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Screen Printing 101: The Basics & Benefits Of Screen Printed Signage

So, you’ve seen the terminology, but you have no idea what screen printing is or why it’s so much cheaper than digital printing. Or, maybe you have no idea what the differences even are between the two. No problem. We’re going to clear it all up for you – that way, you will be fully informed when you decide which is best for your sign project. Ready to take some notes?

As the name implies, screen printing is the process of printing ink through screens onto substrates like coroplast or plastic or garments like t-shirts or hats. You can even screen print promotional items, like mugs and water bottles. The “old school” process is very versatile and extremely popular. But, how does it work and what makes it so popular?

The Basics of Screen Printing:

Here’s a very simplified explanation of the process – the printing company makes what are called screens, which are basically stencils made of finely threaded mesh. Those screens are then coated with an emulsion to create a design. Once the screens are coated, they are set to dry in yellow room (like photographs). Once dried, the screens go through a “wash out” process where they are rinsed clean to reveal your design. After they are dried, they are ready to be pressed. This is where a squeegee pumps ink through the screen onto the substrates one screen at a time to create the completed design. This is why when you are quoted a screen printed sign, you’re always asked how many colors are in your artwork – 1-color, 2-color, or 3-color – one screen for each color ink is needed for your product. When this entire process, called the “set up” is done, each product is printed from the same screen set whether it’s a quantity of one or one thousand.

The Benefits of Screen Printing:

  • Sounds like a complicated process, doesn’t it? Well, compared to the modernized digital printing, it is. Digitally printed products are printed from a computer generated design, which makes it a lot faster. But, faster doesn’t necessarily mean better! Screen printing is more laborious on the front end, but the end product has a few advantages that are quite beneficial. For example, the inks used in screen printing are heavier, thicker, more vibrant and better quality. What does that mean for your products? Well, screen printed inks are more durable and adhere to products better, so the color-rich designs on your screen-printed t-shirts will probably last through many more wash cycles than your digitally printed ones. And, as far as signage is concerned, your screen printed signs will undoubtedly last longer outdoors than those digitally printed. Keep in mind, though, protective laminates can be applied to digitally printed signage to ensure durability against sun damage and weathering for years to come.
  • What are other benefits of screen printing? Well, the most notable is probably pricing. It’s less expensive than digital printing on long runs. Again, once the set up is complete, it’s easy to print large quantities. So, the more you print, the less expensive it becomes. It is, by far, the best option for large orders on clothing or signage. Plus, you can screen print on virtually any surface – flat, rounded, textured. Mugs, cups, t-shirts, signs – you name it, it’s possible.

The Disadvantages of Screen Printing:

  • Screen printing has some distinct advantages, but don’t discount digital printing just yet. Digital printing is a lot faster and is much better for detailed, intricate designs that have shadows, gradients, and other graphic effects. Though they are better for color matching, screen printing inks are too heavy and thick for the fine lines and meticulous patterns. Digital printing uses less ink, which makes details possible and a higher resolution very likely. Plus, digital printing can handle full-color designs with no problem – not a viable option with screen printing. And, unfortunately, the set up for screen printing is too time-consuming and simply not at all cost effective for small jobs – like one t-shirt or just a few signs. In some instances, you’d pay more for the setup fee than for your order. With digital printing, there is no setup, and therefore no set up fee.

So, which of the two is better? Well, that depends on your project. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both processes. Are you looking for high quantity and low cost? Go with screen printing. But for fast turnaround and high resolution choose digital printing. It’s important to know the key differences so you can gauge your expectations accordingly. They both have earned their merit it the signage industry and in the world of printing at large.

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