Creating a Design for screen printed apparel can be a challenge even for the most talented designers. Before a design is ever printed it is first split up into its individual colors and burned onto screens that can range in mesh counts from 40 threads per inch to over 300 threads per inch. This variance in mesh count allows for different types of inks to pass through without blocking all of the little holes in the screen. For example shimmer inks, which have suspended glitter particles, need to be printed on a mesh count of 160 or below to allow for the bigger glitter particles to pass through easily. What this means for you as a designer is inks that need to be printed on a lower count mesh are better suited for less detailed portions of your design. Because not all screen printing companies have the same quality capabilities, developing an open dialogue with your printer is key. Once you talk to your printer about color choices and types of ink they will be able to help you tweak your designs to look as good as possible once it is printed on your apparel.

Screen printing becomes more costly for every color added so most designers choose to limit themselves to about 4 colors or less. Screen printing does have some design tricks to get around these color limitations. Your printer is able to kind of cheat the system by working with the graphic designer to create what are called halftones. Using the color already in the design and a series of dots that can vary in width and spacing halftones are able to change the tint and shade of the original color by letting the color of the shirt underneath show through. Using these dots the printer is able to overlap layers of dots to create the illusion of different colors. For example, if your design has yellow and red in it you are able to use layered halftone to create the illusion of orange in your design. Using halftones you are able to create the illusion of many more colors than are really used. Taking halftones to the next level is what is called process printing. Process printing is a technique in which your design will be split up into different percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. The screen printing company will then use their press to work the same way your printer at home works combining small dots to create a full-color palate. Process printing allows the artist to create prints with a large number of colors at the price of a four-color print.

When you design for a certain genre of clothing they tend to have their own unique set of guidelines or print styles that customers have come to expect. The designers understand what they are trying to accomplish in selling that piece of apparel. Knowing why you are designing something and what the customer is looking for is just as important as having a good design. A good design will not sell well if you do not understand what your customer is looking for. Band t-shirts or concert apparel for example is something that fans purchase not only a memento of their experience but also something they will wear around as a conversation starter with their friends. For those reasons, successful designs tend to be large eye-catching prints that usually use the band's album artwork or an aspect of their design that is consistent throughout any of that band artwork and tends to become synonymous with the band itself. Band prints tend to be only a few colors to keep the price down and profit margins high. These designs will normally incorporate vibrant colors like white, orange, red, and yellow to draw the eye to the focal point of the design. Rock, Metal, and Alternative bands will sometimes make their design look distressed to give rough worn grunge feel to their apparel. Another technique some bands will use is called vintage printing on their apparel. Vintage printing is where the printer only puts a single thin layer of plastisol ink onto the apparel to create an image that is at about 80% opacity and has a soft feel to it. This technique lets a little of the fabric texture show through and is very useful if you are trying to create a design that gives the feeling of being worn and classic.

Waterbased screen print on soft t-shirt.

On the other end of the spectrum is business apparel. Business apparel has many purposes that the designer has to take into account before creating a design. Companies buy custom apparel to create an environment for both the customer and the employee. When a customer walks in and sees a group of people all wearing one shirt is gives a sense of professionalism. Custom business apparel can also be handed out or sold to help promote the business and get the word out about any event or product that might be coming up. Company apparel designs focus mainly on legibility and visibility. Designers can accomplish this by using typefaces that are read easily from a distance and bold color combinations like gold on navy or white on black. Many companies’ shirts have a smaller chest print with a company logo or name and a larger print on the back with more information and a larger graphic on the back. Work shirts tend to be simple and professional that way anyone can wear them and people will be more inclined to wear them out in public to gain more brand recognition.

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