Mistakes happen in screen printing. Here are some steps you can take to avoid them, and limit the damage when they happen.
While no shop is 100 percent perfect when it comes to producing prints, taking simple steps to ensure a proper press run every time can dramatically reduce the amount of garments — and time — you lose to misprints.
Keeping Misprints to a Minimum
1. Perform a quality audit
If you’re unhappy with the amount of misprints in your shop, the best way to nip problems in the bud is to perform a quality audit. Commit to keeping a log of every misprint for a set amount of time. You’ll likely find patterns that will lead you to the root causes of your misprints. When you know what’s causing your misprints time and time again, you can correct those problems to prevent future misprints.
2. Check your artwork
Nothing is more frustrating than tossing prints due to an artwork error because you know these errors are largely avoidable. Have at least two pairs of eyes proofread mock-ups and have your customers sign off on them to be sure that artwork is free from grammatical or spelling errors and that the artwork is what the customer wanted. When you pass the artwork on, be sure that colors are clearly labeled using the Pantone Matching System or whatever color system your shop uses so you know the colors you print will match the artwork.
3. Maintain your presses and equipment
If your press isn’t running smoothly, you can’t expect perfect prints. Before every print job, you should be checking to make sure that screens have proper tension, squeegees are free from nicks or flaws and pallets are tightly attached and level. Check for a buildup of grime and clean your press regularly, and closely follow all of the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations.
4. Talk about the job
Before every press run, you should be performing a quick run-down of the job with your print team. Go over what garments you’ll be printing on, which colors you’ll be using, how many stations you should have set up and any other special project notes. By making sure everyone on the print team knows all of the product details, any irregularities, such as missing screens or the wrong garment, are more likely to be caught early, before you end up with ruined shirts.
5. Adjust your curing times and temperature
Printers lose a lot of garments to scorching, dye migration and under-curing. All of this can be avoided when you use the proper drying times and temperatures for your substrates. Before you print, evaluate the job and determine whether you’ll need to raise or lower your dryer temperature and conveyor belt speed. If it’s a new substrate for your shop, make sure to do a test run under the flash cure, if needed, and through the dryer.
6. Keep your shop clean
A surprising amount of misprints — from stains on shirts to pinholes on screens — are caused by a messy shop. Cutting down on the amount of dirt and lint in your shop can help you avoid misprints. Make sure that all of your printers are committed to cutting down on dirt, grease and fuzz that can mar shirts. This includes keeping hands cleans, as dirty hands can stain garments.
Reusing Your Misprints
1. Save the misprints when possible
Of course, even in the most tightly run shops, misprints will happen. When a misprint happens, the first step is determining whether the garment can be saved. Every shop should have a spot gun to eliminate stray spots of ink or stains. If there are pinholes in a print, you might be able to patch the holes by blending in some extra ink and re-curing the garment. A print with a rough hand feel might be able to be smoothed by placing it in a heat press, protected by a sheet of silicone.
2. Make use of your misprints
When you can’t save a misprint, don’t let the garments go to waste! You can cut garments into strips to use as clean-up towels around your shop. Use every surface of the misprinted garment you can for future test prints. While they might not be perfect enough to pass on to customers, you can even use your misprints to make a product book to show new and prospective customers. If you’re particularly crafty, you can make tote bags to gift to customers by sewing a seam in the bottom of a shirt and cutting away the sleeves and neckline to make handles. If all else fails, you can do good by donating your misprints.
You can reduce waste and save money in your shop by making quality control a priority. Keep your shop clean, always perform checks of artwork and equipment and communicate about every job with your team. Even more importantly, make sure your staff knows that quality and reducing misprints is a goal in your shop that all employees should be working toward.
Interested in some more screen printing quality control tips? Check out these blog posts: