American Apparel is the hottest brand on the market with its made in America fitted tees and apparel. But did you know that they also pioneered a new method of screen printing? It is called direct-to-garment printing or DTG. While most people think of digital printing as “upload your design and forget about it”, DTG is a completely different process.
The history of screen printed t-shirts is quite fascinating. It all started with silk screen printing in Asia centuries ago, then morphed into the buzzy art form of serigraphy in the 1960s and later adapted for mass production in the 1970s. As the civil rights movement grew, screen printing moved onto clothing to convey a message and express oneself. Shirts quickly became the canvas of choice for activists and even modern artists like Andy Warhol. This is when the popularity of screen printing really took off, and it continues to grow today.
In order to make a screen print, an ink is pushed through a woven screen (also known as a mesh stencil) onto fabric. Each color in the print is a separate screen that is used to create the desired design. The shirts are then run through a dryer so the ink will set into the fabric and stay there. Typically, the more colors in your design, the more time it will take to print and the thicker the design will feel on the garment.
Choosing the correct ink, t-shirt and screens will help you get a soft, silky print. Most problems with a hard, scratchy print can be traced back to one or more of these three factors. It is always worth checking your screens (tension, thickness and mesh count), your t-shirt’s fibers and your ink to see if you can find the problem and fix it.
There is a lot of info out there about how to make a silky smooth screen print, but if you are looking for an easy way to get a soft, silky-smooth, high quality print without all the work, try using a pre-made screen print ink, or plastisol. This is the most popular ink in the industry and gives you a vibrant, slightly glossy look on your shirt.
Until recently, when the American Apparel brand was sold to a buyer, they were the leader in the Made in USA t-shirt business. Their ring spun, super soft cotton was the best in the industry. But, their transition to global manufacturing has resulted in a decline in the number of their US made products available. Now, you can only purchase a few items on their site that are still made in the United States. However, there are other US companies that offer comparable high quality, American made t-shirts. So, shop wisely! american apparel screen printing