5 Mistakes Beginning Screen Printers Make and How to Avoid Them

May 19, 2022 | Beginner Tutorials, Screen Printing

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I get questions from beginning screen printers all the time wondering what they are doing wrong.

Usually, it is a simple fix and I am always happy to help.

Watch this video and keep reading to learn about the 5 most common mistakes beginning screen printers make and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1: Using too much ink

When you are just starting out, it is natural to think you need way more ink than you really do. Just remember, the fabric of your shirt can only absorb so much ink. After that, it’s going to start to squish out beyond the design of your stencil.

Many people think this “bleeding” is because the stencil isn’t on the screen good but often it is from using too much ink. The right amount of ink depends on the design, but I have found you want just enough to make 2-3 passes over the design with firm pressure on the squeegee (see mistake #4).

Keep in mind if you are printing on a surface that doesn’t absorb ink, like paper, wood, or glass, you need to use even less ink. For these projects, I find that one even squeegee is all I need to make a print on these types of surfaces.

Mistake #2: Putting your design too close to the edge of your frame

You want to leave at least ½ inch (the width of your finger) of blank screen between your design and the edge of the frame.

The mesh screen is tighter the closer it gets to the frame. Even with firm pressure on the squeegee, it can be difficult to get the edges of the screen to make even contact with your shirt if your design is too close to the frame.

To avoid this issue, I use a larger frame. I like the 16×20 wood frame or larger aluminum frames to print large designs on adult size shirts.

Mistake #3: Not having a flat surface to print

Printing close to zippers, seams, and pockets might look cool, but these surfaces give beginners fits because they can create an uneven print surface. When your squeegee doesn’t make even contact with your print area, you may get some bleeding around those areas.

One way to avoid this problem, adjust your blanks so the seam or zipper falls off the edge of your table. Another option is to use a board under your blank to raise the printable area away from the seams, zippers, or pockets.

If you are going to try the board method, you want to be sure to avoid using cardboard inside your shirt. The ridges in the cardboard may create streaks in your print. Instead, I recommend using a piece wood. Here's an example of a onesie printed with this method.

Mistake #4: Not applying even pressure on the squeegee

It takes a little practice to get the feel for using a squeegee. Most beginners don’t press firmly enough. Many also apply uneven pressure across the squeegee. Especially when using one hand.

In order to get an even print, you need to put firm and even pressure on the squeegee. If you set up requires you to use only one hand, be sure to spread your fingers out so the pressure is distributed across your squeegee. Better yet, if you have someone helping you, they can hold the screen while you use 2 hands on the squeegee.

If you are ready for the next step, I highly recommend investing in a screen printing press (see #5). You don’t need to hold the screen down with a press so you can always use 2 hands on the squeegee.

Finally, I prefer to use a wooden handle squeegee or these heavy duty squeegees. I find these squeegees are easier to distribute pressure on because they don’t bend as much as the plastic ones do.

Mistake #5: Trying to put screen back down on a design after lifting it

When you are just starting out, it is natural to want to lift the screen to see if you got enough ink on the shirt. However, when you are screen printing on your table, after you lift the screen it is nearly impossible to put the screen back down in the exact same spot to add more ink. Being off even just a little will completely mess up the design.

It is important to do your best to make sure you have enough ink covering all of your design before lifting your screen. Grab some old shirts or an old bed sheet and practice a bunch of times before you try on that blank you paid for.

Pretty soon, you’ll start to get the feel for how many times you need to squeegee over the design in order to get the perfect print.

If you find you love screen printing, investing in a screen printing press was a game changer for me. The screen printing press allows you to raise and lower your screen in the exact same position each time. Not sure which press to buy? Read this about which screen printing press I recommend.

Now, you can check your shirt after each pass of the squeegee if you need to. No more guessing if you have enough ink. A printing press also makes doing multiple shirts or colors so much easier.

I hope these tips help you make a perfect shirt every time. If you are having another issue, tell me about it in the comments and I will try to help.

If you still aren’t sure you can figure this out on your own, let me walk you through the complete process step by step in my Screen Printing for Beginners Online Course.

If you’ve mastered the basics and are ready to take the next step, let me help you with my Online Screen Printing with a Press Course.

1 Comment

  1. How many times can you wash the screen and re-use the vinyl on it?


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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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