Graphic Design, Web Design and… Screen Printing?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Ben Franklin

We like to think of ourselves as a Creative Agency, a team focused on finding creative solutions to complex problems. These problems can range from how to showcase a brand & layout a website t0 making information look exciting.  Since 2011, one of these visual challenges has been Young Life summer camp apparel. Summer camp shirts mean more than just a t-shirt. They are a constant reminder of the awesome camp experience. Their designs need to be just as unique and exciting. With that in mind, whenever we design a camp tee we strive to make it unique and special. That way it will be a pleasant reminder of the camp it’s for and will be worn with pride.


“That all makes perfect sense”, you’re thinking, “but what does that have to do with the screen printing process?”. Well, after a few years of designing camp shirts for Young Life we decided to get our hands dirty. In 2013, we had an opportunity to purchase our own screen printing set up and bring the whole process in-house. During college, Justin had an internship with a Portland apparel company prepping artwork for screen printing and assisting with the printing process. Kyle had done some screen printing in college as well, exploring the limitations of the medium and testing the process as a whole.

Even though we have had experience with screen printing, it was still a big change for Salt Foundry. We departed from only facing creative / visual challenges and added a whole new technical experience into our work. Designing an apparel graphic became a much more involved process by combining the goal of creating a design that would look awesome with our new technical knowledge of the printing process.


So what really changed when we started screen printing in-house? Quite a few things, really. We are now in charge of the whole creative process of the tee, from design, to mixing the colors, to the actual printing. This means that each design that requires a special color (pretty much anything other than black, white, or primary colors) we are mixing ourselves. Having this control allows us to match the color to how we intended it to be, which is pretty exciting. Beyond the creative side, we have learned a tremendous amount about the whole screen printing process and are continually looking for ways to streamline our setup. In 2015 we purchased an industrial exposure unit and in early 2016 with switched emulsion types, which has allowed us to really dial in the screen creation process to be faster and more efficient.

We have also upgraded to a conveyer dryer, which heats up to over 350 degrees to cure the ink onto the shirt. Now we have full confidence that every tee will hold its design for as long as possible with minimal fading. We’ve also continued to research, experiment, and explore the screen printing process as a whole to make every step easy, consistent, and efficient. Stay involved, keep learning, and Be Salty.

Here is a little sneak peak behind the curtain at our custom apparel process:

When creating custom apparel, first we establish the needs of our client. Usually this includes what they want the graphic to look or feel like, what is says, and any color preferences. From there, we explore a few designs and work with our client to dial in the best solution. Next we print the design in all black onto 2-3 large sheets of transparency. We use multiple transparencies to layer the artwork so it will be extra black, which is very important for the next step. Once a screen has been emulsioned and the emulsion is dry, we position the artwork transparency on the screen. Emulsion is a light sensitive chemical that will harden when exposed to light. So, any portion of the screen the gets light will harden and any area that’s blocked by our black design will stay soft.

Our exposure unit only requires about 1 minute of light for the emulsion to properly harden. After exposure we take the screen to our washout booth. There, we use a pressure washer to remove any emulsion on the design. This part of the process should take about 30 seconds. Nearly Done! Now we just have to wait for the screen to dry. Then we can tape up any registration marks so ink will only pass through the screen through the design. Finally ready to start printing!

During printing, we flood the screen (which means lightly covering the screen with ink without it passing through) and pull the squeegee over the design 2-3 times, which ensures enough ink will be put down. Lastly, we put the shirt on our conveyor dryer, which heats up to over 350 degrees and allows the ink to properly bond to the apparel. All done! The tees are then boxed up and shipped out!

“We added a whole new layer of experience into our creative process”