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What Is Digital Screen Printing?

By Jan Fletcher
Updated May 16, 2024
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Digital screen printing imprints a design onto fabric, or other substrates using computer aided design. Substrates may be composed of foam, fabric, vinyl or other materials. Traditional screen printing is a mechanical technique in which ink is applied to a substrate through a mesh screen, or series of mesh screens.

The method has an ancient history. It is sometimes referred to as silkscreen printing, as silk was historically used in the origins of the process in Asia thousands of years ago. A substrate is the surface to which the ink is applied.

The process is automated through the use of piezo electric print heads. The same technology is also used in desktop color inkjet printers. The computer aided design employed in digital screen printing technology has vastly increased the potential for this method of printing.

Intricate, elaborate designs may be created using a computer design program, then these designs may be output in an automated fashion. Since the digital screen printing process uses inkjet inks, the durability of the finished product is not as high, typically, as it would be using traditional screen printing methods. Digital garment printing is often used to personalize items for sports teams, clubs, associations, and other similar applications. Shorter print runs are generally used in this technology. For longer runs, traditional screen printing is typically used, as it is more cost effective.

Full color graphic reproduction on a substrate is achieved using a four color ink process, in which each ink color is pressed through a design cut out of a mesh material. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks are used in four color printing, as virtually any color can be reproduced using varying amounts of each of these colors. As the ink goes through the small holes, a pattern is formed through the merging of the different layers of ink. Heat is typically applied to fix the design onto the substrate. Digital screen printing automates what was previously an expensive and tedious process that required a setup, and is not economically practical for small press runs.

Commercial grade digital screen printing machines are several feet wide, and can accommodate jobs that involve custom printing rolls of fabric for fashion designers, or printing large signs. Smaller machines are available for hobbyists or small-scale enterprises selling customized clothing or other articles. Products that are created through digital screen printing are used in signage, and the manufacturing of designs printed on clothing and textiles.

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Discussion Comments
By ZsaZsa56 — On Jan 30, 2012

Digital screen printing really makes the coloration process easier. In the past, with a traditional screen print, working out your colors and making sure that inks and dyes interacted correctly with each other was one of the easiest things to screw up.

But today's digital screen printers combines with advances in fabric inks mean that t-shirts can feature literally hundreds of colors if a designer chose. Custom screen printing is such a big industry these days because you have more creative possibilities than ever.

By tigers88 — On Jan 29, 2012

Digital screen printing has done wonders for the t-shirt printing industry. Anyone with even a passing familiarity of the internet probably knows that there are literally tens of thousands of t-shits available with any conceivable image.

In the past screen printing was a pretty laborious process from the image preparation even through the printing. But digital screen printing allows printers to print an image basically on demand. It is easy to do once you have been trained and you can produce dozens of different t-shirts ever day.

Not to be too grandiose, but this has done a lot to democratize the fashion industry. Now you don't have to tailor your image to the clothes that designers have offered to you. You can make any kind of shirt you want, project any look that you choose.

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