Real Thread are an awesome screen printing company from Florida. A little while ago we had a T-shirt give away and they handled pretty much everything. They could not be more helpful or knowledgeable about their craft. We wanted to know more about how they work so they put this article together for Type Gang.
Screen printing is an art, and there’s no doubt about it. It takes close attention, skill, and people who care deeply about their craft.
It’s also a really fun, fascinating process! Simple in theory – only needing ink, a squeegee, and a screen – but in practice, there’s a lot of fine detail that goes into getting great screen printing results. At Real Thread, we’ve spent the past decade perfecting the process.
Here’s a look behind the curtain at the screen printing process here at Real Thread, and what we do get the perfect print on every single t-shirt.
Where It All Starts: The Design
Every single project here at Real Thread starts at the same place – the design. Part of what makes printing t-shirts so much fun is the amazing talent we have the opportunity to work with. Talented designers from all over the world, send us their art, and we get to play a role in making it come to life on some super soft t-shirts. To a screen printer, this is living the dream.
After receiving a t-shirt design, our in-house art team will create a free hi-res digital mockup of the t-shirt. We stand by our mockup as an exact representation of what the t-shirts will look like when they are delivered. We do not print anything until a mockup has been 100% approved.
At Real Thread, we specialize in printing with water-based inks. They are unique because the ink literally sinks into the fabric, dying the t-shirt, rather than sitting on top. This leaves a much more breathable, long lasting print that can’t be felt on the shirt.
Check out the video we created for a more visual look at the difference water-based printing makes compared to plastisol ink, the more industry standard.
Because of the particular nature of water-based inks and how they react differently with every single shirt , it takes a strong familiarity with colors, fabrics, and how they both react together to be able to match the color of an artwork exactly. That’s why we rely heavily on our art team and their knowledge to create the hi-res mockup, as well as prepping the ink colors for a design.
Printing Prep: Screens & Ink
Once a mockup is approved, the printing process begins! The first step here is having the screen or screens created.
The easiest way to think of how screen printing works at an incredibly simple level is to think of the screen as a giant stencil. First, the screen is covered in a layer of green material called emulsion. Emulsion is the solid part of a stencil that doesn’t let any ink through.
After that, we burn the t-shirt design onto the screen, using a CTS (computer-to-screen exposure unit). This machine knocks out some of the emulsion, creating the area that the ink will pass through. You can see this as the yellow mesh in the photo above.
The next step in the process is mixing inks to match the design. This is quite an art form, we have ink mixing masters familiar with the delicate balances of combining ink colors to achieve exact shades. We also provide Pantone matching, if a customer has specific brand colors.
Finishing Touches: Printing & Retail Details
Once the ink is mixed and ready to go, it’s time to put ink to the t-shirt. A press operator uses a laser alignment tool to align the screens and load each shirt. This ensures all shirts are perfectly positioned every time.
Once printed, shirts are loaded onto the dryer. This is nothing like a conventional clothing dryer. It is a massive piece of machinery that carries shirts through on a conveyor belt.
T-shirts are then either sent to the finishing team for any add-on services, or straight to shipping for delivery. Once quality checked, shirts are neatly folded, boxed up, and sent out to excited customers.
Screen printing dates back to the 1600’s – we are always looking for ways to innovate. Each design, ink color, and even t-shirt fabric are uniquely different, and requires a disciplined team of artists to ensure a beautiful t-shirt.
Our team of experts care deeply about the work they do and do it to ensure all our products exceed all client expectations.
Note from Type Gang:
If you are looking for a screen printer we strongly urge you to contact Real Thread. Their staff are amazing and their product quality is fantastic.