Can Screen Printing Create Gradients?

Screen printing has become the modern go-to printing technique. But when your beautiful design includes printing gradients, preparing your artwork effectively becomes an unexpected nightmare.

Most gradients in designs feature a solid transition from one color to another, with hundreds of colors in between that gradually shift into one another to create a smooth gradient. Below is an example of a basic gradient. Although it may look like only two colors, it’s actually hundreds of different shades.

blue and purple printing gradient example

How To Simplify Your Color Palette For Printing Gradients

When creating a fabric design, you are limited to the colors in your chosen color palette. Therefore, gradients cannot be used with a smooth transition, because the design would feature hundreds of shades of colors that are not part of the color palette.

The more colors you use in your design, the more expensive it will be to print. Most commercial printers have a limit on how many colors your design can have. If you’re printing gradients or areas of transparency, then you need to design your artwork using halftones.

What are halftones, and how are they used in printing gradients?

Halftones are dots of varying sizes & densities placed on top of a solid color so that to a viewer standing further away, the colors appear to blend together. They are most often used in printing to fake gradients. Below is an example of a gradient (left) and halftone version of the same gradient (right) on a black background.

black and white printing gradient example

When a screen printer outputs a graphic that contains gradients onto films, what they’re really outputting are these halftones. If you look closely at a screen printed tee that has gradients, you can actually make out these patterns. But seen from a distance, it makes a perfect blend. Just look at the photo below!

font printing gradient example

Printers can adjust the angle, frequency, and shape of these dots to increase or decrease the dot size of the halftones.

Larger dots equals more space in-between them creating a more visible gradient appearance
Smaller dots equals less space between them creating a tighter and smoother gradient appearance.

Create Full-Color Prints Using CMYK Halftones

Halftones are a common technique when it comes to screen printing gradients and not only allow for smooth transitions, but are also great for blending two colors together. By varying the density of the four secondary printing colors, cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), any particular shade can be reproduced.

CYMK printing gradient example

Setting Up The Correct Halftones For Printing Gradients

A lot of this is technical stuff that you never need to worry about. Generally, your screen printing will do all the work setting up the correct halftones to make your gradients print well. But if you’re providing your own design, prepping your artwork correctly and understanding a little bit about the process can help expedite to process. You can create the halftone in photoshop or in adobe illustrator.

Go Forth and Make Some Great Halftone Designs!

Creating stunning artwork that allows for printing gradients isn’t always an easy task. Luckily, the print experts are here to help! Whether you’re bringing your own artwork or need help designing, our energetic and creative team will help bring your ideas to life!

Get a custom quote on your next apparel purchase. Rick’s Tease offers Screen Printing, Embroidery, and Custom T-shirt Design. Check out our other blog topics for more T-Shirt Design Ideas.