Screen priting traces its origins to 10th Century China, later spreading to other Asian cultures. The "serigraphy" or silk screen process has evolved over time, but is based on the same technology. Ink is passed through a stenciled mesh to apply artwork or text onto surfaces. In our case, we use nylon mesh screens, rubber squeegees, and oil-based, water-based, and vinyl inks to imprint artwork onto t-shirts and other apparel.
Pre-printing Set-up Requirements: In order to screen print a design, we must first create a stencil from your artwork. One stencil is needed for every color of your design. These stencils are made by exposing a screen (nylon mesh stretched over a frame is coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion that hardens in daylight) under a lamp. Your artwork is printed onto clear films (transparencies) in solid black ink. The film is laid upside down on the screen to block out the light. After the screen has been exposed under the light, the unexposed emulsion is washed off with water. The result is a stencil of open mesh where your artwork is.
Waterbase inks are generally considered to be more eco-friendly, "high-end", soft, etc. They consist of a base plus pigment, and the mixture absorbs into the fabric fibers. This ink is not as bright or solid as plastisol inks, but it does feel softer. We recommend waterbase ink on baby clothes, underwear, and thin/lightweight fabrics. Discharge inks are "bleach-out" inks. They contain chemicals that bleach out the fabric color (when heated) leaving the new ink color in its place. This allows for printing waterbase pigments on dark-colored fabrics. Discharge fumes are unhealthy, so we charge a premium to print discharge. Not all types of fabric will discharge, so we advise you test some fabric before placing your order. Both waterbase and discharge will feel soft after washing, but depending on how much ink is deposited during printing, you may be able to feel the printed area before the garment is washed.
Plastisol ink is an oil-based product that is used by most t-shirt printers worldwide. It rests on top of the fabric, has a rubbery texture, and cracks when not heated correctly - resulting in a vintage t-shirt after a few washes. This type of ink has numerous specialty products like puff, foil, flock, glitter, etc. Printing on dark fabrics requires an extra screen for a white base. Because the inks are layered on top of each other, the final product is often thick. "Soft-hand" plastisol inks are basically reduced oil-based inks and are a poor substitute for waterbase or discharge. The benefits of plastisol inks are that the colors are brighter, and 3-D effects are possible because of the layering over the fabric. Sports uniforms and performance gear are mostly made of synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, spandex) and must be printed with low-bleed plastisol inks to avoid dye sublimation (causing ink discoloration).