Blog, Industry Tips, Marketing, T-Shirts

How to Choose a Screen Printer for your clothing line


Selecting a screen printer to handle your clothing line can often be a tough decision. You want a good price, but you also want good quality. Should you go local so you can see the shop and preview your shirts being printed? Or can you chance going through a printer in another state to get a better deal?

Usually the best way to find a good printer is through the recommendation of someone who’s used them before. If you don’t have that, this article should help you ask the right questions and know what to beware of when doing your research.

Screen Printing machine for T-shirts

Avoid companies who can’t print more than 6 colors per design

Much of the screen printing industry is still operating out of garages and small shops. If a screen printer can only do 4-6 colors, they either only have manual presses (which usually have more inconsistencies printed over the course of a run than an automatic due to differences in pressure) or they have a very small automatic press.

Look for companies with in-house art departments.

Companies who invest in an in-house art department are the ones that are producing films/screen on site and generally have more overall familiarity with the entire production process. They also probably have been successful enough to afford artists to begin with and likely have a strong commitment to quality art and results. Plus, if there’s a mistake on one of the films, or a screen needs to be re-shot, they can do it immediately instead of waiting on an external partner.

Screen Printing Art Work

Make sure the company will provide jpg/pdf proofs prior to printing.

Even though you may send quality art to the screen printer, there’s frequently pre-press changes they need to make to your work before it’s ready to go. This is where a lot of mistakes are made. Receiving a proof from their end allows you to double check sizing, colors and confirm everything is still correct.

Look for companies who have actual photos of shirts they’ve printed on their site.

It’s one thing to see examples of the designs a company has printed, but quite another to see photos of actual shirts they’ve printed. Especially if you’re considering a non-local printer, this may be your best opportunity to evaluate their quality before trusting them with your own design.

distressed logo

Find companies who are passionately committed to quality control.

There’s a lot that can happen to a shirt, even in the best run shop. Shirts are generally hand loaded onto the press, and sometimes prints can wind up a little off-center or poorly aligned. Blowouts (where ink comes through the screen when it shouldn’t) happen all the time, and sometimes in the middle of an otherwise perfect run. These can be minor (outside of the design where they can be “blown out” after printing) or major (white dots that show up on the red part of your print); good shops will make it so you never even see them.

Look for companies who have capabilities targeted towards designer prints.

Printers who can handle over-sized prints, don’t blink when you say the words “halftones” or “pantone color matching”, offer foil, and have a wide range of specialty inks like glitter, puff and gel have clearly printed more than local school and church shirts.


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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