to develop old films into pictures. The emulsion is pored into a scoop coated and spread over the screen several times on each side to allow an even coat on each side. The screen/s are then set on shelves to dry, so the emulsion can harden and turn into a solid state. After the emulsion is dried, the screen maker then takes the artwork, printed in black ink on transparency sheets, and applies it to the back of the screen in the desired placement. Some shops wing the placement, we use a Trilock registration system by M&R which allows for perfect registration and placement every time. The screen then get shot with a UV light and the areas which have black ink (via the transparency) are not exposed to light. Exposing emulsion to UV light hardens and seals the emulsion onto the screen, while the areas that are not exposed to light stay in the same state and are rinsed out with water. This rinsing process removes the “unexposed” emulsion and leaves open areas which will eventually allow ink to flow through them. This process is duplicated as many times as needed since it takes one screen for every color in every design.
Now you are more aware of the process when you place an order with your local screen printing shop.