Before and after images of screen printed tshirts with oversized watermark effect

Would You Like to Supersize the Screen Printing on that T-Shirt?


If you really want your screen printed t-shirts and hoodies to stand out from the crowd, consider going with an oversized image to create a watermark effect on your garment.  One of our clients is a youth motocross racing club from south of the Seattle-Bellevue area in Washington.  For a number of years, they just went with a basic two color designPhoto of screen printed GHY shirt with basic two color chest design that went across the chest.  The last time they ordered, we suggested that they consider offering an “all over” screen printed option because their logo was well suited for this.  They agreed to give it a shot.  We decided it would be good to try to photograph the process for a blog post about the benefits and limitations of supersized screen print images.

Let’s start with the process.  For typical screen print jobs, the t-shirt or sweatshirt is placed onto a platen (tray).  Some spray adhesive is applied to the platen first.  The garment is then opened at the torso and placed onto the platen, similiar to the way you would place a shirt onto an ironing board.  The side that is not being printed hangs freely below the platen.  Having only one layer of cloth between the screen and the platen combined with the spray adhesive limiting the motion of the garment as the ink is applied allows for a smooth and fairly precise transfer of ink, allowing for great and consistent details with multiple colors of print from one shirt to the next.  The platens for adult sized shirts are usually 15″ wide, which will work with any adult size and youth sizes down to Youth Large.

For an oversized screen print job, some economical limitations change the printing process somewhat.  To achieve the all over print look, the entire garment is placed atop a 50″ wide platen and is smoothed out as much as possible by hand.

Image of blank t-shirt on plateImages of hoodie resting on screen printing plate

The screen is lowered to the garment….

Image of oversized screen lowered onto t-shirtImage of screen lowered onto sweatshirt

The ink is pushed throught the screen…

Image of screen printing as ink is pushed throught the screenImage of screen printing as ink is pushed through screen

…Producing a nice, oversized watermark screen printing effect that looks great in one color.

Image of the printed shirt as it is lifted off of the plateImage of screen printed hoodie with oversized watermark effect

The only trick is that it will be slightly inconsistent from one garment to the next because of the way the garment rests and moves on the platen.  One color is the limit of what is practical with an oversized print job for a customer looking for several dozen to several hundred shirts.

But, you say, what if one wanted to print two or more colors?  Here is where the rubber meets the road on parameters, limitations, and economics.  Remember that for one color, the entire garment rests atop the platen.  Instead of firmly gripping the platen via the spray adhesive, the top layer of cloth is rests loosely on the bottom layer of cloth.  When the squeegee is pushed across the garment, the garment is going to move.

Well, surely there must be a way to deal with that, right?  After all, you can probably recall occasionally seeing multi-color screen printed designs on the racks at some of your favorite clothing retailers.  Yes, there is a way!

What the printer would need is not just 15″ wide plates and 50″ wide platens, but just about every width of platen in between, and at least six to eight of those per size.  And because the platens are wider, the standard fly-wheel circular hand press would not suffice — the shop would need a printing press with a much larger diameter.  That would allow each specific size of garment to be placed onto a matching sized platen with a spray adhesive bond and for the platens and screens to not be overlapping with each other on the press.  All those platens and a large printing press (plus the added space required) are a significant investment for a typical screen printing firm.  Each size of shirt would become, in effect, a separate print job. Changing all those platens between sizes is “down time.”  To make that sort of job cost effective, the buyer would probably need to print thousands of each size of shirt.  Who is that typical buyer?  It would likely be a mass retailer that sources its clothing options from overseas factories and distributes via a nationwide network of stores.

Until your business or club grows to that size, however, consider utilizing a one color oversized design to create a watermark effect.


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