Why You Need To Know Screen Printing Slang And Jargon

Let’s say you have an awesome design idea and decided you want to get it screen printed on some t-shirts or face masks.

But wait, how can you even start your journey, when you don’t know you need?

So you turn to the almighty Google to ask questions, but you realize you don’t understand half the things you’re reading.

This is why you need to know what everyone calls it as “screen printing slang”.

Below, I’ve compiled a glossary of all the basic screen printing slang that you can pick up to sound like you’ve been doing this for years! Let’s get to it!


The grid on a silk screen. Contains very small squares which ink passes through.

Mesh count

When you walk into a screen printing supplies shop, just tell them what kind of medium you’re planning to print on. You say “fabric” or specifically, “t-shirts”. In general, t-shirt printers will advice a mesh count between 110 to 160 (US standard) for EU, UK or Asia this is between 1100 to 1750. Think of it as pixels on your computer monitor. The higher the count, the finer the detail is.

Why don’t l just get 240 then? I know, detail is good, but unless you’re printing posters or onto a hard and smooth surface, you’ll want mesh holes big enough for paint to go through as you apply pressure on with a squeegee. Too small a hole and you won’t get that full print you want.


There are two types, metal (aluminum) and wooden. Both have their pros and cons. Metal frames are pricier, but will last. Wooden frames are economical but will warp (after washing it multiple times) after a while, this will leave an uneven print. However, there are excellent quality wooden frames. My advice is to start off with a wooden frame – before buying, make sure to lay it on a flat surface and test the evenness. Get those with box joints, mortise, or tenon jointed.



There are three types of squeegee blades, the most commonly used are the flat heads a.k.a rectangular tips, the ball nose, and then there are the pointers a.k.a V-Shapes. In my personal opinion, flat heads are great for paper and large textile printing, but if you’re printing t shirts, I’d go for the pointers. Using pointers also cut out the risk of pushing excess paint, while making it easy to maintain the proper 35 – 45-degree angel from start to finish.


Like I already mentioned, water based and plastisol have their place. There are literally hundreds of brands out there, all with different specifications and ingredients. As a tip, ask the salesperson for a sample print of the ink. This way you can gauge if that’s the type of ink you’re looking for.

Good shops will custom mix a color (according to the Pantone Color Chart) for a fee. Bad shops won’t even have that option.


This is the most important component of screen printing. This photo/light sensitive liquid hardens up when exposed to UV rays, and becomes water resistant. The fuss about this is whether or not to get it separate (sensitizer + emulsion) or premixed a.k.a instant ones. I’ve tried both, they work the same and the cost is negligible between the two if you’re starting out.

Emulsion Scoop Coater

In general, get a scoop coater that is at least an inch shorter in length than your screen.

This way, you would only coat 6 inches of that 7 or 8 inch screen of yours.

Reclaimer a.k.a Emulsion Remover

Once the job is done, you’ll need to strip the stencil off and start fresh. Like emulsions, they come premixed. Companies that manufacture emulsion usually manufacture reclaimers too, so just go ahead with the favorite.

Half-Tones: We use this on shirts to provide shading, create more colors and provide depth. Technically, it’s used for reproducing images in which the various tones of gray or color are produced by variously sized dots of ink.

Discharge Ink: An agent (safe for friends and family) that takes the pigment out of fabric. Allows for vibrant prints that you can’t feel. Learn more.

Polyblend: A shirt that is a blend of cotton, polyester or rayon.

50/50: A shirt that is a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester.

Plastisol: A plastic based ink. Not offered at Real Thread.


High Opacity: Water based ink that provides an intense and vibrant print. Done by placing a white underbase.
Triblend: A shirt that is a blend of cotton, polyester and rayon.
All-Over-Print: A print that covers an entire shirt. This our largest screen, coming in at 40”x36”. Learn more.
Not what is put on your shirt. Ink is put on your shirt.
Water Based Ink: Ink made up of water that dyes a garment directly, becoming a part of the fabric, rather than laying on top of a shirt. Learn more.
Seps: Your shirt is made up of a lot of colors. Seps are when our art department separates those colors on your shirt.
Standard: Standard is in reference to a standard print, which is 14”x17”. Learn more.

Registration: How the separations of your design perfectly align from screen to screen.
Left-Chest: The “pocket area” on your shirt.

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The 4 colors that, when combined, can make (or fake) most any color. Learn more.

Jumbo: A jumbo print is the third largest print we offer coming in at 19”x33”. Learn more.

Simulated Process: A process for making color rich shirts. It’s like CMYK on steroids. Learn more.

Foil: Foil that can be placed on a shirt. Placed using a special technique that involves a screen, special glue and a little additional heat. Learn more.

Oversized: An oversized print. This is the second largest print we offer, coming in at 17”x22”. Learn more.

Silk Screen: The screen we use to print our shirts on. High quality and high end.

Emulsion: The coating used in making a screen stencil.

Location: Where the graphic is placed on your shirt.

Dimensions: How large your graphic is.



Artwork – Refers to the image or text that will be used during the screen printing process.

Automatic Press – A screen printing press that operates using a pneumatic or hydraulic system and uses an electric or pneumatic motor. Automatic screen presses have a higher production rate and print quality than manual presses.

Bitmap (or Raster) – Is an electronic image that is stored as a series of tiny dots called pixels. Each pixel is actually a very small square that is assigned a color and then arranged in a pattern to form the image. When you zoom in on a bitmap, you can see the individual pixels that make up that image. Using a program like Adobe Photoshop, bitmap graphics can be edited to change the color of individual pixels or erased.

Bleeding – Occurs when ink flows beyond the boundaries of the stencil or is used to describe one color migrating into another.

Blend – The act of printing with two or more inks simultaneously to create a gradient effect.

Block Out – 1. The act of applying a small patch to cover an open section of mesh; 2. an air-drying liquid that fills pinholes in a stencil.

Burn – The act of exposing an emulsion coated screen to a light source to make a stencil.

Butt Registration – When the artwork is aligned against another color without a gap in between.

Camera-Ready Art – Artwork that is ready to be burned onto film or vellum for production and requires no alterations.

Capillary Film – Is an emulsion coated film that can be applied to the mesh to make a stencil for printing. Though similar to a liquid emulsion, a capillary film provides a smooth surface at a consistent thickness. To adhere the capillary film to the mesh, coat your screen with a thin layer of emulsion or wet it with water.

Carousel – A rotary screen printer with 4 or more color stations.

Catalyst – An ink additive that promotes ink bonding to nylon and synthetic fabric. For example, 900 Series Nylon Ink require IC 900 Catalyst to get the ink to adhere to fabric.

CMYK – Also known as four-color process or full-color process, is a printing process that uses four ink colors (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) to print almost any color. CMYK requires a white background or white ink under base to produce prints on fabric.

Colorfast – Describes the garment’s ability to survive repeated washes after printing without the artwork losing any color.

Color Separation – When screen printers take a full-color image and separate the individual colors to break down the image so that it can be printed.

Coverage – The amount of ink laid down on a garment during printing.

Cure – Most kinds of ink will gel or flash when the ink reaches around 220°F and cure completely at around 320°F. If the ink isn’t properly cured to the fabric, it will not withstand washing.

Degreasing – The process of washing screens with an industrial strength degreaser to remove contaminants like dust, dirt, and oil. When you purchase a screen, you must degrease it to keep the emulsion from separating from the mesh. Using household degreasers on screen mesh is not recommended.

Diazo Emulsion – One of the three type of liquid emulsion (along with dual cure and photopolymer). Diazo emulsions are recommended for beginners because it takes longer to expose but produces good-quality stencils. Also, the emulsion changes color after exposure for easy pinhole spotting.

Discharge Ink – Used to print light colors onto dark fabric, this type of ink works by removing the dye from the garment fibers.

DPI – Or “dots per inch” is the measurement of the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within a span of 1 inch. This is used to refer to spatial printing and video dot density.

Dual-Cure Emulsion – One of the three types of emulsion (along with diazo and photopolymer). A hybrid emulsion created by combining diazo and photopolymer in one, dual-core emulsion produces finer stencils than diazo, is less expensive than photopolymer, and resists humidity.

Durometer (Duro) – Refers to the hardness or stiffness of the squeegee blade.

Dyed Mesh – Mesh fabric that has been tinted with color to reduce light transmission.

Emulsion – A photosensitive/photopolymer film or chemical that is applied to a mesh and then developed by exposing the screen to a specific part of the UV light spectrum.

Emulsion Remover – A chemical used to reclaim screens that are covered in an emulsion. Also known as a stencil stripper or remover.

Exposure Unit – A machine that emits UV light to expose screens for making photo stencils.

Film – A term used to refer to a film positive.

Fisheye – A print that has around or oval imperfection with a dark center. Producing a print with a fisheye means the previous stencil was not completely removed.

Flashing – 1. The process of printing the same color twice onto fabric most often used when printing light-colored ink on a dark material; 2. applying heat to a substrate while it is still on the press to gel the top layer of ink. Remember, flash dried ink is not completely cured and will not withstand washing.

Flood – The act of filling the open stencil areas and mesh with ink before pushing the ink through.

Ghost Image (Ghost Print) – A faint but visible image on the screen leftover from a previous ink or artwork.

Halftone – The process of creating images through the use of dots, varying either in size, shape or spacing. The dots are so tiny to the naked eye they blend to create varying shades of a color. Halftones are specified in LPI (lines per inch). Higher LPI produces finer detail.

Handfeel or Hand – 1. A term used in the fashion and textile industries to describe the texture or feel of the fabric; 2. the texture or feel of a print that has been applied to the fabric. In the printing world, a soft hand feel print is the most preferred.

Haze Remover – A one or two part chemical remover used to clean faint ink stains or ghost images from the screen mesh.

Image Area – The section on the screen where the image appears.

Ink Additive – Refers to chemical agents that can be added to the ink to change viscosity, adhesion, drying time and more.

Line Art – Artwork consisting only of outlines filled solid with no halftones.

LPI – Or “lines per inch” are printing lines of dots that create halftone dots for exposure.

Manual Press – A screen printer that is operated by hand.

Mesh – The woven material stretched across the screen printing frame.

Mesh Count – The amount of threads of mesh that cross per square inch. A high mesh count means finer threads and holes while a larger mesh count has coarser threads and larger holes. You can purchase a mesh counter to gauge mesh count as each type of mesh works better a certain type of ink.

Mesh Count Ink Compatibility
24 – 86 Specialty Ink
110 For light-colored ink such as white
160 For dark ink such as black. Hold more detail that 110, but less ink with pass through the screen.
200 – 230 Yields high-detail results, but the ink regardless of color may need to be reduced with an additive for mesh this fine.
230 – 305 Used for super-fine detail printing, halftones, solvent based inks and CMYK process prints.
Misprint – A finished print with a defect.

On-Press Wash – A chemical cleaner used to remove ink from screens but not emulsion allowing the stencil to be used again.

Opacity – The ink’s ability to cover the color of the substrate. For example, it is important to have a white ink with a high opacity to use as an under base for printing on dark-colored garments.

Orange Peel – A defect that results in the print having an orange peel or basketball-like texture usually caused by the ink sticking to the mesh or low ink viscosity.

Pallet – Or platen is a smooth flat surface for holding the garment during the printing process.

Pinhole – A small hole in the stencil that allows unwanted ink to pass through the screen leaving behind dots on the finished print.

Plastisol Ink – A plastic-based ink that makes a long-lasting, washable print on fabric. Plastisol ink must be cured with heat to survive washing.

PMS Color – Or Pantone Color Matching system is a method of matching colors developed by Pantone.

Reclaiming – The process of removing emulsion from the screen so it can be reused.

Registration – An alignment of one color of artwork with another. Prints of more than one color must have each color applied separately with its individual screen. Also, all screens must be lined up correctly with each other as not to overlap or blend.

Retarder – An ink additive that slows the drying time of the ink.

Screen – Aluminum or wooden frame with mesh tightly strung in the center. When purchasing a screen consider what type of screen frame is right for you: wooden frames are less expensive but aluminum frames last longer and do not warp when wet.

Screen Opener – A chemical that removes clogged dried ink from a stencil.

Photopolymer Emulsion – One of the three types of emulsion ( along with diazo and dual-cure). Photopolymer emulsion is the most light sensitive, expensive, and has the longest shelf-life. Recommended for experienced screen printers and those working with solvent-based inks.

Silkscreen – A screen made of fine mesh that is used in the screen printing process. Also used to refer to a print created using a silkscreen.

Silkscreening – Another name for the screen printing process. Other names include fabritecture and mitography.

Solvent Ink – An oil-based ink typically used for printing on hard surfaces like plastic, glass, metal and more.

Spray Tack – Pallet adhesives used to keep garments in place during printing.

Specialty Ink – Ink that makes a print look visually interesting and textured. Some specialty inks examples include metallic, glitter, high density, glow-in-the-dark, puff, reflective, and gel.

Stencil – The`uncovered portion of the screen that allows ink through the mesh during the printing process.

Squeegee Blade – a flexible rubber urethane or plastic blade attached to a handle. By running the blade over the screen, ink is forced through the mesh making a print.

Substrate – A term for the item being printed.

Tension – The tightness of the screen mesh measured in newtons.

Ultraviolet Light – Light that consists of electromagnetic waves. Also called black light, UV light is used for exposing screens and curing certain types of ink.

Under Base – The first layer of ink on the garment that when cured acts as the base for all other colors. For example, a white under base is needed if you are printing on a dark garment or with multi colors.

UV Ink – Ink the cures only when exposed to UV light.

Vector – Created with a software program like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, a vector is a clean, camera-ready piece of artwork that can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality.

Vellum Paper – A type of translucent paper that can be used to create a film positive with a laser printer.

Viscosity – The thickness or thinness of the ink.

Washout – The act of applying water to an emulsion coated screen after exposure to develop the image on the screen.

Water-Based Ink – Water soluble ink that dyes the garment and becomes a part of the fabric.

Wet-on-Wet Printing – The act of consecutively printing color without flash curing in between.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.