The Screen Printing Devil’s in the Details

screen printing details featured image

Screen printing details like small text can be difficult. As always, how well we can do this depends on how well we set up the color separations.

This blog circulates around teaching you guys how to make the best color seps possible. In doing so, we also need to talk about troublesome issues and things we simply shouldn’t do.

The fine print

Small fonts can be a pain in the neck for any screen printer. A long list of student names on a graduation shirt is a good example of this.

As a general rule, if you can, leave the small text to be output as vectored items through Illustrator. Photoshop can handle them but Illustrator will give you the cleanest results.

illustrator vs photoshop

Comparing 8pt text zoomed in to 1200% and 300% in Illustrator and Photoshop respectively.

Notice the pixilated edges on the text done in Photoshop. This would come out in the final separations as solid text with halftoned edges. So, if the choice to output via Illustrator is there, take it!

If you have to have text like this sepped in Photoshop, isolate it and harden up the edges with a levels adjustment.

While we’re talking about small print, we should also address using halftones on small text, which is something we should never do. An easy way to avoid this is to keep the physical limitations of the screen printing process in mind.

Keep the process in mind

Screen printing is about pushing a somewhat thick ink through a mesh screen. This ink eventually sits on a substrate that has texture—meaning it’s not flat. Essentially, this limits us to how small we can print something.

In the case of text, try to keep your smallest text like legal lines (copyrights) to around 8 points. Anything below that starts to get too small and could cause trouble. Have you ever tried to wash out 5pt text or a .25pt stroke?

Don’t halftone small areas

Another thing to avoid is putting halftones in an area too small to accept them. For instance, don’t halftone small text. Don’t halftone within thin lines and strokes either.

There are simply too many things that can go wrong if you do. For instance:

  • you might miss some of the halftones during the screen washing process.
  • you might miss some and wash out others, creating moire.
  • you might wash out some on one part of the graphic and not in another, creating inconsistencies in the print.

Again, you can think about the screen printing process to help you remember this. Halftoning anything in small text and/or small areas is simply asking for trouble.

dont halftone small text

8pt text zoomed in to 300% in Photoshop – 50lpi halftone dot is almost illegible at this size.

Strokes (or lines) that are too small for halftone dots should be solid. Even if this means changing the art a little bit, placing halftone dots into a small line should be avoided at all costs.

When screen printing details this small, you need to be deliberate so keep your text solid!

Size definitely matters

Yes, bigger is better…especially when it comes to creating color separations for screen printing onto a tee shirt.

We should always keep in mind that an image that looks good as a full back imprint isn’t going to look as good as a left chest imprint.

screen printing details

Screen printing details on the left chest imprint might prove to be harder than expected.

Once we start to make things smaller, especially down to the size of a left chest, we need to be careful of the points we spoke about before. When doing this, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is that going to look okay or is it going to look like a printing mistake?
  • Can I hold a line that small on my screens?
  • If I changed it to print better, would that make the image look better or worse?

Again, we are pushing ink through small openings in emulsion, then through small openings in a mesh screen. We simply cannot keep some of the detail we’d like to. The example above is simple. But what if the image has a lot of detail?

For instance, stars might look good on a full back imprint. But they’ll look like pinholes when shrunk down to left chest size.

A snake might look nice and menacing on a full back. But on a left chest, could you hold enough detail to even be able to recognize it as a snake to begin with?

Your customer won’t realize these things. They’re simply excited to get their shirts printed. So it’s up to you to guide them before they start spending their money.

They will really appreciate you for this. And customers who appreciate you tend to continue to do business with you.

Screen printing details

As always, make sure to make the necessary changes during (or before) the separations process! It’s much less expensive to change something in the computer than it is to change something once on press.

Comments 2

  1. I’m in charge of designing the shirts for an upcoming family reunion. This provided good insight, especially to be careful when it comes to detail. It was helpful since it tossed a few of my ideas out the window.

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