Should screen printers wash garments before printing?
While there may be a reason for laundering a specific garment before printing, my general response is a resounding “No.” The main reason for not laundering a garment before printing is how it affects the shirt fibers. During the wash and dry cycles, the fibers are roughed up, and the ends of the natural fibers pull out of the threads during the wash. These little fibers end up “fluffing” the garment. While this helps to make the garment feel softer on the skin, these tiny fibers also want to poke up through any ink on the garment, making the print feel rough and affecting colors printing over that ink.
As screen printers, we have enough on our plates with just trying to print on regular fluffy or scratchy fabrics that have not been laundered. Trying to print on a shirt that has been washed causes the printer to have to work even harder for a smooth print, as those shirt fibers do not want to lay down easily.
For those of you reading this that have an automatic, your natural response is to turn on your smoothing screen or iron to flatten out the fibers. But what you will find is that the print, while noticeably better, is not as smooth as it is when the garment has not been laundered. For those readers on a manual press, this is far harder to fix.