Saturday, May 7, 2016

How'd That Pony End Up On Your Shirt?

I've been hanging on to this post for some time. Yesterday Carly suggested making Friday Filler a thing. And in true to myself form I come home and make it a Saturday filler because I procrastinate. So without further ado...

During the winter months most screen printers have a bit of a slow season, starting right after Christmas when everyone is broke and lasting til just before Easter. One slow week in early February I had a free morning on my hands while waiting for the UPS truck so I printed myself a sweatshirt and documented the process to share with you guys :)

I am the only employee in a shop which specializes in printing, embroidery, and all types of vinyl banners & signs. My boss, also the owner, does the office stuff and embroidery, his wife all things vinyl, and I hold up the printing portion of the business. I've been printing since 2000.

Below is an overall view of the print shop. I love my trusty little six color manual press on the left. Its all nuts and bolts, and I can take it apart and repair it in my sleep. That red beast on the right is fully automated and sent straight from the pits of hell as far as I'm concerned. All you do is load shirts on and pull them off, that press prints the shirts for you. The large vented thing in the middle is our dryer. It has a conveyor that runs the shirts under heating elements to cure the ink.

Screen are kept in the dark room until they're ready to be used. It's not really a "dark" room. It does have a yellow filter over the lights to block any UV rays from getting to the screens. I coat the yellow mesh screens with pink emulsion which is photo sensitive. And yes, screens used to be made out of silk (silk screening) but not any more. They are aluminum framed and the screen material is synthetic. The mesh count refers to how many holes are in a square inch. I have 86 mesh which lays down a thick coat of ink, and up to a 305 mesh that lets very little through. The higher the mesh count, the less ink it lays down because the holes are smaller.

To get the stencil exposed on my screens I use a film positive for each color in my design. They are taped on the back in reverse. Below are two designs. My one color EQ 4 LIFE and a three color jumper. The jumper art is actually a four color design but since I'm killing time and printing for myself only, I left one color out.

The screens then go into an exposure unit which has a tiny but extremely bright light bulb in the base. A vacuum comes on to keep the screens from moving during exposure. 

Everywhere the light hits the emulsion it becomes cured. The films lay between the screen and the light, and everywhere that the black stencil blocked the light is water soluble. I wash the design out with a pressure washer that's not pushing too much pressure. Once the screens dry from the water, they're ready to set up.

Moving on to the press, each screen must be secured in a print head and registered with the rest of the screens. Registration is the process of lining all your screens up to make the image. Below the arrows are pointing to all my different adjustments. I get the screen fitted as close as possible by hand, then clamp it down in the print head and make the tiny adjustments with all those knobs. 

The next two photos show my screen and pallet from the side. A pallet is the board I load the shirt on for printing. It has a special textile adhesive brushed on that keeps the shirt from moving between screens. If the shirt moves the image will be no good. There is one final adjustment to address, my off contact. That's the space between the screen and the pallet. You want that space to be uniform across the pallet and just high enough to get a good image. Desirable off contact varies from job to job, but is generally the width of a quarter (in other words not very much). The arrow points to my off contact adjustment. First photo shows screen prior to fixing off contact, second photo shows screen laying nicely across pallet ready to print.


Screen printers use inks, not paints. My inks are plastisols. They have a pvc base. Yep, the same thing plumbing pipes and jump poles are made from. Below are the colors I'm using today, arranged in the form of Olympic rings. I know I'm not the only one ready for some horse sport par excellence.

I got the one color knocked out quickly. A navy sweat with pastel yellow ink. They were my high school colors and I've always been fond of the combo. However I have to admit a certain rider/blogger kept the combo fresh on my mind and was the ultimate reason I chose the yellow ink. (I'd previously purchased the sweats with no plans of printing; looking at the navy canvas, yellow was the first color that came to mind)

With the one color done it was time to focus on the other design. As stated earlier, this one is typically a four color. I reduced it to three for today. I also taped off the Shakespeare quote and part of the flowers. Taping off keeps the ink from coming though that part of the screen. Look closely, the darker pink areas on the screen have been dabbed in nail polish. I use polish to block out areas on a screen that are just too tight to fit a piece of tape in. 

With all the block outs finished and dried it's time to set up. I start with the screen that gives me the most outline and register my other colors to it. This photo shows my outline screen printed down on light blue scrap material.

Here's a shot of what I'm looking at during the set up process. The outline can be seen through the screen I'm setting up. It's the fill color on the horse and a few flower petals. This is where all those little adjustment knobs you saw earlier come into play. If your registration isn't on point, it is noticeable and a sign of a printer who either doesn't have the skills or just doesn't care. 

And that's how to print a shirt in a nutshell. Here are the two finished products:

These are both my own personal designs. Graphic thieves back off. Ripping other people's art is shitty, and Karma can be a real bitch when it comes to matters such as these. 

The whole morning I was waiting on the UPS truck. It finally came with a few boxes of shirts for me to decorate. Now that there is actual stuff to print all the pony screens come down and get put away. I set up my press with a five color design for the day's work.

And what was I printing? One of the dumbest shirts ever. But the tourists eat this thing up. Anything for the kids, right?

1 comment:

  1. What a cool process, and I love how the finished products came out!