William Shorter moderator for Screen Printers of the World Unite shares his top tips for T-shirt printing start-ups.
Producing T-shirts has come a long way since tie-dye and more small enterprises are attempting to move to screen printing. Screen printing offers distinct advantages like longer, faster and more economical print runs, as well as additional benefits such as more resistant end products. Screen printing can also achieve special effects simply not possible with other processes such as high build, glitters and metallic’s.
This guide won’t help you become the next Giorgio Armani, but it will offer a few tips on the key things to think about if you’re planning on setting up simple T-shirt screen printing shop.
1. Think ink – Recent surveys suggest professional screen printers are divided between Plastisol inks and their water-based counterparts – although Plastisols appear to come out on top with many claiming they offer the best results. However, like all things, it is not as simple as all that and often your choice will depend on personal preference, equipment available and what you’re looking to achieve. Water-based inks are easy to use, require basic equipment and have a good environmental profile. Plastisol is durable and ideal for long runs where consistency from the first to last print is paramount. Plastisol inks, have traditionally been a suspension of PVC particles in liquid plasticiser, and these have come under scrutiny from an eco-friendly point of view. However, non-PVC alternatives are becoming more widely available giving printers and consumers a more sustainable choice.
2. Get emotional about emulsion – Once you’ve pondered which ink to use, another choice you’ll need to make is which stencil emulsion you want to go for. It is often said that you can do a bad print through a good stencil but you can’t achieve a good print through a bad stencil! Your choice of inks will influence your choice of emulsion – if you’re using Plastisol inks then a durable ‘high build’ emulsion is recommended, with many print shops choosing faster exposing photopolymers. If you’ve chosen a water-based ink then you will need a water-resistant emulsion to match, especially if you are looking at ‘bashing the squeegee’ with longer runs. There are also ‘universally resistant’ emulsions out there which can cover 90% of applications and print runs and perform well with a wide range of inks.
3. Get stuck into adhesives – You couldn’t do without a pallet adhesive to hold the garment in place while printing, but this also offers up some choices. The screen printing industry uses a lot of aerosol based spray adhesives. Whilst these appear to be convenient at the point of use, the spray inevitably goes everywhere and might not do your equipment (or lungs!) a lot of good. People who have tried water based platen adhesives, which can be applied (just to the pallet!) with a roller, have been completely converted and would never consider aerosols again. Again, if you have an environmental conscience, water based pallet adhesives have the right credentials and some are available with GOTS approval.
4. Coming up clean – Nobody likes the clean up stage but using the right products can make the job a whole lot easier. Screen printers can use a large amount of solvents, so this is a good stage in the process to find a safer and more sustainable alternative, stepping away from noxious and flammable compounds. Dedicated ‘Press Wash’ products, specifically designed for screen printing inks, offer the user efficiency and peace of mind. As a minimum requirement the cleaning solvents should not contain any materials classified as ‘harmful by inhalation’ and best practice would be to use the lowest hazard and environmental classification available. Waste water generated during the screen making and cleaning operations must be handled responsibly and you must check regulations that apply to your operation with the local water authority. Biodegradable screen cleaning products are designed to be safely washed to drain during normal cleaning operations and you should consult your supplier for advice on the best options.
5. Waste handling – Managing waste is an important part of modern business and is becoming ever more regulated. Screen printing can produce a large amount of waste, from chemicals, inks, substrates and the usual assortment of packaging, with each element having specific waste requirements. The key here is to find out what the rules are that apply to you – and they will inevitably vary – and use specialist advice if you are at all unsure. There are waste disposal companies that understand the needs of screen printers and have a lot of experience of handling our mix of waste so it makes sense to work with people who can offer specific solutions.
6. Equip yourself well – Equipment is one of the biggest investments you will make when starting out and it is critical to make the right choices. As with inks, you need to consider what you want to achieve now and in the future and what your target market is. Attending industry recognised shows such as Printwear & Promotion Live and getting involved in screen printing communities such as ‘Screen Printers of the World Unite’ on Google+ will give you insight into the range of options available and contact with people that have first hand experience of using different types of equipment. On-line reviews and personal recommendations are a good starting point, as long as you don’t 100% rely on them! Overall, if you’re going to take a professional approach you will be looking for equipment which will last you for the long term and allows you to offer the future services that your potential clients may require. After all, purchasing a poorly built four station hand printing carousel with no micro registration will cause you major headaches and you’ll soon start losing the profit margin due to rework and waste. Like with a lot of things in life, you usually get what you pay for.
This 'How To Screen Print' guide was orignally printed on page 51 of the June edition of Printwear & Promotion.
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Name: William Shorter
Mobile Number: +44 7831 109181