General Textile Screen Printing

Performance with a Purpose

In a recent meeting with one of our larger and long-time clients that manufactures several branded clothing lines that we participate in creating, we discussed topics including future line development, pricing, production schedules and the project we will share with you here. Our customer interrupted the business-as-usual conversation by paging one of his salespeople who then joined us in the conference room. Our new friend, we learned, tragically lost his young daughter, Amanda and recently had set up a fundraiser/charity event and fun run in her name called Miles of Smiles. Our client had designed a cute image to be printed on the front and back of performance running shirts. If the cause wasn’t reason enough to get in on this project, thinking of our own daughters sealed the deal. One more small detail, however. It was Tuesday and the run was Saturday.

Going the extra mile

The design team showed us what they had in mind with a story board and paper print outs to size. It wouldn’t be a real difficult piece—looked like about a four- to five-color front and a one-color back. Since we work with this customer often, we get most files ready to use. Not so fast this time though. The imagery was created in some design program that we couldn’t open so we asked for a PDF, thinking we could use the spot colors in vector format for separations. We should have known better. The designer saved the file as a flat JPEG and then to a PDF… not exactly what we had in mind. Upon further examination we found that at least it was a high-res PDF of the JPEG. Finally some good news—this, we could make work.

We imported the file into Illustrator, where we would do our tracing to recreate the image in vector spot colors in layers for our separations. Under the tracing options, we selected the object and performed a live trace. We started with a six-color trace but ultimately changed to a five-color max trace because we saw only red, green, yellow, blue and the background color, white. With the preview box checked (so we can see what we are doing along the way), we adjusted our path fitting, minimum area and corner angle until the preview looked very close to the original JPEG. Once we had it dialed in we went ahead and hit our trace for real and then expanded it. This doesn’t always work smoothly if images are lower resolution, but we got lucky on this one. Better to be lucky and good, right? We were all set to output the spot color layer separations right out of Illustrator to our RIP and inkjet output device. We double checked our films and hung them on carrier sheets using our pre-registration system. We were ready for screens.

Fun press run

Because the print would go on performance fabric, we would print a nice thin ink deposit that penetrates but leaves the fabric breathable. We ran all our colors on 305 tpi (threads per inch) at 30 N/cm. The stencil was built using good dual cure emulsion coated two/three, ending with the squeegee side, for a standard 12 percent eom (emulsion over mesh) goal.

The print order was pretty standard—all wet-on-wet with the colors ordered by those with the least ink coverage to the most (and/or light to dark). We used an 80 durometer squeegee blade as we do for much of this type of printing, where we want an ultra thin deposit on a smooth white fabric. On this very basic graphic, we seemed to get a nice smooth layer of ink to hide the garment but without a heavy hand. Each color was custom and would need to be matched using our PMS matching system and digital scale. The red was PMS 186c, the blue 300c and the yellow 109c; all pretty common. We’ve mixed these before, so no problem there. The green was the tricky color for this design. The client chose PMS Green 377c, but lighter. Gotta love that. We added about 5 percent white to our standard mix to pastel it out. We also added 20 percent curable reducer to each ink, again, to keep a breathable print on the performance fabric and allow the ink to flow well through a high mesh during manual printing. Setup was a breeze on the pre-registration system. A couple of minor tweaks and we were ready to go in about 10 minutes. The run was only thirty six pieces and took only an hour and half to complete.

The long-sleeve performance running shirts turned out clean and matched the paper proofs from the design department very well. We covered the cost of the project; it’s just the right thing to do. The fundraiser and event went great with a good turnout—and we even ran in the fun run!

Lon Winters

About the Author

Industry consultant Lon Winters is president of Print This, Inc. and Graphic Elephants, LLC. During more than twenty years in screen printing, he has won more than 40 international industry awards. Those include SGIA Golden Image Awards, Printwear Awards, Impressions Awards, and FESPA Honors. He is an honorary Golden Image judge; has published numerous articles and monthly columns; and leads seminars and workshops for a wide array of industry professionals.

Since the day he began his career by reclaiming screens, Lon has been involved in virtually every aspect of screen printing and embroidery. After managing operations large and small, Lon launched businesses dedicated to training, and consulting.

Print This conducts popular seminars and workshops around the world for manufacturers, vendors, and garment decorators.

Graphic Elephants is a screen print and embroidery design and development studio specializing in new techniques for clients with high-end work and short lead times.

Located in Elizabeth, Colorado, Lon can be reached by phone at 303-910-0477 and by email at His website is

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