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Published: August 28, 2021

What is Screen Printing? A Full Guide

When you are buying workwear or lanyards for your business, if you want to have a logo or text printed onto the item, you will need to decide which type of printing you want, or another option is having the details embroidered on.

One of the best options is to have your items screen printed, as this will give a high-quality finish at a cost-effective price. In this guide, we walk through the different steps of screen printing and discuss the benefits of screen printing over other options.

Key benefits of screen printing

With screen printing, you are able to add high-quality graphics onto the items, rather than compromising on graphic quality. You also have a wide range of choice when it comes to colours, whereas with other options such as embroidered graphics, there is a limited range of colours to choose from. 

Screen printing allows the creation of vivid colours, even on dark fabrics and it is added in layers, rather than being just one single layer, which gives it a better level of quality.

Screen printing ensures that graphics with fine details are displayed clearly, and the process of screen printing is ideal for creating bulk orders, which ensures costs can be kept down to a minimum, especially compared to alternatives such as embroidered logos.

How does screen printing work?

How does screen printing work?

Screen printing is a process involving pressing ink through a stencilled mesh screen to create a printed design. It is a very popular way of creating graphics for a wide range of purposes including for on clothing, canvas or paper but can also be used on materials such as glass, plastic, metal and wood. 

These are the steps to screen printing:

1. Creating the design

The design can be created in a variety of ways, such as a business can provide an existing logo to the print screen company that has already been designed to the required quality. Many screen printers will be able to provide a requested design to use, so they will consult with the person placing the order to design the required graphics. The screen print designer would then send a copy of the graphics to the customer to ensure they are happy with it.

2. Creating the stencil

Once the design is agreed upon, the next step is for the stencil to be created. This involves printing the design onto a transparent acetate film.

3. Preparing the screen

The next stage is preparing the mesh screen. The printer will need to choose the most suitable mesh screen depending on how complex the design is. Once the mesh screen is chosen it will be coated with a light reactive emulsion.

4. Exposure to light

The acetate sheet that displays the design is laid onto the emulsion-coated screen and a separate screen is used for each colour. The screen is exposed to a very bright light which is what hardens the emulsion.

5. The emulsion is washed off

As you create the layers, only the exposed areas become hardened, so there is an unhardened emulsion that is covered by the design. This should be rinsed away which will then leave the imprint of the design on the screen that the ink will pass through.

The printer will then dry the screen and check to see if the design requires any corrections. A fan can be used to speed up the drying process. Once the design is correct the stencil is ready for use.

6. Printing

Now that the stencil is ready, the next step is to place it onto the printing press. The item being printed onto is to be laid down flat, under the screen. The screen will then be pressed onto the printing board and ink is inserted and a squeegee is used to spread the screen. The ink presses into the required areas of the stencil, leaving an imprint on the item.

7. Dry and check

The final step is to dry the item using a dryer, which will cure the ink and provide a smooth finish. The item should now be ready to use.

Screen printing vs digital printing

Screen printing has been a very popular way to design t-shirt graphics and graphics on other products for many years. However, new technology such as direct to garment digital printing is now available as an alternative. 

There are pros and cons to both:

  • Screen printing takes more time to prepare and requires a skilled printer to create the stencil. 
  • A digital printer transfers the design directly onto the item, which is a much quicker process than creating the stencil.
  • Screen printing is better for when you want a texturised finish.
  • Digital printing usually provides better results for highly detailed designs.
  • Screen printing is more suitable for use on different types of materials.
  • Screen printing gives a more vibrant finish, but the colour might be slightly different on screen compared to when printed.

Which option is the cheapest?

The cost will depend on how many items you are ordering and the level of detail, including how many colours. Screen printing tends to work out more cost-effective when buying large batches, while if you are only ordering a few items, digital printing will usually be cheaper.

What items can be screen printed?

A huge range of different products can be screen printed. Clothing is one of the most common products that use screen printing to create the design for but there are lots of other items that are ideal for screen printing.

A lot of start-up business have started using screen printing to sell personalised items, such as drinking glasses, balloons and signs with names or personal messages on. Screen printing is enabling creative people to sell personalised products online, once they have bought the equipment required, they just need to get more ink to continue doing more printing, as the screen can be washed and re-used many times.

Professional printing services will usually provide you with a selection of different printing services, to suit the specific item and design that you require. For example, a t-shirt printing company could offer both screen printing and digital printing, depending on your order requirements.

Why is screen printing used?

The main reason is that it produces vivid colours, even on darker fabrics.

What printing is best for lanyards?

Lanyards can be printed using screen printing or heat transfer printing. If you are looking for a lanyard that has multiple colours and a detailed finish, heat transfer is a great option. Heat transfer printing is faster to produce, so if you need lanyards to be delivered as soon as possible, screen printing is probably not the best option, unless you pay for an express service.

Screen printed lanyards are more suitable if you are using up to three colours. The screen printing process ensures that the print is hard-wearing but is also great value for money. Screen printing can be Pantone matched to ensure that exactly the right colour is chosen to match your brand colours.

If you are looking to buy a large order of lanyards for events, an education setting or any other purpose, there are plenty of printing companies available but it is important that you choose a professional lanyard printing company.

Other factors to consider when ordering lanyards

As well as ensuring that you get the highest quality of printing, the quality of the lanyards and the clips are important factors in deciding on which company to use. For example, if you are ordering lanyards for use in a school or any work environment where there is a risk of a lanyard getting caught in machinery, it is very important to choose a lanyard with a safety-break. 

The price of lanyards will vary greatly from one company to another, so try to find a company that works out to be more cost-effective for the exact number of lanyards you are ordering. Some companies have very good bulk discounts, so check how much each company charges for your required number, rather than just looking at the price per item.

Another factor to take into consideration is whether you will be able to get a refund if you are not happy with the printed items. If you pay a large amount of money for lanyards and the quality is not good enough, you should be able to get a refund so you can order from another company. 

It might be a good idea to look at the online reviews of a printing company before you decide who to use, as this will give you a better idea of the quality you are likely to get and help to decide if it is the best company for what you are looking for. The cheapest option might not necessarily be the best option, so your decision should be based on what is most important to you. 

Screen printed lanyards are a top choice, mostly due to being affordably priced, while still being able to achieve the quality and design finish that is required to look professional and remain in good condition.

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