Screen-print Process & Techniques

Screen Printing Origins

Screen printing or silk screen printing was first patented by Samuel Simon in England in 1907. When screen printing was first used it was to apply unique, bright colors & patterns to fabrics & wallpaper. This new technique soon caught on quick & others wanted to be a part of this fun and new printing process.

What is Screen Printing Used For?

This printing technique is highly flexible and its seen everywhere on all types of items, from clothing to tote bags to caps to mugs and so much more.

  • Screen printing is responsible for printed T-shirts, uniforms, jackets, sweatshirts, towels, caps, mugs, pens, other clothing and promotional items.
  • Glass and plastic containers, like shampoo bottles, makeup container etc., are very often decorated by the screen-printing process.
  • Nearly every CD, DVD, Binders, Sports Items, Team Gear and more, that have an image are also screenprinted.
  • Fine Art Prints also take advantage of the amazing look of screen printing.

One reason for the diversity of screen-printing applications is its ability to deliver bold, opaque colors on a wide variety of materials. Different ink formulations allow specific inks to bond with materials such as glass, plastic, cardboard, fabrics and metals. The result is a cool unique vivid and long lasting message or image that can be screen printed in mass or small quantities. Even with the advancements in technology and the new digital printing processes, screen-printing is still the preferred printing process for many printing applications and is known for its mass production capabilities. Some many think screen-printing is a quick, easy and cheap process, but the opposite is actually the case. Screen-printing is very labor intensive and it takes multiple steps to get to the end result.

Here Is An Idea of the Steps:

  • Create or edit artwork to make it print ready.
  • Create separations in Photoshop or another art program.
  • Print the color separations on films.
  • Prep screens with a coating to burn the film (image) onto the screen.
  • Take films & burn image onto each screen (each color is put on a separate screen).
  • Take the screen and set it up on a machine (have to line up with pallet/garment).
  • Register the screen up with each other screen that has a part of the design on it, ensure its all printed as one and in order.
  • Mix all the inks for each screen/color that is in logo.
  • Stack the items for printing, specially separated by size & color.
  • Print the items/garments, sometimes you would have to stop and change out ink colors depending on the item/garment color.
  • If printing multiple locations - garments have to be restacked by size & color.
  • Once complete, all items/garments again have to be recounted by item, size, color and gender.
  • Items/garments are folded and packed for shipping.
  • Once job is completed, all screens have to be sprayed down to remove the coating and images and cleaned with a pressure washer this is very time consuming.

Screen-printing is no longer inexpensive to produce as all the supplies, inks, screens, etc. have gone up tremendously over the last 15 years. Screen-printing is part of the textile industry and the textile industry has suffered greatly after NAFTA was put into place. We need more entrepreneur's to rise up and start fabric mills, dye mills, supply factories etc. to bring back the USA textile manufacturing. We need people to partner together and own factories again.

Variety of Screen-printing Processes

Spot Color Process

The majority of printing on fabric is spot color. It is the most popular printing process for screenprinting and simpler to print. You can easily pick your favorite PMS colors for your logo too. Number of Colors We Offer: Up to 10 depending on garment type, color and quantity ordered.

Spot Color With Halftones

This is the next level of difficulty beyond spot color. Designs are simple and utilize halftone shading and/or gradients in areas of the design. This Process is super fun becausse you can choose your favorite PMS colors and percentage half tone them to look like there is more imprint colors but there is not. It is more cost effective if you want you design to look like more colors but don’t want to spend the extra cost. The artwork does have to be built to accomodate this process but the the art fee is minimal and worth it in the long run.

Number of Colors We Offer: Up to 10 depending on garment type, color and quantity ordered.

Four Color Process

This process mimics an ink jet printer in that cyan, magenta, yellow, and black are used for the printing to mix other colors. The print quality and saturation is far superior when we use complex spot color or simulated process. Four color process can only be used when printing on white garments because when printing on colored garments the inks can mix with dye of the garment and cause a chemical reaction. Most printers do know how to do 4 color process.

Number of Colors Used in this Process: 4 ink colors. White ink plus a white underbase.

Simulated Process

Simulated Process Screen Printing is a method of printing photorealistic images without using the standad CMYK separations. It is a more advanced technique that uses halftones of a few ink colors to represent the colors in the original design. The inks are solid opaque colors usually printed on dark colored shirts. We used Simulated Process because it works best on darker garments such as black or brown. We use soft-hand (water-based) ink which makes the final product more professional in both look and feels. Number of Colors Used in this Process: 6 to 8 ink plus a white underbase.


Discharge printing is called extract printing. By this printing process, color is destroyed by one or multiple colors. By this process pigment in the T-shirt is removed chemically and replaced by another color. Discharge printing is done 150% on cotton. Synthetic or blended fabrics are not suitable for discharge printing. Though it is not as enviromentally friendly as the Water Based Distressed, discharge water based screen printing inks offers a unique solution for garment decoration. This ink can be printed as direct discharge, dye discharge, or used as an under base for water based or plastisol inks. Discharge water based inks generate a softer feel on garments and give a unique vintage look that clients love with discharge ink instead of a glossy look.

In its basic form, discharge is a clear ink with an activator added. The activator is Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate, and this is what causes the dyes in the fabric to be deactivated. Printing a straight discharge ink typically 'bleaches' the fabric down to its natural color, a slightly off white. Discharge inks work well on fabric that is dyed with reactive dyes, although some dyes are more resistant than others, often those colors are in the kelly green, purple, and royal blue families. When discharged, these resistant fabric dyes yield a more muted print that is usually a lighter tint of the base fabric color.

Pigmented Discharge

When we need to print a color rather than clear discharge ink, we will add water based pigments to the ink in order to essentially re-dye the fabric with the color of our choice. This allows us to maintain tight registration and bright prints on dark fabric without the use of an underbase. For the ultimate in soft colorful prints, pigmented discharge is the way to go. We use discharge inks so much that we just call all of our inks 'water based'. If the print goes on darks, we add the discharge activator, otherwise it is the same ink chemistry.

Water Based Distressed

Water-Based Distessed Screen-print provides an ultra smooth print, which might mean a soft hand or a very smooth feel to the print when you run your hand over it. Colors are not as vibrant as Spot Color but if you are looking for a well worn vintage look, then this is the way to go.