Monday, November 21, 2011

Screen printing our own shirts!

Screen for flat one-color shirts
I happened to be in the Superfad office in Seattle on Saturday and, to my surprise, one of my friends and an employee of Superfad, was there getting ready to screen print the company t-shirts. I found the idea utterly phenomenal because how amazing is it to make your own shirts? Armed with his amazing design, 60 blank shirts, the printed screens and buckets of paint, we began. I had no idea what the foundations of screen printing even were, but I trusted Sean because he said "it's easy" in a completely non-chalant way, as if he'd done it a million times before (he hadn't). I was just eager to help because it's just about the most awesome thing I can think of to make your own shirts. It combines very technical and precise principles of how-to with the fun and creativity involved in making the design and choosing the colors.


A. ink. B. squeegee. C. image. D. photo-emulsion.
E. screen. F. printed image.
The basic principles of screen printing are as follows: you push the squeegee across the screen and it draws your chosen color of ink over the photo-emulsion (housed inside the screen) and a printed image is transferred onto your shirt. That means if your shirt has multiple colors in different places on the shirt, you have to use multiple screens. We used as many as four, which is overwhelming because the base of the screen-printing machine has to be rotated each time and the registration (or calibration) of the position must be precise. The machine used to screen-print is extremely primitive and only consists of nuts, bolts and knobs that can be tightened to stay in place. Needless to say, it took hours just to get the screens in the right place but the good news is that once it is done, you can mass-produce shirts in that one pattern. So much problem-solving is involved in the entire production of shirts that it really is a wise idea to send away for your shirts to be screen-printed professionally because those companies will have a team of specialized individuals doing this. That being said, you will miss out on the opportunity to gain the fulfillment that we will get that everyone at the company's going to be wearing shirts we made!
The pile of 60 American Apparel blank shirts in all different sizes that we had to begin with

Colors for 4-shades of green/blue shirts
Before we could print, we had to spend time doing labor-intensive color-mixing, we began with flat one-colored shirts in black, white, and cyan. The colors are very specific and we had to match a pre-approved template mock-up off the computer and let me tell you, it is much more difficult to get colors to match than you would think without causing waste or making too little of each. We were also starting out from just base colors of green, blue, yellow, white, black and red (the latter color gave us tons of problems because it was old and cakey and would clog up our screen).

The maestro perfecting the process
Then when we finished these shirts, we dove straight into the most complex design: the 3D shirt. This design was by far the hardest for us to accomplish because the red paint was tripping us up to the point where we had to clean the red-screen each time we did a shirt on both sides with a screen opener solution. Then we had to be careful that the screen was completely dry each time so that it did not smear the shirts. The placement of the colors in this design is absolutely crucial because the red and blue dye slightly overlap and this overlap is made up of a dark grayish tone, to simulate a faux 3D effect. After each color pass, it is vital to 'cook' the shirt or place it under an industrial heater for a few seconds (but not too much because it would burn the shirt) to let the color set before going onto the next one so you do not create a mess on the under-side of each screen. This hiccup would then be transferred on each subsequent shirt, rendering it messy and useless.

Completed 3D design Superfad shirt
Completed four-shade design in green

The next day, we braved another tough design, this one included four-shades of cyan or green, creating two different tones of the pattern. By now, we had become pros, a well-oiled machine making beautiful and memorable t-shirts. I'm extremely happy with the way they all turned out, and with t-shirts we found lying around in a box around the office from previous passes at t-shirt making, we created so many different options of shirts that nobody in the office will be dressed the same. These shirts have a real authenticity to them, you can feel the logo and it makes a lasting impression like beautiful graffiti designed by one of my favorite artists. I had so much fun doing this, I think if you have the opportunity to do it, everyone should experience it at least once, so you know what you're paying for every time you buy a screen-printed t-shirt.
Piles of varied styles when we finished

Piles of one-color t-shirts

5 comments :

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  3. This is great. I need a Plastic cards printing machine, where i can get the best one?

    ReplyDelete
  4. wow, Great, I think, We can make it easily at home....by flowing your topics..
    Thanks for sharing with us...

    ReplyDelete

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