We could spend days explaining all the little intricacies of process printing and probably still not do justice to our experienced staff here who seem to have been born with mad printing skills. So, again, we’ll just stick to the basics. Remember mixing primary colors when you were a kid? Red and green produce yellow, red and blue make purple (actually magenta), and green and blue form a turquoise tint called cyan. Process printing uses semi-transparent inks in these secondary or ’subtractive’ colors, along with black, and overlays them in various amounts to produce a full spectrum of colors. This method is referred to as the CMYK color model…cyan, magenta, yellow, and the ‘k’ stands for key – which in this case is black. See, when you overlap these secondary colors, darker colors take on a muddied, faded tone. Black ink enhances these dark colors, creates a true black where needed, and improves the shadowing and contrast of the image. Get it? Black is the key to accurate process printing.
Now, back to the printing process. You already know about screens and that the ink is squeezed through mesh openings onto the t-shirt. Let’s elaborate on this just a bit. To print the squares on the t-shirt design above, a screen with fairly large openings in the mesh would be used so that thick, solid circles of ink are laid onto the t-shirt. All of these solid circles will combine to create the entire square. But for process printing, many different gauges of screens are used and the inks can be laid in very tiny dots of different layers to create all of the shades in full color designs. The initial color separations can also be manipulated to create halftones, which further controls how much ink is laid down for the perfect amount of color and tint. (Halftones can also be used in any screening process to create lighter shades or gradient effects.) So, by controlling how much and where the colors overlap, you can create an awesome design that looks very similar to a painting and has all of the subtle hues, lighting effects and shadows as the real thing.
Automatic printing presses are normally used to ensure consistency on item after item. But skilled artists, computer technicians, printers, and press operators (like we have here at Mirage) are indispensable. No design comes with its individual printing instructions. Only years of experience, a lot of trial and error, and a sprinkling of God-given talent can produce a full color processed t-shirt design that looks as good as the original artwork. Trust a professional. (In other words, use Mirage Promotions!)
Although we’ve been fairly brief with our screen printing narrative, we hope that we’ve given you a good idea of the time, expense, and labor involved. Maybe now our 24 piece minimum makes a little more sense. We would go out of business real quick if we had to burn screens all day long for one-piece t-shirt orders. So, how exactly do we handle smaller orders? And how can we offer our ‘Design Your Own’ t-shirts with no minimums? Well, we’re glad you asked these questions. Since you’re apparently paying at least a bit of attention, you probably remember that we mentioned a printing process earlier called digital printing. This is where this process comes into play.