People want quality screen printed, full-color shirts, in low quantities, at low prices! Am I right? Well, as a screen printer we often run into this scenario. We work with a lot of different businesses and organizations, as well as schools and team sports. This audience is known for wanting a single shirt with a custom logo. While we love that people get excited about logo gear we are also realistic about the work it takes to produce quality gear at a fair cost and consumer price. So, to accomplish efficiency, we have to enforce minimum orders. Keep in mind I didn’t say we don’t have solutions for low quantity orders. But, screen printing may not be the solution in this scenario. Here is why…
The screen printing process is quite tedious and if you try to work around it and create short cuts you sometimes sacrifice quality and longevity of the product. Quality is important to us at The Gear Group and we don’t want to compromise there. So, we have invested in top notch equipment and knowledgable staff who can output our product efficiently and looking it’s best. To help you understand what is involved in screen printing apparel here at The Gear Group, here is a high level view of the steps it takes to produce screen printed apparel. Keep in mind this process is the same whether we print one shirt or many.
Create Artwork and Set Up file for Printing
Before we even consider production, we have to get a quality file that will work and reproduce well. While there are sometimes many steps that go into the creation of a file, including design iterations and proof approvals, what you ultimately need to know is that a TGG expert will evaluate or create a vector file and set it up in a way that allows for an optimum print. A vector file allows the artwork to be separated into each color that makes up your file. So, most jobs require design (making it pretty) and set up (making it ready for print) before they are ready for production.
Once the file is ready to go each color within the file is printed to it’s own translucent film. The image has to be positioned on the film correctly to burn into the screen so the image prints in the right spot on the apparel. This is also why it doesn’t always work to print the same image on different apparel items. So, folks who may want the same image on t’s, jackets and sweatpants; this is why there are minimums per product.
The screens are prepared with a solution called emulsion, which acts like a film negative. The file is “burned” onto the prepped screens and washed out, leaving behind an open area on the screen where the design will print. Every single color and half-tone in the screen requires it’s own screen. The design is the only area on the screen that allows the squeegee to push ink through the screen onto the shirt.
Each screen is set upon the machine to ensure the pressure, ink, screens, etc. are set properly. Sometimes set up is quick and sometimes this is where we discover an issue and have to troubleshoot. Or, on occasion, start the whole process over again if quality isn’t up to par. Once everything lines up and prints properly, the job is set to run in it’s entirety. At this point, we are well into the process and ready to roll! If we were to do “test prints” for client approval, we would have to tear down, clean up and start a new job. This is why we have clients approve artwork at the proof stage prior to production set up. Clients can also approve ink colors if they choose. We do stock many colors and have swatches for the rest.
We print! The machine is put to work, the screens are set and the carousel spins the apparel from screen to screen (if there are multiple colors) pushing the ink through the screen onto the shirt. We happen to have automatic screen printers that allow for many shirts to be printed quite quickly. But, if we were to only print one shirt the swift action isn’t really a point of interest as there is already hours into set up. The shirts are pulled from the carousel and ran through a dryer to set the ink. Shirts are folded and packaged.
And, the job is picked up, shipped or delivered to the client!
Now that we’ve shared a bit about our process to sum it up screen printing is:
- A work of art (not an exact science)
- Best for bright colors that hold up well
- Best for Bulk Orders
- A Manual Process
- Ideal for almost all materials
An Alternate Solution
In the digital world we live in, the screen print process might seem antiquated or it may surprise you that there is so much set up involved. Being present in the digital world might make you think that printing these days should be as easy as pushing a button. Well, actually there is a much simpler way that does allow for low minimums, full color and good quality; DTG printed apparel. And, we also offer this method of printing in addition to heat press logos and number name customization, heat press, patches and more. All of which can be solutions for low-run orders.
DTG is Direct-to Garment printing where a printer applies the ink to a shirt using inkjet technology. It’s sort of like printing paper but, we are printing shirts! There is still designer creative and set up involved but the manual print process is not-existent here.
We love our DTG Printers, but they definitely fill a different need. DTG in a nutshell is:
- Great for artful prints; or full color designs
- Great for low minimums
- Ideal on cotton apparel
- Prints provide a soft hand on the material
- Prints not as bright or “tough” as screen printing
We will get you what you need when it comes to apparel. It’s just a matter of selecting the right decoration method and apparel item to meet your need.
Another tool we have to accommodate lower quantity orders is our online storefronts. These accommodate a handy ordering process for businesses and organizations to order their apparel online instead of taking orders and tallying sizes in-house. These also allow for lower quantity orders of consistent designs using DTG (1 minimum – on some products), Screen printing (12 minimum) and embroidery (6 minimum). Learn More.