Most shirt designs sit inside careful boundaries, confined to a portion of the shirt. One way to break away from traditional t-shirt design is all-over printing. You’ve undoubtedly seen all over prints, which cover the entire shirt, or at least one side of it. All over designs are literally all over the shirt, but how is it accomplished? The answer is complex, engrossing, and perfectly suited for a blog entry.
The differences start right away, with the preparation of the artwork. Art must be set up in a format to print on a larger printer, over the entire shirt. Accordingly, designs are larger. Large enough to cover the biggest shirt you want to print, and then some. Since the registration process with all over printing is more lax, the design is often larger than the biggest shirt that is print by a few inches.
Biggest? That’s right. Frequently, there is one screen set to cover every shirt size you want to print, since the setup up for these orders is pretty time consuming. On the design end of things, that means you need to adjust your artwork to fit the smallest size you are printing, and know that it will transfer to even the largest shirt.
This practice must be tempered by the nature of the design itself. If there are critical elements like a logo that need to be clear and prominent, your design must accommodate every possible shirt you print on. All over printing is sometimes used to print a pattern over the entirety of the shirt, in which case, you don’t need to focus so much on the translation of your design to different sizes.
What if you want to do the same print in different style shirts? Some designs might transfer between a ladies’ and a men’s tee, while others don’t translate very well. Positioning some of those crucial design elements might require you create two different versions of your artwork.
If you want wraparound graphics, this takes a little extra planning, because it’s hard to pull off in the print process.
Printing these shirts is a different beast from your average screen pressing process.
For starters, the size of the screens that are used is on another level. Ordinary prints are generally done with smaller screens. All over prints require a much larger screen, somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 by 40 inches. Screens of this size present some unique challenges.
The first is that handling them is often difficult for a single person. Adding emulsion to create the screens is a two-person job, and they’re so large that one person can’t hope to apply ink on them in any type of uniform way. Hence, ink is often applied by a mechanized press, that applies even pressure over the entire shirt. Most presses for all over prints are mostly mechanized, though they do require a high degree of operator interaction.
Since an all over print covers large areas of the shirt, including the shirts and collar region, orienting the shirt is important. The shirt needs to be affixed to the palette it is on as it moves around the press. A light starch adhesive is used to keep the shirt on the palette.
That’s only the beginning of preparing the shirt to go through the production process. That same adhesive is sprayed inside the shirt, so that the shirt retains its shape throughout the print process. Any movement of the shirt may result in uneven printing, especially around the armpits.
Setting each t-shirt on a palette takes far longer for all over prints, since each shirt requires intense individual care. Usually print shops have higher shirt minimums of around 144 pieces for all over print orders, since the set up takes so long and is costly.
Many printers use water based and discharge inks, as well as dilute plastisol inks to make all over prints, adding to the cost. All in all, it’s far more expensive to print all over than doing a smaller standard print.
Most screen printing jobs line up the registration of the screens on the exact same spot on every shirt. Registration requirements for all over prints are more lax, and some variance is acceptable during the printing process. Accordingly, prints aren’t always identical across the entire order.
Printing all over prints requires a press that is solely devoted to this print process. Some shops use an oversize rotary press, whereas others use a conveyor type system. Both systems have roughly the same factors for production time.
As you can see, every step of the all over print process is more difficult and costly. It’s easy to get down on the technique because of this. Why does it have to cost so much?
It’s simple: An all over print creates an effect and product you just can’t get with normal prints. If you’re considering an all over print and you don’t have a jaw-dropping design, don’t do it. These shirts are truly pieces of art, and making lasting pieces of value is neither cheap nor easy. However, the ends certainly justify the means.