Experiencing the Evolution of Custom Screen Printing & Embroidery

Jack Gyr, the found of Field Crafts (a screen printing and embroidery company based in Traverse City, MI,) shares a story that encapsulates the progression of custom screen printing and embroidery practices. You can learn more about Jack and some of the creative solutions that he provides local businesses and organizations in Traverse City and throughout Northern Michigan by visiting FieldCrafts.com.

Screen Printing by Field Crafts

I just attended the Imprinted Sportswear Show in Atlantic City and got an eye-full and ear-full of the latest technologies and processes in screen printing and embroidery on apparel. The new print machines were out, as if on parade, in full color and printing demonstrations were around every corner.

Likewise with multi-head embroidery. There must have been twenty manufacturers with their machines purring and stitching. They were as present as Starbucks Coffee shops, on virtually every corner of the embroidery section of displays. The screen printing ink manufacturers had booths showing rainbows of ink colors available with special effects, additives, glitter, 3D, and other features.

One of the most interesting to me was a manufacturer from Australia that had a new water base ink with greater intensity and opacity for printing on dark garments than I had seen before. Previously these inks were susceptible to drying out in the screen but this company had a base extender that, with just a little added, gave a much longer open time in the screen. And the print hand on the shirt was nice and soft still. This is a promising ink for screen printing on dark garments with a soft hand. The most noticeable increase in presence at the show were DTG (Direct To Garment) printers of every type.

The Evolution of Screen Printing

Screen printing is a thousand year old print method (formerly “silk screening” due to the silk used to print with) and has retained much of its original form. Polyester fabric has replaced silk but it’s still stretched over a rectangular frame. Various forms of resist are used to make a design. Ink is still placed on the screen and printed by pulling a squeegee across the fabric, hence pushing the ink through the design and onto whatever medium.

Screen printing technology consisting of inks, print machines and substrates has evolved dramatically but the original premise of print remains much the same as it was historically. But there’s a revolution going on with many manufacturers using computers and inkjet and other printers to print directly on shirts. It’s still slow and expensive for volume custom screen printing of garments but the presence of (I’d guess 40) exhibits showing off their latest machines to replace actual screen printing indicates the level of imminent change.

Five years ago I would have called these “gadgets” because they were clunky, expensive and real slow. Now they’re faster and whirring along printing beautiful full color designs on dark shirts. It’s obvious this technology is knocking at the door of any screen print shop but the original “screen” printing is still superior in a production setting.