Screen Printing: Set up costs and learning

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Screen Printing in NW Custom Apparel

Modern Screen Printing

Modern screen printing involves making a “screen” for each color of imprint in a design. A screen is a device whereby mesh fabric is stretched across a frame and secured to it. The screen is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion and a graphic image or design is then placed on the screen either with a transparent medium with opaque graphics on the film (or a milky white substrate called Vellum™) or imaged onto the screen via a digital process that directly applies ink onto the screen’s emulsion surface. The imaging process will eventually permit only the design elements to be washed out of the screen. After the screen is dried and sometimes touched up to eliminate imperfections, it is positioned onto another device — a screen printing press — to hold it in place during the printing process. In this technology, ink is forced with a squeegee through the screen’s mesh onto whatever’s underneath it -a T-shirt, a jacket, a sign or banner, pressure-sensitive label stock, etc.

Screen Printing machine for T-shirts

Screen Printing machine for T-shirts

Setting up costs

Setting up a textile screen printing shop with new equipment will run between $10,000 and $20,000 at minimum for basic manual equipment (a press, an infrared dryer, an exposure unit for imaging screens), start up supplies and hardware. Used equipment is also available. A new automatic press will run anywhere from $16,000 lo $80,000.

Learning textile screen printing

The learning curve of textile screen printing will take but a few days of training, practice, and hands-on experience to gain a basic ability to screen print on a manual press, one without motors, robotic arms, or any high-efficiency add-ons. Learning how to operate an automatic press will take a few additional days to learn. But achieving a command of the subtleties, nuances, and a myriad of variables that ensue with mastering the process will take months. And as some  highly-skilled screen printing technicians will attest, it can take perhaps years when it comes to being able to see a highly complex job and quickly evaluate it as “a piece of cake!” Training, instruction (including some great video training), and technical experts throughout the nation are widely available. And affordable.


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!