Plastisol Screen Printing: A Comprehensive Guide to Achieving Professional Results

Plastisol screen printing is a versatile and widely used technique in the world of printing. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just getting started in the industry, understanding the ins and outs of this printing method is crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various aspects of plastisol screen printing, from its definition and history to the step-by-step process involved. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to achieve professional results with this popular printing technique.

First and foremost, let’s define what plastisol screen printing actually is. Plastisol is a type of ink made from PVC particles suspended in a liquid plasticizer. It is known for its excellent opacity and durability, making it the go-to choice for printing on fabrics, especially textiles such as t-shirts, hoodies, and hats. The screen printing process involves pushing the plastisol ink through a fine mesh screen onto the desired material, using a squeegee to transfer the ink and create the desired design.

Design Preparation

When it comes to plastisol screen printing, proper design preparation is essential for achieving optimal results. The first step is selecting the right artwork for your print. Whether you’re working with a client’s design or creating your own, it’s important to ensure that the artwork is suitable for screen printing. Designs with clear lines and distinct colors tend to work best. Avoid using intricate details or gradients that may not translate well onto the screen.

Choosing the Right File Format

To ensure the best possible print quality, it’s crucial to work with high-resolution files. Ideally, your artwork should be in a vector format, such as Adobe Illustrator (AI) or Encapsulated PostScript (EPS). These formats allow for easy resizing without any loss of quality. If you’re working with raster images, such as JPEG or PNG, make sure they have a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch (DPI) to maintain clarity.

Preparing the Artwork for Printing

Before you can transfer your design onto the screen, it’s important to prepare it properly. Begin by separating the colors in your design into different layers. This will make it easier to create individual screens for each color. Use design software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to achieve this. Remember to convert all text to outlines to prevent any font compatibility issues.

Creating Color Separations

Once you have your design prepared, it’s time to create color separations. This process involves separating the different colors in your artwork onto separate layers or files. Each layer will correspond to a specific ink color, allowing for precise printing. Use software like Adobe Photoshop or specialized color separation programs to accomplish this. Make sure each color separation is clearly labeled and accurately represents the desired color.

Screen Preparation

Before you start printing, you need to prepare your screen. The screen acts as a stencil through which the ink is transferred onto the material. Proper screen preparation is crucial for achieving clean and accurate prints.

Choosing the Right Mesh Count

The mesh count of your screen determines the level of detail and ink deposit you can achieve. Higher mesh counts, such as 230 or 305, are suitable for fine details and thinner inks, while lower mesh counts, like 110 or 156, work well for bold designs and thicker inks. Consider the level of detail in your design and the type of fabric you’re printing on when selecting the appropriate mesh count.

Coating the Screen with Emulsion

Emulsion is a light-sensitive material that creates a stencil on the screen. To coat your screen with emulsion, start by cleaning the screen thoroughly to remove any dust or debris. Once clean, apply a layer of emulsion to both sides of the screen using a scoop coater. Make sure to achieve an even and smooth coat. Allow the emulsion to dry in a dark and dust-free environment. The drying time will depend on the emulsion and environmental conditions, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for guidance.

Exposing the Screen to Create a Stencil

After the emulsion has dried, it’s time to expose the screen to UV light to create a stencil. Place your separated color separations onto the screen, ensuring proper registration. Secure the artwork with a glass or acrylic sheet to ensure it remains in place during exposure. Expose the screen to UV light using a light exposure unit or natural sunlight. The exposure time will depend on factors such as the emulsion type, mesh count, and light source. Refer to the emulsion manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended exposure times.

Washing Out the Stencil

Once the screen has been exposed, it’s time to wash out the unexposed emulsion to reveal the stencil. Rinse the screen gently with a low-pressure hose or a spray bottle, being careful not to damage the stencil. Start from the bottom and work your way up, ensuring that all areas of the stencil are properly washed out. Use a soft brush or gentle sponge to aid in the removal of any stubborn emulsion. Once the stencil is fully washed out, allow the screen to dry completely before proceeding to the printing process.

Ink Mixing and Color Matching

Accurate color matching is crucial for achieving professional results in plastisol screen printing. Whether you’re aiming to match a specific Pantone color or creating custom shades, proper ink mixing is essential.

Understanding Pantone Colors

Pantone colors are a standardized system used in the printing industry to ensure accurate color reproduction. Each Pantone color is assigned a unique number, making it easier to communicate and achieve consistent results across different printing processes. Familiarize yourself with the Pantone color system and refer to Pantone color guides or software to help you select and mix the desired colors for your prints.

Mixing Plastisol Inks

Plastisol inks come in a wide range of colors and can also be mixed to create custom shades. Begin by placing the desired amount of ink onto a mixing palette or ink mixing container. Use a mixing spatula or palette knife to combine the inks thoroughly, ensuring that there are no streaks or inconsistencies. Gradually add the pigments, mixing them in small increments until you achieve the desired color. Test the color on a piece of scrap fabric or paper to ensure it matches your expectations. Keep track of the proportions and measurements used to recreate the color accurately in future print runs.

Consistency and Storage

Consistency is key when it comes to ink mixing. It’s important to ensure that each batch of mixed ink is of the same consistency and viscosity. This will help achieve consistent prints throughout the entire run. Use additives such as reducers or thickeners to adjust the ink’s viscosity if necessary. Properly store your mixed inks in airtight containers away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. This will help maintain the ink’s integrity and prevent drying or spoiling.

Setting up the Printing Press

The printing press setup is crucial for achieving precise and consistent prints. Proper adjustments and calibration will ensure that the ink is transferred smoothly and accurately onto the material.

Adjusting Screen Tension

Screen tension refers to the tightness of the screen on the printing press. Proper screen tension is vital for achieving crisp prints and preventing issues such as ink bleeding or registration problems. Use a tension meter to measure the tension of your screen. Adjust the tension accordingly by tightening or loosening the screen’s bolts or clamps. Aim for a consistent tension throughout the entire screen, ensuring that it is neither too loose nor too tight.

Setting up Registration

Registration refers to the alignment of the different color screens to ensure precise prints. Begin by registering the first color screen. Align it to a specific reference point on the printing press, such as registration marks or a guide. Once the first color is registered, repeat the process for the remaining color screens, ensuring they are aligned and registered accurately. Use registration aids such as micro-registration systems or registration pins to achieve precise alignment. Regularly check and adjust the registration throughout the print run to maintain consistency.

Adjusting Off-Contact Distance

The off-contact distance refers to the space between the screen and the material being printed. This distance affects the amount of ink deposited and can impact print quality. Adjusting the off-contact distance can help control ink opacity, reduce ink build-up on the back of the screen, and improve overall ink transfer. Experiment with different off-contact distances to find the optimal setting for your specific print job. Use shims or adjustable off-contact systems to make precise adjustments.

Printing Techniques and Tips

Mastering various printing techniques can greatly enhance the quality and versatility of your plastisol screen prints. From spot color printing to halftones and underbases, there are several techniques to explore.

Spot Color Printing

Spot color printing involves using solid, individual colors to create designs. This technique is ideal for bold and vibrant prints. Ensure that each color screen is properly registered and aligned to achieve clean and sharp prints. Use a consistent amount of pressure when squeegeeing the ink to ensure even coverage. Experiment with different mesh counts, ink opacities, and squeegee angles to achieve the desired effect.


Halftone printing is a technique used to reproduce shades of gray or simulate continuous-tone images using dots of varying sizes. This technique is particularly useful for printing photographs or designs with gradients. To achieve a halftone effect, convert your design into a halftone pattern using design software or specialized halftone plugins. Adjust the dot size and frequency to control the level of detail and shading. When printing halftones, ensure that each color screen is properly registered to maintain alignment and consistency.

Underbases and Flash Curing

An underbase is a layer of white or light-colored ink printed as a base layer before applying other colors. This technique is used to ensure that the colors appear vibrant and opaque on dark-colored fabrics. The underbase acts as a foundation for the subsequent colors to sit on. Flash curing is the process of partially drying the underbase before printing additional colors. This prevents the underbase from mixing with subsequent colors and helps maintain their vibrancy. Adjust the flash curing time and temperature to achieve the desired level of drying without scorching the fabric or the ink.

Specialty Inks and Techniques

Beyond basic spot color printing, there are several specialty inks and techniques that can elevate your plastisol screen prints. Consider exploring techniques such as metallic or foil printing, high-density printing for raised and textured effects, and glow-in-the-dark inks for unique and eye-catching designs. Each specialty technique may require specific considerations, such as adjusting ink viscosity or using specialized screens or additives. Experiment with different specialty inks and techniques to add a touch of creativity and uniqueness to your prints.

Curing and Heat Setting

Properly curing your prints is vital for achieving durability and washability. Curing involves heating the printed garment to bond the plastisol ink to the fabric and ensure its longevity.

Conveyor Dryer Curing

A conveyor dryer is a common tool used for curing plastisol prints. The printed garments are placed on a conveyor belt and passed through a heated chamber. The heat cures the ink, bonding it to the fabric. The curing temperature and time will depend on the specific ink and garment being cured. It’s important to monitor the temperature to avoid scorching or damaging the fabric. Test the cured prints for proper adhesion and wash durability before proceeding with the full production run.

Flash Curing with a Heat Gun

If you don’t have access to a conveyor dryer or need to cure small quantities of prints, a heat gun can be used for flash curing. A heat gun emits concentrated heat, which can be directed onto the printed area to partially cure the ink. Move the heat gun continuously to prevent overheating or scorching the fabric. Flash curing helps in drying the ink between colors or printing layers, preventing smudging or color bleed. However, note that flash curing with a heat gun may not provide the same level of curing as a conveyor dryer, so it’s important to perform a final cure using a dryer or heat press if possible.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even experienced printers encounter challenges along the way. Understanding common issues and having troubleshooting strategies can help you overcome obstacles and achieve better results in your plastisol screen prints.

Ink Bleeding

Ink bleeding occurs when the ink spreads beyond the intended boundaries, resulting in blurred or distorted prints. To prevent ink bleeding, ensure that your screens are properly registered, the off-contact distance is adjusted correctly, and the ink viscosity is appropriate. Use higher mesh counts and thinner ink layers to minimize ink bleed. If necessary, add a flash cure step between colors to partially dry the ink and prevent it from mixing or bleeding into adjacent colors.


Ghosting refers to the faint appearance of a previous print layer or design showing through subsequent layers. This can be caused by improper curing, insufficient ink opacity, or the use of low-quality or incompatible inks. Ensure that each print layer is fully cured before proceeding to the next layer. Use a proper underbase for printing on dark-colored fabrics to enhance ink opacity. Test different ink types and brands to find ones that offer the best opacity and minimize ghosting.


Smudging occurs when the ink smears or smudges during or after the printing process. This can be caused by excessive ink or improper squeegee pressure. Use the appropriate amount of ink for each print, ensuring that it covers the desired area without excess. Adjust the squeegee pressure to achieve a smooth and consistent transfer of ink. Avoid excessive movements or dragging of the squeegee, as this can cause smudging. Allow the prints to fully cure before handling or stacking to prevent ink smudging or transfer.

Specialty Applications

Plastisol screen printing opens up a world of possibilities beyond basic t-shirt printing. Explore various specialty applications to add uniqueness and creativity to your prints.

Foil Printing

Foil printing involves applying a layer of metallic or holographic foil onto the printed design, creating a shiny and eye-catching effect. To achieve foil printing, apply a layer of adhesive ink or foil adhesive to the desired areas of the print. Once the adhesive is dry, place the foil over the adhesive and apply heat and pressure using a heat press or iron. Carefully remove the foil to reveal the metallic or holographic effect. Experiment with different foil colors and patterns to create stunning and luxurious prints.

High-Density Printing

High-density printing involves using a special type of ink that creates raised and textured effects on the fabric. This technique adds dimension and tactile interest to your prints. High-density inks are thicker and require specialized screens with larger mesh openings to allow for greater ink deposit. Use a higher squeegee pressure and slower print stroke to ensure proper ink coverage and density. Experiment with different ink thicknesses and mesh counts to achieve the desired level of dimension and texture in your prints.

Glow-in-the-Dark Printing

Glow-in-the-dark printing is a fun and attention-grabbing technique that creates designs that glow in low-light or dark conditions. Special glow-in-the-dark inks are used for this effect. Print your design using the glow-in-the-dark ink, following the standard printing process. Once the ink is fully cured, it will emit a luminescent glow when exposed to darkness. Charge the prints under direct light or UV light to activate the glow. Test different exposure times and ink types to achieve the desired glow intensity and longevity.

Environmental Considerations

In recent years, eco-friendly printing practices have gained importance. As a responsible printer, it’s crucial to consider the environmental impact of your plastisol screen printing processes and explore alternative options that minimize harm to the planet.

Water-Based and Eco-Friendly Inks

Water-based inks are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastisol inks. These inks are made from natural or water-soluble pigments, reducing the use of harmful chemicals and VOC emissions. Water-based inks are more environmentally friendly and offer softer prints with breathability on fabrics. Explore water-based ink options that are compatible with screen printing and experiment with their application and curing techniques to achieve optimal results.

Proper Ink Disposal and Waste Management

Proper ink disposal and waste management are essential for minimizing the environmental impact of plastisol screen printing. Avoid pouring excess ink down the drain or disposing of it in regular trash. Instead, consult local regulations and guidelines for proper disposal methods. Consider recycling or reusing ink containers, screens, and other printing materials whenever possible. Implement efficient ink mixing practices to minimize waste and use eco-friendly cleaning solutions for screen cleaning.

Maintenance and Care

Keeping your equipment and screens in good condition is essential for consistent and long-lasting results in plastisol screen printing. Regular maintenance and proper care will extend the lifespan of your equipment and ensure optimal performance.

Equipment Maintenance

Regularly clean and maintain your printing press, heat curing equipment, and other tools. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance tasks such as lubrication, belt tension adjustments, and cleaning of heating elements. Inspect screens and frames for any damages or wear and replace them as needed. Keep an organized inventory of spare parts and essential supplies to ensure smooth operations.

Screen Cleaning

Proper screen cleaning is crucial for removing excess ink and emulsion residue, ensuring optimal print quality and prolonging the life of your screens. After each print run, thoroughly clean the screens using screen cleaning solutions or emulsion removers. Use a soft brush or gentle sponge to scrub away any stubborn ink or residue. Rinse the screens with water and allow them to dry completely before storing. Regularly inspect screens for damages or clogs. Repair or replace damaged screens promptly to maintain print quality.

Ink Storage and Handling

Store your inks in a cool and dry environment, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Properly seal the ink containers to prevent drying or spoiling. Keep an organized inventory of your inks, noting their expiration dates and batch numbers. Rotate your inks to ensure that older stock is used before newer stock. Before using the ink, thoroughly mix it to achieve a consistent and uniform consistency. Avoid overexposing inks to air, as this can cause drying or thickening. If necessary, use additives or thinners to adjust the ink’s viscosity before printing

Education and Training

Stay updated with the latest trends and techniques in plastisol screen printing by participating in workshops, seminars, or online courses. Join professional printing associations and connect with fellow printers to exchange knowledge and experiences. Continuous education and training will help you refine your skills, learn new techniques, and stay ahead in the ever-evolving world of screen printing.

Quality Control and Testing

Implement a robust quality control process to ensure consistent and high-quality prints. Regularly test and inspect your prints for color accuracy, ink adhesion, and overall print quality. Create a sample library to reference and compare future prints against. Involve your clients or customers in the approval process to ensure their satisfaction. Address any issues or concerns promptly and make necessary adjustments to improve your printing processes.

Customer Service and Communication

Providing excellent customer service and maintaining clear communication with your clients is crucial for building long-term relationships and establishing a reputable printing business. Clearly communicate expectations, timelines, and pricing with your clients. Keep them informed about the progress of their print jobs and promptly address any questions or concerns they may have. Develop a reputation for reliability, transparency, and exceptional customer service to earn loyal customers and positive referrals.

In conclusion, plastisol screen printing is a versatile and popular technique for creating vibrant and durable prints on fabrics. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can achieve professional results and take your printing projects to new heights. Remember to invest time and effort in design preparation, screen preparation, ink mixing, printing techniques, curing, and troubleshooting. Additionally, consider exploring specialty applications, adopting eco-friendly practices, and maintaining your equipment and screens. With practice, patience, and continuous learning, you can master the art of plastisol screen printing and create stunning prints that leave a lasting impression. Happy printing!

Related video of Plastisol Screen Printing: A Comprehensive Guide to Achieving Professional Results