Vintage Screen Printing

Is vintage screen printing right for me?

One of the most common conversations we have with our clients is about the feel of the ink after the shirt has been printed. This is a valid concern since a heavy handed print can ruin a nice garment. We’ve all come across t-shirts with a big thick print of ink across the chest that feels like plastic, and sometimes even cracks. One great way to avoid this thick feeling of ink is to use a vintage screen printing process.

There are two categories of screen printing.. Light ink on dark garments, and dark ink on light garments.

Dark on light is an easy one, whereas the pigment of the ink is already darker than the fabric itself. This means a minimal amount of ink is required to show up accurately on the garment, thus leaving the ink feeling softer and less thick.

Light on dark is another story. When printing a light ink color such as white on a dark fabric, the ink competes with the dark color of the fabric for vibrancy. This means the light ink must be printed thick enough to sit atop the dark colored shirt and still maintain vibrancy. Traditionally, the best way to achieve this is by printing the same layer of ink twice, by quickly drying it between layers. By doing so, twice as much ink is left atop the garment which will inevitabley feel thicker to the touch.

A vintage print is the process of printing a light color with only one layer of ink rather than two, leaving the image softer to the touch. The result is a slightly less vibrant print of ink that is significantly softer to the touch. The ink may also appear somewhat see-through and tends to blend in with the garment better. The ink can also be slightly “reduced” before printing. This means that the ink is mixed together with a clear liquid plastisol base which makes it less thick before printing. We highly recommend this process for light on dark ink, and find that people are always much happier with the results.

Take a look at the two examples shown above and below. On the top we have a traditional screen print with two layers of white ink. On the bottom, vintage screen printing. As you can see the vintage screen printing is slightly less opaque and not as much of a bright white. The feel is significantly softer and blends in with the garment much more so. There is still a light feel to the vintage ink, far less than the traditional method.

Vintage prints also look especially good on nicer garments with a heather due to the variation in the fabric that can slightly come through. See below for details:


Vintage screen printing is great for:

  • – Softer feeling ink
  • – Light ink on dark fabrics
  • – More subtle results
  • – Higher end/soft garments such as triblends

Vintage screen printing should not be used for:

  • – Neon or vibrant/iridescent colored ink
  • – Shiny/Shimmer inks such as gold or silver
  • – High contrast results