There is a glut of information on the Internet, from articles to YouTube tutorials, explaining the process of printing your own T-shirts. It’s advertised as easy, fun, and inexpensive. It’s actually difficult to find any evidence on the Internet to the contrary. This post is designed to give some balance to that perspective.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly support the pursuit of your creativity, and screen printing is a good avenue for creativity. If that is what you’re after, then get down to business. If, on the other hand, you’re thinking you can cut corners by doing it yourself, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind.
Before we begin, you should know that most screen printing can be done at home. If you do your research and gather all the proper tools, you can achieve great results. That doesn’t translate to the process being easy.
The setup for screens is a bit of a strange process without the proper equipment. Basically, a photosensitive emulsion is laid over a screen to create a photo negative version of your design.
Creating the setup to do that, along with the ability to properly scale designs is a bit tricky without a exposure unit. Exposure units are the source for the uniform, strong ultraviolet light that cures the emulsion. You need a place free from outside light (spare closet?) to do this well.
Photo emulsion isn’t the only way to prepare a screen, but it is the most accurate. A few hallmarks of amateur screen prints are fuzzy or inaccurate edges to designs, as well as uneven and inconsistent application of ink.
Professional prints generally have more than one layer, to achieve the best result. Again, you can separate layers at home, with the help of Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. You then need to line up the print for every screen to align the different layers and get the desired effect. The most suited tool to this task is a screen press, which has screens set up on arms. You turn the series of screens so that they line up in the exact same way, every time. It’s the easiest way to get consistent results with your design.
A press of this complexity takes up a good deal of space in the home. If you want to pursue printing as a serious hobby or profession, it’s essential. For folks who don’t want to make that jump, there needs to be a good way to align screens for multi-screen prints. I’m sure there are solutions to this issue. There is also plenty of room to fall into an unending tunnel of demoralizing mistakes, in which your desire to screen print disappears.
There are many specialty print techniques that require some advanced knowledge, or at least the weight of experience to execute them properly. This is an advantage that print shops will always have over amateur printers.
The shirt you get from a pro screen shop is like an ambassador for your message or product. The way it is perceived is directly related to the quality. If you want to put your best foot forward with a shirt, make sure that foot looks its best.
It’s a flimsy argument to say that you shouldn’t attempt screen printing at home because professionals do it much better, but I’m doing it anyway.
At least when it comes to production speed, professionals have a clear advantage. Not only do they have the tools, expertise, and daily practice to do a large run faster than you, but they have the time. It’s their job.
If you think that printing a six color print on 100 shirts is going to be fun, then you have an unconventional definition of fun. Parts of it might be fun. Parts of it will be extremely tedious. Not everybody is prepared for the tedium of such tasks.
DIY projects often look very attractive, and I agree, the sense of satisfaction upon completion is unbeatable. But few DIY blogs or tutorials mention that lots of projects require you to buckle down and do some stuff that is just not much fun. It’s not always glamorous.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the difficulties of screen printing at home. It’s a rewarding and fascinating process, but it might not be the right choice for everybody. When you are looking for a professional product, turn to the professionals.