Why You Need Bases and Hilites in T-Shirt Screenprinting

John David Wilson
Owner of Rimshot T-Shirts

Are you/your graphic artist about to create  your next t-shirt order for your school, team, business, event, etc.?  Are you wondering why you need three screens to do a design that is just 2 colors on a black tshirt?  Why is your t-shirt screen printer charging you for more screens and something called ‘flashing’?  Read on!

Hot Trends in T Shirt Graphics 2018


The reason why you need an underbase when printing your design on dark colored tees is because screen printing inks are translucent.  Some inks are more opaque than others.  Check out the image above and you will see that the colors are not vibrant.  This is because the purple color of the tee shirt is peeking through the printed colors.  Whites, blacks, and reds tend to print more opaquely and that is the reason why they do not look so bad.  But the yellows and light blues in the design have changed altogether; due to the tee color mixing with the ink.  This often creates terrible results.  Especially if you have complimentary colors, such as green printing on a red t-shirt.  Or, even worse, light colors printing on a black garment.

Adding a White Base 

The image below now has the inks underbased with a white screen.  Now you can see that the lighter colors, such as light tan, light green, golds, etc. now look much better.  The red color is now vibrant and matches your original intent.  But you may notice that the white is still not vibrant.  This is because (you guessed it!) even though white is among the most opaque inks in screen printing the best you can achieve is 80-85% opacity.  When this base is printed, the ink has to be dry before any other inks can overlay it.  This is what screen printers call ‘flashing’.  Basically a very hot heating unit hovers above the t-shirt for a short period to dry that white ink. 

Hot Trends in T Shirt Graphics 2018
Hot Trends in T Shirt Graphics 2018

Hilite White

Now, check out the image above and you will see that the white now is bright, as originally intended.  This is because another screen was created to bolster the white, to make it nice and opaque.

Breaking the Rules.

There are times when you might not desire the colors to be vibrant.  Such as a print that is trying to simulate a t-shirt printed in the 70’s.  Or a design that has distressed effects to make it look like the garment has been washed a bunch of times.  You may have also noticed retail designs have gotten much more faded looking.  This is because it is more expensive to print bases and hilite whites and they are trying to convince you it is ‘fashion’.  For old-timers like me, many t-shirts that are being sold in retail today would have been labeled as misprints and thrown in the trash.

Alrighty then!  There you have it!  Now don’t you feel smarter?  Take a look at the gallery page on this site for stuff we have done recently.  


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