Imagine you have an awesome design idea and decided you want to screen print it on some t-shirts or face masks.
You turn to almighty Google for some direction, but you quickly realize that everything you’re reading sounds alien!
Don’t worry, this is why you’re here and this is why this list exists.
Do you know your As from Zs in screen printing slang?
Below, I’ve compiled a glossary of all the basic screen printing jargon and terminology that you can pick up to sound like you’ve been doing this for years!
Let’s get to it!
A fabric that is a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester.
A printing method that covers an entire t-shirt. Usually used in screen printing and sublimation.
Also known as the design – image or text – that will be printed onto a garment.
A carousel press or screen printing press that utilizes a pneumatic or hydraulic system to print. Automatic screen presses can be found in top manufacturing centers with a high output rate. The print quality is higher compared to manual presses.
Also known as a raster graphic, is a digital image that is made up of tiny dots called pixels. A pixel is tiny square that is assigned a color and then arranged in a pattern to form the image. Here’s a cool explanation. Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw is a bitmap graphics editor, as opposed to Adobe Illustrator, which is a vector editor.
When ink overflows or passes over the intended area. This usually happens when too much pressure is applied during printing or the wrong squeegee is used.
When two or more inks are mixed together to create a new color or effect e.g. gradient.
Usually when speaking about screen exposure and ‘blocking out’ UV light. Also considered the act of adding a small patch to cover an open pinhole of mesh.
The act of exposing an emulsion coated screen to a light source to create a stencil. Getting a perfect ‘burn’ means getting a perfectly exposed stencil.
When ink colors or artworks are aligned perfectly without any overlap or space in between them. Usually done when aligning screens before printing, in other words the screens are ‘butt up’ perfectly against each other.
Short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Also known as four-color process or full-color process printing. That, when combined, can produce any color depending on the density of each base color (CMYK). Process printing requires a white background or white ink under base to produce prints on fabric.
Artwork or design that is ready to proceed to the next phase of screen printing – usually being exposed or ‘burned’ onto film or vellum to create a stencil. Usually the art has been approved by all parties especially the client.
A film that has been factory-coated with emulsion and is ready for ‘burning’ or being exposed, to create a stencil for printing. Requires special equipment to process.
A rotary screen printing press. Small rotary press can start with a 1 color, 1 station, up to 16 colors with 16 stations.
An ink additive that promotes ink bonding to nylon and synthetic fabric. For example, 900 Series Nylon Ink require IC 900 Catalyst to get the ink to adhere to fabric.
Describes the garment’s ability to survive repeated washes after printing without the artwork losing any color.
The process of separating a full-color image into individual colors. This is to break down the image so each color will have its own screen printing frame. Color separation is usually done in-house.
The amount of ink laid down on a garment during printing.
The process of drying ink or ‘setting the ink’ with heat. All screen printing ink requires curing at a certain temperature to completely bind with the garment or fabric. If ink isn’t properly “cured”, it will not withstand washing.
The process of washing screens to remove contaminants like dust, dirt, oil and other chemical residue. Properly degreasing will keep the emulsion from separating from the screen mesh, which is crucial for the next screen printing job. Using a proper degreaser instead of household detergent is recommended.
One of the three types of liquid emulsion, diazo emulsions is mixed with raw polymers. This type is recommended for beginners because it takes longer to expose but produces good-quality stencils. Also, the emulsion changes color after exposure so it’s easy to spot pinholes in your coating.
This type of ink works by removing the dye from the fabric. Used to print light colors onto dark fabric and allows for vibrant prints that you can’t feel (soft hand). For more, check out this article.
The size of the image or design that is being printed.
DPI or “dots per inch”
The measurement of the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within a span of 1 inch. This is used to refer to spatial printing and video dot density.
One of the three types of emulsion (along with diazo and photopolymer). A hybrid emulsion created by combining diazo and photopolymer in one, dual-core emulsion produces finer stencils than diazo, is less expensive than photopolymer, and resists humidity.
Refers to the hardness or stiffness of the squeegee blade.
Mesh fabric that has been tinted with color to reduce light transmission.
This is the most important component of screen printing. This photo/light sensitive liquid hardens up when exposed to UV rays, and becomes water resistant. The fuss about this is whether or not to get it separate (sensitizer + emulsion) or premixed a.k.a instant ones. I’ve tried both, they work the same and the cost is negligible between the two if you’re starting out.
Emulsion Remover a.k.a Reclaimer
Once the job is done, you’ll need to strip the stencil off and reclaim your screen. Like emulsions, they come premixed. Companies that manufacture emulsion usually manufacture reclaimers too, so just go ahead with the favorite. Also known as a stencil stripper or remover.
Emulsion Scoop Coater
In general, get a scoop coater that is at least an inch shorter in length than your screen. This way, you would only coat 6 inches of that 7 or 8 inch screen of yours.
A machine that emits UV light to expose screens for making photo stencils.
A term used to refer to a film positive.
A print that has around or oval imperfection with a dark center. Producing a print with a fisheye means the previous stencil was not completely removed.
Foil that can be placed on a shirt. Placed using a special technique that involves a screen, special glue and a little additional heat.
The process of printing the same color twice onto fabric most often used when printing light-colored ink on a dark material; 2. applying heat to a substrate while it is still on the press to gel the top layer of ink. Remember, flash dried ink is not completely cured and will not withstand washing.
The act of filling the open stencil areas and mesh with ink before pushing the ink through.
There are two types, metal (aluminum) and wooden. Both have their pros and cons. Metal frames are pricier, but will last. Wooden frames are economical but will warp (after washing it multiple times) after a while, this will leave an uneven print. However, there are excellent quality wooden frames. My advice is to start off with a wooden frame – before buying, make sure to lay it on a flat surface and test the evenness. Get those with box joints, mortise, or tenon jointed.
Ghost Image (Ghost Print)
A faint but visible image on the screen leftover from a previous ink or artwork.
The process of creating images through the use of dots. These tiny dots vary in size, shape and spacing to reproduce shading, color blends and to provide depth. Halftones are specified in LPI (lines per inch). Higher LPI produces finer detail. If you’re just starting out with halftones, here’s how to create them the easy way.
Hand-feel or Hand
A term used typically in the fashion and textile industries to describe the texture or feel of a print on fabric e.g. t-shirts. A “soft hand” feel is a print that is smooth to the touch and is often accomplished using water-based inks and/or discharge printing.
There are two basic types of screen printing haze – stains that are left by the printing ink and ones left by the emulsion.
The severity of ghosting often depends on the type of ink used. For example, catalyzed inks contain solvents that react with low-surface-energy substrates to improve ink adhesion. These types of inks can create ghost haze that is difficult to remove. Inks also contain pigments that get trapped in between the knuckles of the mesh, bond to the mesh, or become partially dissolved by hot solvents and slightly penetrate the mesh.
Another area we think about is the negative image created by the stenciled parts of the screen. Here, the emulsion or film used to define the customer’s artwork most often causes the ghost haze; however, the ghosting can be attributed to a combination of the emulsion and the ink staining the mesh in these areas.
A one or two part chemical remover used to clean faint ink stains or ghost images from the screen mesh.
Water based ink that provides an intense and vibrant print. Done by placing a white underbase.
The section on the screen where the image appears.
Refers to chemical agents that can be added to the ink to change viscosity, adhesion, drying time and more.
Jumbo print is typically a print size around 19”x 33”.
Where the graphic is placed on your shirt.
The “pocket area” on your shirt.
Artwork consisting only of outlines filled solid with no halftones.
“lines per inch” are printing lines of dots that create halftone dots for exposure.
A screen printing press, either single-color (1×1), 2-color (2×1, 2×2 or 2×4), 4- color press (4×1, 4×2, 4×4), 6,8,10, etc; that is operated manually by hand.
The actual woven screen that contains very small squares which ink passes through.
Typically made from polyester that you stretch across a screen printing frame. Comes in rolls like fabric.
What pixels are to images, mesh count is to screen printing. The higher the mesh count, the more details you can produce.
In the t-shirt world, it’s the amount of threads of mesh that cross per square inch. Typical mesh counts are between 110 to 160 (US standard) for EU, UK or Asia this is between 1100 to 1750.
Why don’t l just get 240 then? I know, detail is good, but unless you’re printing posters or onto a hard and smooth surface, you’ll want mesh holes big enough for paint to go through as you apply pressure on with a squeegee. Too small a hole and you won’t get that full print you want. See the levels below:
Mesh Count Ink Matching
- 24 – 86 count: ideal for specialty ink
- 110: for light-colored ink such as white, cream, yellow
- 160: for dark ink such as black, navy.
- 200 – 230: for highly detailed artwork.
- 230 – 305: for super-fine detail printing, halftones, solvent based inks and CMYK process prints.
A finished print with a defect.
A chemical cleaner used to remove ink from screens but not emulsion allowing the stencil to be used again.
The ink’s ability to cover the color of the substrate. For example, it is important to have a white ink with a high opacity to use as an under base for printing on dark-colored garments.
A defect that results in the print having an orange peel or basketball-like texture usually caused by the ink sticking to the mesh or low ink viscosity.
An oversized print that typically starts at 17”x22”
Fabric that is made out from a blend of cotton, polyester or rayon.
A plastic based ink. Popular in the 80s and 90s because of it’s long-lasting, washable print on fabric. Plastisol ink must be cured with heat to survive washing.
Pallet or Platen
A smooth flat surface for holding the garment during the printing process. Part of a screen printing press.
A small hole in the stencil that allows unwanted ink to pass through the screen leaving behind dots on the finished print.
Short for Pantone Color Matching System. An industry method of matching colors developed by Pantone.
Pull or Push
Referring to the action of squeegee-ing ink onto the fabric while screen printing. Read: Do you Pull or Push Your Squeegee?
One of the three types of emulsion ( along with diazo and dual-cure). Photopolymer emulsion is the most light sensitive, expensive, and has the longest shelf-life. Recommended for experienced screen printers and those working with solvent-based inks.
The process of removing emulsion from the screen so it can be reused.
An alignment process to align one color of artwork with another. Prints of more than one color must have each color applied separately with its individual screen. Also, all screens must be lined up correctly with each other as not to overlap or blend.
An ink additive that slows the drying time of the ink.
Aluminum or wooden frame with mesh tightly strung in the center. When purchasing a screen consider what type of screen frame is right for you: wooden frames are less expensive but aluminum frames last longer and do not warp when wet.
A chemical that removes clogged dried ink from a stencil.
Also known as color separation when it comes to multi-colored design. Seps are when the art department separates individual colors for printing.
Standard is in reference to a standard print, which is 14”x17”.
A process for making color rich shirts. It’s like CMYK on steroids.
The screen we use to print our shirts on. High quality and high end. A screen made of fine mesh that is used in the screen printing process. Also used to refer to a print created using a silkscreen.
Another name for the screen printing process. Read: The Real History of Screen Printing
An oil-based ink typically used for printing on hard surfaces like plastic, glass, metal and more.
Pallet adhesives used to keep garments in place during printing.
Ink that makes a print look visually interesting and textured. Some specialty inks examples include metallic, glitter, high density, glow-in-the-dark, puff, reflective, and gel.
The uncovered portion of the screen that allows ink through the mesh during the printing process.
A flat rubber blade used to control the flow of ink that goes on fabric. There are three types of squeegee blades, the most commonly used are the flat heads a.k.a rectangular tips, the ball nose, and then there are the pointers a.k.a V-Shapes.
A flexible rubber urethane or plastic blade attached to a handle. By running the blade over the screen, ink is forced through the mesh making a print.
Industry term any item or material that’s being printed. e.g. t-shirts, koozies, totebag, glassware.
The tightness of the screen mesh measured in newtons.
A shirt that is a blend of cotton, polyester and rayon.
Ultraviolet (UV) Light
Light that consists of electromagnetic waves. Also called black light, UV light is used for exposing screens and curing certain types of ink.
The first layer of ink on the garment that when cured acts as the base for all other colors. For example, a white under base is needed if you are printing on a dark garment or with multi colors.
Ink the cures only when exposed to UV light.
Created with a software program like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, a vector is a clean, camera-ready piece of artwork that can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality.
A type of translucent paper that is used to create a film positive with a laser printer.
The thickness or thinness of the ink.
The act of applying water to an emulsion coated screen after exposure to develop the image on the screen.
Water soluble ink that dyes the garment and becomes a part of the fabric. Unlike Plastisol ink which sits on top of the fabric.
The act of consecutively printing color without flash curing in between.
There you have it! All the basic screen printing jargon you’ll ever need to navigate through the world of printers!