Tips for Making Transparencies For Screen Printing

by Gary Jurman January 15, 2015

  • Lines must be Solid
  • (If doing films by hand, don't use felt tip markers or anything that leaves a jagged edge)
  • (No jagged edges. If on the computer, don't work in RGB color mode, but bitmap if you can, or greyscale with no anti-aliasing.)
  • Ink Must be Dark
  • Ink Must be Black so as to block light. Black is used no matter what color ink you'll be putting in the screen to create your final print.
  • Clear Areas of Film must be empty

The best or easiest way to get to usable transparencies is to design your art on the computer. Some of the benefits of using a computer are:
  1. Making changes is very easy. You just adjust on the computer and print a new transparency.
  2. It's easy to keep backups.
  3. You can store your art on a variety of file storage websites like Google Drive or Drop Box, and access it anywhere. whenever you need it.

Once you have the art file, you just need to print your film using an inkjet printer, and burn it to screen using the Merchmakr exposure unit.

Now, there are a few considerations when you are designing your graphics.
  • Size (stripping and paste up)
  • Level of Detail
  • Type of Ink Used
  • Ink Color Being Printed
  • Type of fabric being printed
  • Variation of detail level in the design
  • Troublemaker graphics and advanced stuff.


Although the Merchmakr kit comes with 8.5" x 11" transparency films, the Merchmakr system can handle larger images. A comfortable maximum image area is actually about 11" x 11", and with a little skill, you can push that out to about 12" x 12". One problem with going that large, though is that it leaves little room to operate the squeegee.
    If you want to use Merchmakr to print larger images, there are a few ways to accomplish that:
    a) Use larger transparency films, and consequently a larger inkjet printer to print them.
    b) Paste up several transparency films together, being careful how they overlap,
    c) Tile your design as you print, printing sections of the fabric as you go.

Level of Detail

Higher detail images are harder to accomplish than those with bolder type,  thicker lines, and larger dots. If you want to make things easier on yourself, create designs with lines thicker than a pencil lead, and fonts larger than 12 points. Merchmakr's 160 mesh screen can handle finer details than the specifications, but the further you stray from "Easy" the more skill you'll need to pull it off. In some cases you can just use one of the higher mesh screens we offer, and in others you may need to make other considerations.

Ink Color Being Printed

Different inks have different properties. Lighter colored inks tend to be higher viscosity than others, making them harder to print. In some cases, moving to a lower mesh screen, like Merchmakr's 110 mesh, or even 80 mesh, if the level of detail in your graphic is low enough, can make your printing go much easier. In addition, inks can be more or less opaque, making them require a double-print or an underbase to help them show up on darker garments. They can also have a varying degree of bleed-resistance which can affect their suitability for use on certain garments. We will cover dye-migration and bleed resistance in another tutorial. For now, printing on 100% cotton will be your safest bet. Regardless. get in the habit of running tests when the final product is critical. With respect to art/design considerations, light colored inks being printed on dark colored garments may need to be designed as a multi-color imprint, where an underbase (a layer of white is imprinted first below the intended color) is used to help mask the color of the fabric.

Type of Ink

Merchmakr comes with waterbased inks, but can be used with any ink that is suitable for screen printing. That said, please only use screen printing inks with Merchmakr, or risk ruining your screens or other disappointments. One common alternative ink for Merchmakr is called plastisol. We offer plastisol inks on for those wishing to experiment. Please see our Plastisol vs Waterbased Ink page for more details. We also carry ink additives for plastisol that increase your range of fabrics to print on. With respect to art/design considerations, some kinds of inks or ink brands can dry in your screen so fast that only lower mesh screens or lower detailed graphics can be easily accomplished. All of the inks available on are professional grade, and designed to avoid those problems.

Type of Fabric

While 100% cotton is your safest bet, some fabrics such as 50/50 cotton, 100% polyester, and lycra, and spandex are sometimes desired. You should always test your inks for suitability before printing critical garments. For 100% polyester, nylon, and fabrics containing lycra, rayon, and spandex, stretch additives, catalysts, and/or special inks are required. Additives can change the properties of your inks, making them more or less opaque, and even affecting the level of detail you can accomplish in your design.

Variation of Detail Level in Design

If a design has too much variation in detail level throughout the design it can cause trouble. As an example, if some areas look best with only a light ink deposit, while others are better off with heavier deposits, you may want to alter your design or consider using two different screens, even though only one color is visible. Generally, large fields of color can look "spotty" with a thin deposit of ink. Conversely, small type and thin lines close together can smudge, blur, or become unreadable if a heavy ink deposit is used. Having both on the same screen can make for a most difficult print.

Trouble Maker Graphics and Advanced Stuff

As mentioned before, variations in detail level within a design can make getting a good print difficult. One common variation is called "knock-out text". Knockout text is when a field of ink has text in it. If that text contains thin lines, it can spell trouble. It can be difficult to maintain both readable text and a consistently solid print. While we presented one solution in the last section, another is to create a second screen and fill the text with an ink color, even if that color is the same as the garment being printed.

    Another type of trouble graphic is one containing gradations (aka halftones). Essentially, a gradation is the use of small dots in a pattern in order to make an ink color appear lighter. The use is common in comics, photographs, and grayscale images. We may cover gradations in a later tutorial, but it is an advanced topic that requires much attention. Initially, it is best to use solid ink colors in your graphics as you are learning, and sticking to line-art will save you many headaches.

Once you get your design completed on the computer, get in the habit of adding registration marks in the center top and bottom of the graphic to make proper placement of the transparency films easier. It will also help you later when you start experimenting with multicolor imprints. We'll cover multicolor in a later tutorial.

it's time to print the transparency.

For Merchmakr, your transparencies should be printed using the "mirror image" setting. Essentially, the image should print backwards. You want to get the image as dark as you can. You'll need to experiment with your printer settings to get the darkest transparency. Once it's printed, hold it up to the light to check it for faintness or trouble spots. If you are planning on going professional, an inkjet printer with all black ink in all the cartridges does the very best job, but you can work your way up to that.

Gary Jurman
Gary Jurman

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