The Holiday season is usually the busiest time of the year for most businesses as people are buying things for Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, etc. This isn’t the case in the custom screen printing business. When schools are in session and during the summer events and festivals the business is booming. The winter, however, is Deadsville. During this time period we kept ourselves busy cleaning up the print shop and printing generic designs that can serve multiple purposes that can be sold individually in local stores or be used in print runs when business picked up in the spring; this is one of those.

Most of our business is contract printing where resellers would get us to do the printing for them. They would sell to the local schools, and during the winter was when I would be busy creating designs we could push when the t-shirt freeze thawed in the spring. This is one I did where I painted a tiger to be used for generic LSU-themed shirts, generic Grambling-themed shirts, or for local school shirts. A tiger mascot for a school is one of the most common ones out there. We would switch the colors around based upon the school’s colors. The image above depicts the LSU version with its purple and gold coloring, but for instance one for Grambling would be black and gold.

Color Separations

Close-up of the left eye
Close-up of the left eye

In screen printing each color that is to be printed for a design is printed out individually in black and white on vellum or plastic acetate transparency. Any gradation in the image would be printed in what are called halftones, dots printed in a pattern at different angles. This is the reason for the dotted appearance of the large image at the beginning of this article. The transparency is taped to an emulsion-covered polyester screen and then exposed to really bright light. Any emulsion on the screen that isn’t covered up by the black of the image would be exposed to light, and when the screen is washed out with a pressure washer the unexposed emulsion would wash off, revealing the image. Ink when squeegeed into the screen would go through the stencil made by the exposure process and end up on the shirt. This process has to be repeated for each color.

Progress video, showing the color separations

The animation above attempts to show this process. It begins with white ink, followed by athletic gold and black. Different inks have different densities, but if what is being printed contains a lot of halftones and detail such as this tiger does the inks need to be thinned down with ink medium called extender. White is usually very thick ink and must be extended quite a bit; however, when thinned down it loses its opaqueness in the process causing it to not be as bright as it should. One solution is to print the color multiple times. This causes the dots to expand, but detail is lost and on fine gradations such as the ones in this tiger the image becomes blown out. Another solution — and the one used when printing this — is to print a second white over the top of everything else of the spots that need to be bright white. That wasn’t the last color printed for this job; there’s a specialty ink printed over the eyes that contains phosphors which cause the eyes to glow in the dark.