Comparing 2 Methods of Screen Printing Overlapping Colors

Jan 25, 2020 | Cricut Projects, Design Tips, Screen Printing, Screen Printing Press, Tutorials, Valentines, Vinyl Projects


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overlap screen printing ink knockout layers

When you are screen printing a design that has overlapping or touching colors, there are different techniques you can use depending on the result you are trying to achieve. I'm comparing two common methods that I call “overlap” and “knockout.”

If you look closely at the overlap method, you'll see that the red ink is lighter in the areas that overlap with the white ink.  The red that went directly on the shirt is a little darker.

With the knockout method, the colors are not layered so they soak into the shirt evenly.

Method 1: Overlapping Ink Layers

overlapping screen printing ink results tutorial

When you layer screen printing ink colors, you can often see the results of the base color showing through the top color.  This method is often used for special effects.  You may also hear it called over printing.  I really like using this method with the Speedball florescent inks.  These inks have some transparency to them so it is fun to see how the look when layered with other florescent colors.

Reasons you might want to use the overlapping method:

  • Less precision needed to line up the layers
  • Can make for an interesting effect of overlapping colors

Method 2: Knockout to Maintain Consistent Color

knockout method screen printing tutorial how to

The knockout method allows you to get solid colors without any contamination of the base color.  Each color is going directly on the shirt without touching the other colors.

One of the challenges with this method is lining up the second color exactly in the right spot.  I use registration marks as guides to help line up the second screen.  This process works well on my 1 color screen printing press, when I'm doing one shirt.  It is difficult to line up a shirt with this precision once it has been removed from the pallet.  This is where a 2 or 4 color press would come in handy.  If you are using the knockout method with more than one shirt, you might consider printing on your table (without the press) so you can spread out several shirts at once.  Here is a tutorial with more details on setting up the registration marks.

Process Video

Here's a look at both methods and how I setup the design in Cricut Design Space:

Supplies Used in This Tutorial

Another Option When Overprinting

Another option to consider when you are using the overprinting method is to put down a white base coat for the entire design.  In this example, I would have printed the stripes and word LOVE in white ink first.  Then, you would print the red color on top of the white.  When you have a solid base coat underneath, your second color will also look solid.  This method can also be tricky to line up.  If you are off just a hair, would would see a shadow effect.

Overlap Method vs. Knockout Method

Do you have ideas on how you might use each of these methods to create different effects with your screen printing?  While I use the knockout method more often, I'm excited to try some different overlapping effects.  If you have questions or tips on what is working for you, please share in the comments below!

overlap knockout screen printing comparison vinyl screen pritning

12 Comments

  1. Great article! One tip I could add to help with adding some tolerance to registration precision needed is to employ a technique called Trapping. This would apply to both the knockout and method for overprinting directly over the base color. Basically this involves modifying the image of the lighter color underneath so that you have a slight overlap when the 2nd color is printed over top. It can be lengthy to describe in detail how to accomplish this and varies depending on artwork. Often times I find tools such as adding strokes, offset path, and pathfinder functions can get the job done in Illustrator.

    Reply
  2. Thanks so much this is very helpful xx

    Reply
  3. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a great post on screen printing methods. Your advice is very helpful and will definitely be useful for all other readers. Screen printing for beginners is really helpful. Screen printing is a great way to add your own personal touch to a wide variety of items, including t-shirts, posters, and even glassware.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I love sharing my tips and helping people fall in love with screen printing.

      Reply
  4. If you do the overlap method with different colors say red and blue would it show up purple where they overlap?

    Reply
    • That will depend on the ink. Speedball’s fabric ink, opaque fabric ink, and fluorescent fabric ink (For example) all have different levels of opacity/transparency. You will see some overlapping colors with red and blue, but it may not a true purple.

      Reply
  5. I’m wanting to try screen printing an image that has several colors with a black outline (think coloring page). Should I do a light layer of black first, then do all the colors, then do another black layer? Should I inflate the colors slightly so they overlap with the black and avoid gaps if I don’t line it up perfectly? I’ve never screen printed before so I’m learning everything and curious how this particular project would work.

    Reply
    • I would suggest printing all the colors first (and like you said, with an offset so it overlaps into the area you will screen print black). The last step would be to add the black outline. If you are making more than one print- a press would be really helpful with a project like this!

      Reply
  6. I am new at this but I love it. I have done many single colors and I have layered with iron on transfer but have only just started layering silkscreen. I find that, if I do the second color to soon, I sometimes pull or smear the first color. If I let it dry, it shrinks and makes lining the second color up very challenging. Any tips?

    Reply
    • A heat gun is really helpful in speeding up the drying time when printing multi-color designs: https://www.pigskinsandpigtails.com/a/heat-gun
      I like to go over the ink until it is dry to the touch, then I’m able to print my second layer without any issue. It helps to flood your screen with ink so that it does not dry out while you are doing this step!

      Reply
  7. Nice. 🙂 Does “OVERLAPPING INK LAYERS” have the same wash resistance and longevity then normal screen printing? In other words, does the red color hold onto the white color normally?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • As long as the ink is properly cured, it should still hold up over time. I haven’t noticed any fading with my overlapping inks after washing.

      Reply

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I’m Jennifer, your go-to for all things vinyl screen printing. I offer both in-person and online classes to help you craft better quality shirts. This blog is full of screen printing inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to learn all about screen printing with vinyl!

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