top of page


Steps Into Transforming an Idea/Design into a Screen Printed Apparel

Basic essential steps into bringing an idea into life in the form of a screen printed apparel.

With new technologies and other factors that come into play, screen printing a shirt is not the only print process but is one that is most common and still widely used in the industry.

Also, new technologies have fully automated and can even possibly skip some of the processes mentioned below in high efficiency manufacturing facilitates.

Step 1: Conceptualization

First step: Define and refine the idea behind the design. Brainstorm and sketch out the potential designs/ideas.

Step 2: Creating Digital Design Files

Create a high resolution digital file/s of the final designs with the use of a good graphic software such as Adobe Illustrator, Corel, Photoshop etc. These files serve as templates for printing onto the t-shirt.

The best file type for this purpose would be vector files - such as .svg, .eps etc

Step 3: Selecting Materials

Once the concept has been finalized, it is important to thoughtfully consider the apparel type, the fabric and the color options that will bring the design to life.

Step 4: Printing Film Positives

What is Print film positives? Film positives are the stencil of the design. Film positives are used to burn the image onto a screen. Whatever that is needed to be printed on the apparel/product, is printed out in black ink on the film positive.

A printer which typically uses black ink or toner is used to create film positives on transparent materials like vellum, acetate, or clear film. When creating the film positives, the proper steps for the design to comes out right needs to be followed. These steps include:

  • Color Separation:

    • Using a design software of choice, separate each of the colors in the design into separate layers. This allows to print multiple films to create separate screens for each color in the design.

  • Add Guidelines/Center lines:

    • This ensures that when the film is placed onto the garment or product, it is aligned correctly and not slanted or off-center. Center crop marks and registration lines are added to each layer using the design software program to act as a guideline so each film layer is lined up correctly when being printed.

  • Use of Right Material/s:

    • Film

      • Different types of film positives: Inkjet films, Laser films, Laser vellum etc

      • In out opinion, Inkjet films are better because they make creating a more opaque image easier. These films are better quality than others and produce better results and are easily accessible and work with most standard inkjet printers.

Step 5: Make The Screens

A screen printing frame consists of a wood or aluminum frame stretched with polyester/acrylic mesh fabric that is stretched tight. The mesh holds the image onto the screen and lets ink pass through when you press it with a squeegee.

Steps in making the screens:

  • Clean the screens with a special screen printing degreaser to ensure any dust, lint, or particles is washed off so no bumps or pinholes appear in your emulsion

  • Coat them next with light-sensitive emulsion (done in a completely dark room)

  • Once the emulsion is dry, the film positive is affixed to the screen with clear tape.

  • Place the frames on a large vacuum table, called an exposure unit, and exposed to intense light for a period of time which varies depending on the amount of detail in the art and the tightness of the fabric weave.

Purpose: The screen hardens to light, but the film positive or black area of the film blocks light from reaching the emulsion. This leaves the area of emulsion unexposed or soft.

  • Once the exposure is complete, each frame is rinsed off with water and the emulsion in the areas that were blocked from the light dissolve. The soft part of the emulsion that was not exposed rinses out, leaving areas of the mesh open that reflects your design where the ink is able to pass through to print the design.

Step 6: Set Up The Press

A screen printing press consists of a base that holds printing platens and a number of color arms.

  1. Before clamping the screens onto the press, tape off the edges of your frame with screen printing tape. This helps keep ink from getting places you don’t want it to.

  2. Apply pallet adhesive to the platen, before loading the shirt onto the platen. This will ensure the shirt stick to the platen and not move around.

  3. For a multi color print - Once the screens are in registration, complete a test print to ensure that everything is lined up right.

Step 7: Run The Press

A press can be as small as a 1 color 1 station, or as large as an 8 color 6 station. Shirts are loaded on the screen printing pallet which makes its way around the press stopping at each head. The number of heads on a screen print press is the amount pallets that are on the machine, and/or how many shirts that can be on the machine at once.

Each ink color requires a minimum of one head print by a squeegee that pulls the ink across the stencil made on the frame. Once all of the colors have been printed, the shirt is removed from the pallet and placed on a conveyor belt. The belt travels the apparel through a dryer where it is exposed to the temperatures needed to cure (or set) the ink.

Quality Control

Once fully dried, do a quality control check on each printed apparel, including checking for any flaws or imperfections. While this should not be the only check of the shirts done in the process, it is the final step that is crucial in ensuring that the finished product meets expectations for you or your customer. There are a few tactics like lightly stretching the shirt lightly or by putting the shirt on a mannequin that can help you confirm it looks good! The blog presents a very basic overview, you may have other questions about the process—please don’t hesitate to ask!

Common Questions we get asked for a screen print job

  1. What are screen charges? the cost to make the screens and the number of screen based on the number of colors in the design. As explained - every color on the design is separated and a screen burned for it

  2. Are Screen charges recurring or a one time fee? They are recurring. Screens are burned new for every job.

  3. Why can they not be saved? many reasons, to mention but a few: 1) any damages can occur if stored due to temperature or surrounding conditions or something hitting the mesh etc - would ruin the mesh and bleed ink through those damages. 2) not practical for any print shop to purchase or make screen for every job - there fore the designs are washed down and reused.

  4. What and why are there minimums for a screen printing job? It is not cost effective to go through the process of making the screens and set up the printer for a single shirt. Normally the minimums are, for a one color design - minimum order qty to be 12 and up and for 2 or more color design minimum order qty to be 24 and up.

If you all have any questions that can benefit all - let us know and we can help answer best.


Like and Follow us on our other social media outlets!


Twitter: @TShirtsEtcWestH

Check out our Gallery of work done and what our customers have to say about our products and services  


T-Shirts Etc West Houston offers different print options to best suit our customers needs, wants and budget

But we're more than just shirts, T-Shirts Etc West Houston also carries a wide variety of hats, sweatshirts, hoodies, and athletic apparels.

T-Shirts Etc West Houston is a third-generation small business owned and operated in the U.S. with over 47 years of service.

Get a quote and/or Place your order on our website today - Our specialty includes custom printing and logo embroidery on corporate hats, jackets, hoodies, crewneck sweatshirts, polo shirts, tees, and other corporate clothing items for men's, women's, and youth. 


Come Take a Book and Leave a Book at T-Shirts Etc. West Houston's

Little Free Library !

Address: 1718 Fry Road, St 450, Houston TX 77084 during our business hours

Official Charter Member of the Little Free Library

(Charter#: 125854)


                                       Help us Fill Gallons of Pop Tabs!

Aluminum (not plastic or steel) pop tabs may be collected then delivered to our shop at any time of the year or we can also pick it up within the Katy/Cy Fair/Houston location. Pop tabs are then stored until they are taken to a local recycling center and all proceeds will go towards childhood cancer treatment and research.

21 views0 comments


bottom of page