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How Many Screens Does My Shirt Need?
Designing the perfect t-shirt is no easy task.

From brainstorming to printing, there are many decisions that go into the entire design process. One of the most critical decisions from a cost perspective is color choice. As a general rule, the more colors in your design, the more expensive it will be to print. This is due to something called screens.

In short, screenprinting is the process of pressing ink through a mesh screen. The process is complicated because each color needs to go through a screen individually and in a layered fashion. It is easy to assume that if you have a design with three colors – green, blue, and white – you would only require three screens. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Base Layer Screen

Let’s say that you’d like to print this green, blue, and white design onto a black shirt (or any colored shirt). Before printing any color, a layer of base white would be printed in the shape of the design onto the shirt. Think of this as a paint primer. The base layer of white allows the blue and the green in your design to show up more vibrantly than if they were printed directly onto the shirt.

Color Screens

The next step is to apply your colors. During this process, each color is layered on top of the other in separate screens. In this case, that would include the blue and the green colors. One of the only areas of concern during this process is whether the base layer is visible under the color. It is possible to use a process called “choke” to make sure that no white base layer bleeds through.

Highlight Screens

After the colors are printed, the final step is to add the white color from the original design. Many people think that the white used for the base layer should be sufficient. However, after having two screens (the blue and green) printed on top of it, the white color has been pushed further into the fabric, making it dull and lifeless. To give the screen print a stunning finishing touch, another screen for the white aspects of the design is printed on top of the color screens. This is called the “highlight.”

Exceptions to the Rule

There are a few instances in which a base layer may not be necessary, cutting down on the total number of screens required for printing. The first is if the screens will be printed on a white t-shirt. The white of the t-shirt will serve as the base layer in this case. The second time a base layer is unnecessary is if you are looking for a vintage print. This means that you are looking for a more faded appearance, where the shirt fibers still show through the design. Vintage prints are possible on almost any shirt color.

At Jersey Ink, our goal is to print you a vibrant and lively t-shirt. If you’d like to talk with us more about the process or how many screens your project will need, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

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