screen print shift tolerance typography graphic

Tolerance 101: 3 Small Design Considerations for Big Screen Print Success

If someone were to ask you what tolerance means to you, how would you describe it? I believe tolerance is being able to accept people’s differences of opinion to work toward social harmony.

What does tolerance have to do with screen printing you ask. Well there exists a tolerance of another type. It’s less warm and fuzzy but still important. It’s technical tolerance and it can affect your screen-printed label.

Here’s the breakdown. Our printing machines have an allowable tolerance in screen (or color) shift. It’s 1mm. This means our screen-printing machines can reliably line up the colors to within 1mm of each other. However, get closer than 1mm and things get less predictable. It sounds minimal but this tiny shift can have noticeable effects on your screen-printed design. It can mean the difference between your bottle becoming a collectable work of art or just another recycled container.

I’ve identified 3 common ways tolerance can affect your screen print:

    1. Each paint color in your design requires its own screen and screens can be moody. They can be up one moment and down the next. If your design is using one color/screen, the shift would be imperceptible. As the color/screen count goes up the potential for shift increases quickly.
      The same tolerance holds true for shift along the horizon. Screens can get cozy or distance themselves side to side as well.
      3 brightly colored circles inside each other and shifted 1mm
    2. Some screen print paints don’t play well with each other. Especially shiny precious metal paints vs. regular ceramic paints.
      While they are beautiful to look at, these brilliant, 22kt prima donnas will chemically react with other paints that they touch – and then they will tarnish. This is where your shift tolerance knowledge is important and having space between the precious metal portion of your design from other colors is crucial. Precious metal paints also tend to be more liquid (they spread around easily) so more reason to give them room to breathe. Ah, tolerance.
      The word Brilliant! and shiny gold with shift showing tarnish
    3. With an apparent comeback of outlined fonts, we receive a lot of designs with type containing more than one color. Blurry font alert!
      Here’s how it happens: The outline and font are different colors (remember, different colors mean different screens). The screens shift 1mm toward or away from each other and it throws the outline off. At best the font reads as blurry, at worst it makes the viewer woozy. To get around this, it’s best practice to forego the outline. One color, no shift.

Check back often for tips on preparing your label design for screen print.


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