The 6 Different Types of Screen Printing & How They Work


Screen printing is one of the oldest printing techniques, first developed in medieval Asia. 

Later in the 1800s, it came to Europe where it was industrialized due to silk being easier to import (a requirement for the mesh).

Key Takeaways

Spot color printing

This method is best used for printing 1 to 4 colors. It works best when printing garments of a darker color.

Grayscale printing

Typically, used for a retro-look or trying to portray a retro-feel. An affordable way of printing quality monochromatic images.

Halftone printing

This method allows you to create a gradient effect that makes up your design. It can be a single color gradient or multiple color gradients. This allows for the ability to create more complex designs.

This printing technique started to dominate the advertizing world. With stencilling now being the most popular type of screen printing (accounting for 60% of all screen prints). While hand painting is the second most common (accounting for 30% of all screen prints). 

The variety of items that can be printed using this method makes it a widely favored printing technique.

In addition, the equipment is inexpensive and easy to make compared to alternatives. This added to its popularity and eventually diversified it into several types.

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    Exploring The Different Methods of This Printing Approach

    Fast-forward to today and there are six main types of screen printing techniques, each with unique properties.

    1. Spot color screen printing.
    2. Grayscale printing.
    3. Halftone screen printing.
    4. Four-colour (CMYK) printing.
    5. Doutone printing.
    6. Simulated printing process.

    All these techniques follow the same basic principle of transferring ink through a screen. But the way they accomplish this goal differs.

    But First, What Is This Printing Technique & How Does It Work?

    This method of printing uses a squeegee to push ink through a meshed stencil (containing the design). The stencil allows ink to pass through some areas of the mesh and not others. It is this combination that creates the overall artwork which is applied on a substrate.

    The substrates are typically fabric, metal, paper, wood and sometimes plastic.

    If you want to learn more on how screen printing works, read this article first!

    Let’s take a look at each type. What are their advantages & disadvantages, and what they are used for?

    #1 The Process of Printing Using Spot Colors

    This is the first and oldest screen printing technique developed in the West. Great for printing identical orders on an industrial scale.

    Even today, with other apparel printing methods, spot color remains the most popular. This is because it is easy to do.

    Blue cotton t-shirt having spot color printed on it using screen printing process.
    Spot printing, the first screen printing application you learn. It uses solid or pure colors to build up a design.

    The spot color screen printing process uses pure or custom mixed color ink. Each color is applied individually to a mesh one at a time. You can build up the artwork in layers to create a more complicated piece.

    The end result is a product with vibrant solid spot colors and a thick layer of ink (depending on mesh count). This makes it durable and resistant to washing. Furthermore, this process can be used on just about any clothing material.

    Spot color screen printing is handy for printing full-color images on darker garments. It’s useful for 1 to 4 colors. Any more colors and sublimation printing may be a better option.

    Benefits of the spot color process

    • A printing application cheaper than most of its alternatives.
    • The go-to method for printing on darker garments. 
    • Produces vibrant colors with good durability (resistant to wear and repeated washing).
    • Simple process that can be applied at home with little preparation.

    Disadvantages of the spot color process

    • Colors appear washed out when printed on lighter clothing products.

    Watch this video: What Is Spot Color Printing [02 mins 51 secs]

    To save time, skip to timeline 00:33!

    #2 The Grayscale Printing Method

    Technically, this isn’t a black and white printing process. But rather removes the CMY (cyan, magenta & yellow) colors. It works with gray shades instead.

    The more dots in the halftones, the more details the artwork and shadings have and the better the resolution. 

    This makes grayscale printing one of the most common ways to print black and white images on various substrates, but more commonly on fabric.

    Portrait of girl's face printed on a black shirt using the grayscale screen printing method.
    Grayscales provide a monochromatic retro-feel. The image is built from black & white dots.

    The end result of grayscale shade printing is a retro-feel. Similar to that belonging in a movie from the 20s.

    Benefits of the grayscale method

    • Produces consistent, high-quality black and white designs.
    • Both materials and equipment are inexpensive compared to other printing methods.

    Cons of the grayscale method

    • Grayscale printing is only viable for black and white photos.
    • Requires a greater understanding of how light absorption and reflection works.

    Watch this video: Screen Print Halftones [24 mins 12 secs]

    To save time, skip to timeline 00:50!

    #3 The Halftone Printing Process

    The third method on our list is halftone printing. Accomplished by combining two halftones in different colors on the same screen. The result is a vibrant multicolored image.

    Furthermore, the dark and light combination allows for the creation of a second halftone on top of the first. This gives an illusory effect that is unique and appealing.

    Finally, the way the two halftone ink colors interact with each other allows you to use this printing method on just about any material.

    Benefits of halftone printing

    • When used correctly, halftone printing gives off an illusory, lifelike image.
    • Works well with multiple color prints.
    • Complete freedom in choosing whatever substrate material.

    Disadvantages of halftone printing

    • Complicated method that requires an automated printer. The two halftones cannot be combined manually.

    #4 The 4-color, Or The CMYK Printing Approach

    By far the most advanced and complicated screen printing process of the lot.

    The process works as follows: create or scan the designed image on your computer. Then strip it down to the four base colors.

    Individually, build up 4 layers of color to create an image.

    These four colors are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. The computer uses the RGB scheme, with each color ranging from 0 to 255 on the scale, to represent the colors.

    Each screen will have a stencil for that specific color. You add a layer at a time to build up the image. The order in which the colors are printed is important!

    Benefits of CMYK printing

    • The four-color method allows for incredibly detailed images, thanks to the use of computer-assisted image design.
    • Automatic t-shirt presses can print four-color images with precision. Far beyond what can be accomplished manually.

    Cons of CMYK printing

    • Requires long preparation times. It’s therefore unsuitable for quick prints & bulk orders.
    • It can only be automated due to its complexity. Not ideal for home screen printing processes.

    Watch this video: (CMYK) Printing Demo [00 mins 54 secs]

    Here’s an article on other methods for printing designs on t-shirts and other apparel.

    #5 The Duotone Printing System

    Another popular way of printing on clothing and other items is the so-called duotone printing method. This method is based on the same principle as halftone printing. Except it uses two separate images instead of one. It places them on top of each other to achieve an even higher quality of print.

    The duotone technique gives an old-fashioned look to images by combining a light and a dark halftone. The result is an image that looks like it was printed many years ago, which is why it’s popular for creating vintage-style products such as clothing, home decor items like bowls and curtains, and more.

    Benefits of the duotone method

    • Duotone is used on just about any material and background color. This makes it incredibly versatile.
    • It produces a unique combination of colors with a cooling feel. Not replicated by any other printing technology.

    Disadvantages of the duotone method

    • This method is almost as complicated to execute as CMYK. Not suitable for inexperienced people and often requires an automatic printing process.
    • Results can look washed out when using color ink, resulting in a less vibrant image. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what’s trying to be accomplished.

    #6 Simulated Printing Process

    Simulated process printing is a technologically advanced screen printing technique that depends wholly on computers’ use in obtaining their quality graphics.

    The complexity of this process makes it impossible to do without machine assistance. But it further improves on the already impressive results provided by the four-color printing process.

    The possibilities are infinite once you master this process. But it is not an easy thing to do. Highly technical and complicated prints, such as board circuitry, will use this method.

    Benefits of simulated printing

    • Incredibly versatile. Combines the best elements of other methods to achieve high-quality prints.
    • Often used for advanced pieces of equipment. This includes electronic circuitry, motherboards, and medical tools.

    Cons of simulated printing

    • The process was developed for and only usable by an automatic screen printing machine.
    • Not all screen printers are suitable for this printing method.

    Comprehensive Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the average price for a screen printed t-shirt?

    The average price for a screen printed t-shirt is about $5.75. Due to recent inflation and disruptions in supply chains, the figure is likely a little higher.

    What is the global screen printing market estimated at?

    The screen printing industry is estimated to be worth over $10 billion dollars in the United States alone.

    At what rate is the industry growing at?

    The global screen printing market is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% between 2020 and 2027.


    With all the types of screen printing available, it is unsurprising the technology is used for so many things.

    That said, what was once a unified process has diversified into several types. Each of them comes with its own advantages and drawbacks.

    Overall, your screen printing method will depend on your goals. Your equipment is also a factor. This is because some techniques can print complex images but require a lot more setup and higher investment.

    Therefore, analyze the 6 printing processes and select the right process for you!

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