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How durable are screen printed items of clothing?

Having durable clothing is important in all walks of life. Whether you're a manual labourer carrying heavy loads all day or you want to wear clothes that help you look your best, it's natural to want those garments to stand the test of time. This is something that clothing producers have become increasingly aware of in recent years. As well as wanting clothes to last for some time for practical reasons, environmental concerns are also starting to enter the equation. No matter the reason, it's important for anyone looking to create personalised or branded clothing to look for long-lasting solutions. In that context, let's explore the durability of screen printing. 

what is screen printing?

Screen printing is a versatile method used to print a range of designs onto different surfaces. The process consists of using a special stencil (called a screen), and the ink is then pushed through onto the medium of choice. The screen is essentially a very fine mesh that can be blocked off in certain areas to allow the ink only to be applied to the desired area. Using multiple screens, you can create areas of different colours, facilitating the creation of highly complex designs and pieces.

While screen printing can be used to print onto a wide range of materials, from plastic to metal, it's perhaps most commonly used in the textile industry. This is because it's relatively easy to produce high-quality items at a low cost, using the same stencils or large runs of hundreds or even thousands of items.

design factors that influence durability

Screen printing, on the whole, is a highly durable method of applying designs to clothing. However, there are a number of important factors that can make a big difference in how durable it is. 



Something that will have a massive impact on the durability of the end product is the quality of the fabric that you use. A fabric with a higher thread count will have more material for the ink to attach itself to, and fabrics that stretch less will likely stress the design less. 

If you're doing a large run of prints and you're looking to economies, then it's important to weigh the cost benefits of using cheap base clothing against the cons of having items that might not last very long.

Ink quality

Ink quality

The quality of the ink you use in the process can also significantly impact how durable the item of clothing is. Most screen printers tend to use something called plastisol ink; plastisol is quite a thick ink, making it both durable and versatile. It comes in a wide range of colours and is relatively inexpensive.

Curing technique

Curing technique

Finally, no matter how high quality the ink and the t-shirt are, you need to make sure that the end result is cured properly. Essentially, you need to ensure that the ink is heated correctly to ensure that it sets in a way that encourages durability. This can be done in a number of ways. The simplest is to use a heat gun or a heat press; they're both quite effective. However, they're relatively labour-intensive and aren't suited to longer runs.

Flash dryers and conveyor dryers tend to be used by more professional providers; conveyor dryers, in particular, are highly efficient and facilitate the curing of large runs very effectively.

aftercare influences on durability

While you can create highly durable items of clothing using screen printing techniques, it's important to note that how the product is treated after it's been sold or given out will have a significant impact on how long it lasts. For example, all clothing items have a limited number of wash cycles, with many manufacturers estimating that you can get between 40 and 60 washes out of a single piece. Washing screen-printed items of clothing at a high temperature will reduce that number - it's important to make sure that these items are washed at a low to medium heat and are air dried wherever possible.

alternatives to screen printing

Screen printing isn't the only method that can be used to apply designs to clothing. It's also possible to use DTG (direct-to-garment) printing techniques, sublimation, and vinyl. While all of these alternatives can be useful in certain situations and have the potential to result in impressive designs, they're generally not quite in the same league as screen printing when it comes to durability. Vinyl can be very high quality, but DTG and sublimation tend to be a lot thinner, and the bond with the fabric is often weaker than with screen printing. This means that using screen printing techniques tends to be your best bet if you're looking to create items of clothing that can last for a long time and withstand being worn in harsher environments.

If screen-printed clothing is washed or dried too harshly, it can lead to premature cracking of the design, especially if the print is quite thick. Over time, these cracks can start to lift at the edges, with the design peeling off. If the screen printing is a lot thinner, this does significantly minimise the probability of cracking but can lead to the design fading in different ways.

encouraging product care

Once you've made the item of clothing, how it's treated isn't quite out of your control. You can ensure that a product care label is applied to the item, encouraging washing and drying it in a certain way. If it's an item of employee uniform, then you can provide additional recommendations on how to get as much life as possible out of it as well. Hopefully, this clears things up a little bit for you. Screen printing can produce highly durable items of clothing, but only if it's done right. You need to make sure that you use high-quality base fabrics and inks and ensure that the ink is cured properly. Beyond that, how long the item lasts will depend on how well the wearer looks after it.