Perfect your shirt loading skills and technique with these top tips from Ryonet and Bella+Canvas

When you’re just starting out as a screen printer, there are many different skills you need to master and one of the trickiest is not related to the actual printing itself. The question on every newbie screen printer’s mind is: “How do I get the shirt straight on the pallet?”

The painful truth is, it just takes practice. You’ll be better at loading shirts after you’ve loaded 10 shirts. After 100. After 10,000. Some would even say it takes loading 10,000 shirts to truly master the loading technique, but we think that’s a little extreme. There’s a method to the madness that is shirt-loading, and with some simple tips you can master the art of loading a shirt on the pallet straight and quickly. Every time.

Choose up or down

First things first, you have to grab the shirt correctly. Some screen printers like to grab the T-shirts face up (tag up) and some like to grab them face down (tag down). This is entirely up to you, but you have to know which one you like best. So, try both, pick one and practise.

Don’t trust the centre crease

Some shirts come from the manufacturer with a crease or line down the centre of the garment, which may lead you to believe that this line is some kind of benevolent tool left there to guide you into perfect shirt loading. Wrong. While this line does run down the centre of the garment, it’s actually a result of the process used to make the T-shirt and not a true centre. Rule of thumb: use it to guide you, but do not trust it blindly.

Master the rocking motion

There may be lots of ways to grab the shirt, but there’s really only one sure-fire, fast way to load it on the platen: the rocking motion. To do this, you pick up the shirt from the bottom, making the fabric tight between your hands. Then you rock the shirt forward onto the platen and drop it with the collar snugly up against the top of the platen. As you rock your body back, let your hands slide back with you and grab the shoulder seams to pull back and centre your shirt. Using the shoulder seams is the only way to tell a true centre. You want the space between the shoulder seams on both sides to be equal. If it’s not, then it’s not centred. Master this and you’ll be rocking shirts on and off effortlessly with perfect alignment in no time.

Be careful with the adhesive

Adding adhesive to the platen is crucial for keeping garments from slipping around when you are screen printing. However, there’s a distinction between too much and not enough pallet adhesive. If you’re spraying new adhesive every single time you reload a shirt, that’s too much and you’re going to have an incredibly difficult time loading and adjusting your shirts properly. We suggest ditching the spray adhesives and going with a water-based pallet adhesive. These kinds of adhesive allow you to apply it once at the beginning of your print run and get just the right amount of adhesive, lasting long past just one run of shirts. Enough adhesive will prevent the shirts from moving when you smooth them down with your hands after alignment. Too much adhesive will stick your shirt down without pressure and make it unmovable for the rocking adjustment.

Loading on an automatic press

The process of loading a shirt is the same on an automatic presses as it is on a manual; however, on an auto you can also incorporate the use of the peddle. Pressing the peddle on an auto pauses the press; you can use this to give you sufficient time to load a shirt.

As you begin the rocking forward motion with the shirt, press your foot down on the peddle to pause the press; as you rock back, lift your foot off the peddle to allow the press to resume its rotation and bring the next open platen into the loading position.

Thanks to San Ferdinand, European sales and marketing at Bella+Canvas, for her kind permission to reprint this article. San notes that Bella+Canvas garments have a tight knit face and smooth surface, making them ideal for screen printing. Screen printing guidelines for every fabric the company produces can be found in the back of the 2017 catalogue.

More screen printing advice is available on the Ryonet blog