Screen printing details like small text or detail can be difficult. As always, how well Bluelime GraFX can do this depends on how well we set up your job from the start.
Our goal is to teach our clients how to understand that all things are just not possible with certain printing processes. In doing so, we also need to talk about some issues and things we simply shouldn’t do.
Small text can be a pain in the rear-end for any of us screen printers. Those lists of student names on a graduation shirt is a good example of this.
As a general rule of thumb, if we can, we use vector (Illustrator, Corel, and the like) graphics. Rastor (Photoshop) images can work but vector graphics will ALWAYS give us the cleanest results. Below is an example of what we are talking about. Still, even with vector graphics, there comes a time that things are just too small to print. This is due to how the threads that make up the screen block out areas of the image, undercutting of the light source during the exposing of the screens and so on.
Notice the pixilated edges on the bottom version? This would come out in the production of the positives as solid text with halftoned edges, but it also is the same on larger images. So, if the choice to output via vector is there, we take it over rater any day! This makes all of our lives easier, and who doesn’t like easier?
If we have to have art like this separated out in raster, there are steps we have to take which creates more cost for all of us. We are all about trying to help our clients get the best quality for their money. Naturally higher quality means higher costs!
While we’re talking about all this, we also need to address using halftones, which is something that causes more time to set your job up for final print. An easy way to avoid this is to keep the physical limitations of the screen printing process in mind. We discuss this in more detail below.
It Is All About Processes
Screen printing is about pushing a thick paste called ink through a mesh screen. This ink eventually sits on a substrate that has texture (like a T-shirt)—meaning it’s not flat. Essentially, this limits us to how small any screen printer can print something. It doesn’t matter how state of the art their equipment may be, it just won’t happen.
If you don’t believe us, how about trying to blow a whole lemon through a normal drinking straw from any fast food joint and you will know what we mean.
More On Halftones
We are not trying to poo poo on printing anything other than vectored art. What we here at Bluelime GraFX are saying is that time is always money and most customers have been lead to believe that screen printing only cost pennies to have produced. This has come from all those screen printing businesses that are no longer in business or the new ones thinking that the race to the bottom of price is how you win business. Again they are out of business or will be very soon if they keep that mind set up. We, among all the other screen printing companies that are still in business know the customer base. Most people want the moon and stars on a budget. We have to face the reality that budget means low quality. The first thing we will have to do on a “budget” is cut our costs to afford to pay for overhead. Think about how many jobs we as a society have had to get rid of for someone to have to go on the unemployment line just to keep a “budget”? There is no other way around this problem; you can only go so low before automation moves in and people have to move out.
Halftones are printable and they can look totally AWESOME if everything aligns perfectly (enough) to make a wonderful looking print. This depends on things like the emulsion, exposure lighting, humidity, screen tension and so on.
There are simply too many things that can go wrong when producing halftone prints. For instance:
- you might miss some of the halftones during the screen washing process.
- you might miss some and wash out others, creating a moire effect in the final print.
- you might wash out some on one part of the graphic and not in another, creating inconsistencies in the print.
Again, you can think about the screen printing process to help you remember this. Halftoning anything large or small can simply have bad results making screen printers have to go back as far as the art department to solve these issues.
Like earlier in this blog, strokes (or lines) that are too small for halftone dots should be solid (vector). Even if this means changing the art a little bit, placing halftone dots into a small line is something that screen printing companies avoided at all costs or we have very unhappy clients.
When screen printing details that are small, we deliberately have to enlarge those areas!
How Does The Old Saying Go?
Size really does matter! At least in this case bigger is better…especially when it comes to creating color separations for screen printing onto a t-shirt.
You should always keep in mind that an image that looks awesome as a full back screen print isn’t going to look as good as a left chest screen print.
Once we have to make your art smaller, especially down to the size of a left chest or sleeve print, we need to be careful of the topics we spoke about earlier in this blog. When doing this, ask yourself these questions:
- Did my detail become a blob once I squinted my eyes?
- Can the screen printing company hold a line that small on my screens?
- If I changed anything, would that make my art look better or worse?
Again, we are pushing ink through small openings in emulsion, then through small openings in a mesh screen. We simply cannot keep some of the detail we’d like to.
For instance, stars in the American flag might look good on a full back imprint. But they’ll look like dots when shrunk down to smaller sizes like a left chest print or a sleeve print.
A snake might make you look like a bad ass with your motorcycle gang rolling down the road in a pack on a full back. But on a left chest, that cobra snake might look more like an earthworm sitting under a cocktail umbrella. Try explaining that to your MC gang when you were in charge of getting them a shirt they could wear around a big meet of all kinds of other bikers. That my friends could end very badly!
Customers don’t realize these things. They’re simply excited to get their shirts printed. So it’s up to us at Bluelime GraFX to guide you before you start spending your money.
Our clients really appreciate us for this. And the clients who appreciate this tend to continue to do business with us.