Screen Printing T-Shirts has been around for many years now but the process hasn’t really evolved from the traditional methods of a screen, film and inks to produce your design.
Even these days we use the same tools to screen print; these are the basics as the man power to produce the print is one major element that has improved over the years with the invention of the automatic press. We are so used to manually pulling squeegees across screens, with some printers still using this technique but you can now purchase man made machines which makes this job a lot easier. M&R, MHM are the two main competitors out there, over the years they have developed some amazing machinery that can print from 8 – 12+ T-Shirts at a time (you won’t look like Popeye anymore, more like Homer Simpson when screen printing your t-shirts) all the hard physical work has been taken away and replaced by technology.
Things are changing within the industry of screen printing and there is always something new being launched one of these being ‘direct to garment’ printers, one day screens will become extinct and computers will control the world.
This brings me to the point of the article which is the Canon LP17 and why you should be using this for producing films.
Screens are made by converting you digital artwork from the computer to a positive film type paper which is then used to expose your screen. There are many methods you can use to produce these, before computers a lot of screen printers produced their films by hand by drawing the designs with a light resistant pen so that it blocks light passing through the film to expose the screens. You then had the method of ‘chemical based’ systems which worked like camera film in a photograph lab but these where very expensive, time consuming and not environmentally friendly. A company called ‘OYO’ then produced a dry based system which was an image setter, this burned the image onto film and until recently this was the method I used. I found with this method there was shrinkage with the films meaning the registration marks didn’t align.
With this I decided to trail the net and find out what other printers were using, after many forums and blogs I came across a company called ‘Revolution Transfers’ which specialise in large format printers. As soon as I mentioned I was a screen printer immediately they recommended the Canon LP17. This amazing printer has to be the best investment I’ve made to help me run my screen printing company. It’s ink based but compared to the image setter this is a god send, the reg-marks are perfect every time and the clarity in the print is amazing with solid blacks which are great for blocking out the light and achieving clean crisp screens. The inks used are a mixture of pigment & dye based this is how the printer achieves the deep blacks. I use the printer for solid spot design but also full colour simulated process where I’m achieving some amazing half tone detail with photographic images being represented as they appear on paper onto T-Shirts. The bonus about the printer is the fact it still has the CMY meaning when you don’t use this for films you can print posters, banners and even you family photos on many types of media.
I though the consumables were going to be expensive but I’ve found that inks are around £40 each and film is around £80 a roll. The only expensive part is the print head which is about £350 and lasts around2 years, there’s also a maintenance tank but this is only £40 and last 3 months.
You can shop around to get better prices on films but I’ve found the supplier has reasonable prices.
The speed of the Printer is faster than I thought, obviously there’s ink that needs to go down on the film but I can produce a A3 solid area in about 3-4 minutes whilst my image setter produced this in 40 seconds, I guess this is a negative point but in my eyes the quality and no reg-mark problems makes up for this.
The software used with the printer is called ‘Filmgate’ which is RIP software and is the easiest software I’ve used with a printer. There are some technical setups to begin with but Jan from revolution transfers handles this and offers phone support. Filmgate gives you so much control like dot gain, previews of the films and multiple copies without re-sending the file. There are many more detailed features available but I’ve found you don’t need this for the purpose of the printer.
I can’t stress how good this printer is, I’ve been running it for 3 years now and changed 1 head but I can say this has saved money compared to the image setter where a lot of screens had to be remade due to reg-mark problems.