11 Things I Have Learned On My Screen Printing Journey

Never Stop Learning

It was a big deal deciding to undertake screenprinting as a major part of my business. Larger space, equipment, money, oh and the fact that I had no idea how to screenprint came into play as well. But here I am a few years later. A screenprinter. Still learning? You betcha. Here are a few of the many things I have picked up that may help you on your journey as well. 


When I first started out I had no equipment and just desire. I took a class and a few months later I bought my first gear. But i didn’t have a place to set it all up so there was a period where I wasn’t printing but I wanted to make sure I was still learning. So I read every book, inline forum, YouTube videos, talked to other shops, visited local printers. I immersed myself in the process so much that when I finally got to printing on a regular basis I felt like I had done so much of it before.


Like anything learning something new can be daunting. In screen printing there are so many little steps that need to be done in the right order for exact amounts of time etc. At first I was afraid to mess up and that stopped from even starting. I had taken classes, read books, videos bought gear and all that but it took me awhile to get up the gumption to just jump in and go.


Because you will. A lot. Constantly. And many through no fault of your own. If your room is a bit more humid it may take longer for your emulsion to dry and you get a bad burn. Or you may stack your prints and the humidity has made what should be dry ink sticky again. Most times with proper setup everything will be smooth as silk 100 times and then just stop you in your tracks. Which brings me to...


There have been days where I have been a print superstar. Razor tight registrations, ripping through several jobs in a day. Just killing it. And then there are days where nothing goes right. Sometimes those are the same day. Roll with it. Try your best to to take a step back and troubleshoot the issues but in the end if you need to and you can, walk away. The more frustrated you get the more things will fall apart.


As soon as I started to learn I started to teach. Even when I didn’t know the solutions to some issues that came up I was still showing others what I learned up to that point. I feel that this accelerated my learning so much faster. Having someone else there with their own unique approach to doing things gets you thinking outside the box in how you can approach things. It’s sort of like music. Playing a gig is worth 10 rehearsals. Also a great way to build up community! It the reasons why doing Workshops, Team-Build Events, and Private Lessons are so important to me.


So I know printers who can school my ass with the jankiest gear out there printing everything from their bathroom and broom closet. But there is no question that having the right equipment makes the job easier and removes a few things from the equation that could cause some issues throughout the process. So when I started I bought out a small home-based shop that didn’t have starter gear but just a few steps up from it. And he was cranking out product left and right. Once I really saw how much I loved screen printing and opened up my shop in Durham, it was time to go big or go home. I invested in some top-shelf equipment from Vastex, still utilize some of original start up equipment I have, and my wife and I (mostly my wife) built some things as well to save a ton of money. In fact, all my flat stock printing gear is 100% hand built. In the end, you do you. Do what works, do what you can afford and what your space can handle. But if you can start mixing in some higher end gear you will see the results in time saved. And time is money.


When I started out I didn’t have a fancy conveyor dryer. Nope. I had a regular ol bottom of the line coil flash cure unit. I knew to cure inks on shirts you had to heat the ink to a certain temp for a certain amount of time to make sure it cures. For my inks that sat between 320 and 350 degrees for 2 1/2 minutes. One. Shirt. At. A. Time. Getting a simple laser thermometer helped ensure I was getting decent cures with not so decent equipment. Now that I have a fancy Vastex forced air conveyor dryer, curing woes are a thing of the past (usually) and production has sped up greatly. Set the dryer really low and you can even dry paper products faster. But be careful there, you don’t want to curl the paper.


I started with Jacquard and moved onto CCI and then Green Galaxy Water-based inks for fabric. It can be personal preference, or even suited to whatever substrate you are printing on. Play around. You will find your favorite. Green Galaxy inks are hands down my favorite for apparel printing. They have incredible open air time and just lay down great.  For flatstock I keep Speedball colors and bases handy as they lay down nice and opaque on dark colors (at the least the yellow does) So don’t limit yourself by swearing allegiance to just one brand. Play the field. 

Even when I didn’t know the solutions to some issues that came up I was still showing others what I learned up to that point.


Do NOT skimp on the pre-press part of the job, In fact screen printing is mostly pre-press and not that much printing overall. Taking the proper time to make sure your art is setup correctly, screens are coated nice and even, choosing the proper mesh, inks are mixed and ready to go, all your tools are laid out and within easy reach - setting up that workstation and flow can save so much time!


Set your paper out on a drying rack 24 to 48 hours before you print to get it acclimated to the environment. When ink hits that paper and the overall environment comes into play your paper / print can shrink a bit as the ink drys and it get acclimated to the humidity level in your print space. Setting the paper out 24 to 48 hours beforehand - spread out, not stacked helps it do just that. 


I started out with a pull stroke. Pulling the squeegee towards me. Then one day I tried a push stroke and I use that almost 90% of the time now. The way I load shirts, paper, the tools I use to mix, even the paper towels I use. Just because it works doesn’t mean it can’t work better. Experiment a little. Just not on client jobs! Setup some jobs for playtime and use that as your playground.