Did you know that the Smithsonian museum has the oldest printed T-shirt on record in their collection and on display? It is a campaign shirt for New York Gov. Thomas Dewey's 1948 presidential campaign. This shirt, and the majority of those you’ve seen every day were created through the process of screenprinting. It’s a technique that involves a pressing ink through spaces inside a fine mesh fabric that has been treated with a special substance to only allow ink on the shirt in the desired design.
Screenprinting requires the messy and time-consuming process of creating unique screens for every individual color in a design. Artwork must be simplified into a limited palette of solid “spot” colors then separated into negatives which are then used to burn the color separations into the screens. Because of amount of steps required for screen preparation, designs with many different colors can potentially end up with setup fees in the hundreds of dollars, all before a single shirt has been printed!
Not much had changed in the fundamental process of putting ink onto shirts until the arrival of digital garment printers less than a decade ago. By using a CMYK process of mixing four basic ink colors (similar to paper printers), this new technology turned the industry on its head by allowing an almost full spectrum of hues to be printed in a single design. Because ink is applied directly to the fabric, it also means no screens need to be prepared before a job can begin.
Northwest Embroidery joined the digital revolution three years ago with the addition of our first DTG (direct-to-garment) printers, which use water-based ink systems designed specifically for white or light colored fabric. These printers have worked amazingly well with our customers’ complex and colorful designs; producing thousands of shirts and still printing for us every day. The one aspect these printers lacked however, was the ability to print on dark colored garments.
Earlier this year, we took a huge second step forward by purchasing an even more cutting-edge printer that has solved the problem of printing on dark shirts. It uses an additional layer of opaque white ink that is laid down as a base before the color inks are applied. This extra step now allows us to print on any color of shirt; breaking the final barrier between digital printing and traditional screenprinting.
Because digital printing requires no screens, set up costs are reduced to just a fraction of those our customers have been accustomed to in years past. It has also sped up our turnaround time to just 3 to 5 days for many orders after artwork has been approved. This means order sizes can now be smaller and still cost-effective!