Screen Printing Tote Bags

How to Screen Print a Tote Bag with Ease

First of All: Burn Your Screen “Right Side Up”
Have you ever wanted to, or received a screen print a tote bag job and realized at the end that all of your images were upside down? Probably not, but I bet you may have ruined a bag or two when you were setting up to print.

Printing on t-shirts becomes second nature and it is easy to make this “force of habit” mistake when printing on tote bags. There are a few key differences between screen printing t-shirts and tote bags. Since a garment is loaded onto the platen by the shirt bottom, it would be easy to think making a screen for a tote bag would follow suit. Actually, the opposite is true. The tote bag is placed on the platen top first. That means your artwork/screen stencil needs to be right side up (Fig. 1) when seen from the printing position. In other words, the screen will be inverted from a t-shirt screen with the same artwork (Fig. 2). This is the most important part of any tote bag job.

Tote bag Diagram

You may ask yourself, “Why can’t I just re-use my t-shirt screen by rotating it on the press?” If you rotate your t-shirt screen so the artwork is right side up, it will be next to impossible to print. The location of the artwork on the screen will now be at the opposite end of the screen (Fig. 3). Good luck finding the print area (dotted line above) on your tote bag. You will definitely want to avoid this method.

The basic steps for printing the job:

  1. Register your NEW “inverted” artwork/screen on the press
  2. Adhere the platen protection tape
  3. Mark a line on the platen to designate a STOP for the top of the bag. Tote bag heights tend to vary and this will ensure you are printing your artwork at the same position on each bag
  4. Use an adhesive spray on the covered platen to secure the bag
  5. Load your ink into the screen
  6. Place your bag on the platen lining up the top of the bag to your STOP line
  7. Print by flooding and stroking it twice since tote bags are fairly rough

Keep in mind there are many types of inks and bags that react differently to each other. That is why it is always important to test prior to printing.

Check out the LawsonTV video below for a demonstrate on how to properly screen print tote bags and how to avoid making an easy mistake.


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