What is Screen Printing? Our Guide to Cotton Bag Printing

  • 21st September 2020

Screen printing is BIDBI’s most popular method of printing. If you have placed an order for screen printed cotton bags with us in the past you will know the benefits of screen printing and when to use it. For those who are thinking about getting printed cotton bags for their business, then this guide will take you through this centuries old method from start to finish.

Table of contents:

  1. Overview

        - The History
        - Advantages
        - Disadvantages

  1. Designing for Screen Print
  2. Choosing what to screen print on
  3. The process
  4. FAQs

A brief History of screen printing

First appearing in China during the Song dynasty, this method of transferring designs on to fabrics was then copied by the Japanese who used simple stencilling techniques. Somewhat different from the modern method of screen printing, but still similar- stencils were cut out of paper and the mesh was woven from hair. Brushes were then used to push the ink through the mesh onto the fabric.

Screen printing was introduced to western Europe in the late 18th century but did not gain popularity until the 1910s when printers started experimenting with ways to transferring photo imaged stencils on to the mesh, making it easier for this method of printing to be commercialised. 


Bright and bold

Screen printing produces vibrant prints, the ink sits on top of the fabric and can be layered up to create heavy ink coverage which creates bold, and clean lined finished designs.

Fast and economical

Because screen printing technique can be done continuously. Screen printing is the quickest of all the garment printing techniques, which make printing larger orders really efficient.

Perfect for bigger runs

The more items you want printing, the cheaper the cost- this is down to only having to set up the process once. Once the screens are set up you are good to go. Costs won’t increase like other methods such as digital printing.

Ink effect variety

Neon, glitter, metallic, textured, Glow in the dark, foil - all of these effects are possible with screen printing giving you endless opportunities to customise your design further. Pantone matching is also available with screen printing inks as the inks used for printing are mixed specifically for that job.

Long lasting

The prints produced are extremely durable and will not crack or break over time, meaning your designs will be there for the long run, keeping you and the end user very happy.


Screen printing can be performed on any kind of fabric, or material. The only requirement is that the surface flat, so regardless of what you want printing screen printing will create an amazing finish of your design.


High set up costs

For low order volumes the cost per item can be high due to the set-up costs. Many printing companies get around this by having a minimum number of units they screen print per order, so you do not overspend on your printing.

Limited number of colours

The number of colours you can include is limited to the machinery that is being used. The most common number of colours is 5 but there are more and more companies which offer 10. The number of colours you have in your design will also push the cost up, as each screen used will be charged for.

Designing for screen print

The best and easiest designs for screen printing have few colours, simple lines, and less detail. Large blocks filled with colour work really well when printing with a screen.

This isn’t to say screen printing can’t handle intricate designs. If you use an experienced screen-printing company, they will be able to work with you to get the most out of your design and can produce beautiful prints of more detailed designs.

The images below show different font styles on our heavyweight cotton bags. Although, the script style font is detailed, the letters are still visible down to the smallest font size.

Choosing what to screen print on

From cotton, to jute, to a jute canvas mix, the different bag fabrics that can be screen printed on are endless. It is good practice to keep in mind that a certain type of material might be more suited to your design. Jute, for example, works much better with block colours. The weave on a jute bag is not has smooth as a cotton tote bag so the intricacies of a design will be lost- as can be seen on the images below. When deciding on a font to use, always keep the material you want your bag to be in mind. 

The Process

In simple terms, screen printing works by applying ink through a mesh screen which has had the design exposed on to it.

The first stage of the process is separating the design into the different colours that are required for the design. For each separate colour, an additional screen is required, so a design with 4 colours in it will need 4 screens.

The design needs to be prepared by creating a version of each colour of the design in black. Care needs to be taken to ensure the design is in solid black, this is so when the screen is exposed the stencil that remains has clear, sharp edges, so you will get a crisp sharp design.

Once each design has been exposed the screen printing can begin.

The ink is pushed through the mesh stencil using a squeegee which gets transferred on to the fabric. After each colour has been applied the bag goes through a dryer which dries the ink onto the fabric to make it permanent.


What is your smallest order quantity I can place for screen printed bags at BIDBI?

The minimum number of units you can place an order for is 100.

How many colours can I print?

The maximum number of colours you can print with BIDBI is 10.

What makes screen printing more expensive?

As there are extra charges per screen. For every extra colour you require a new screen must be produced. But for large orders, screen printing can work out much cheaper.

Why am I charged for screens?

There is a charge for screens due to the labour involved in making the screens and the materials used in preparation.

How long does it take you to screen print bags?

Once product choice has been made, designs have been approved, and payment has been made, our lead time for bag printing is between 10-15 days.

What's the difference between screen and digital printing?

As explained earlier, screen printing is the method of pushing ink through a mesh screen which has a stencil exposed on it. Digital printing involves using computers and digital machinery to print onto the bags. Read

Are your inks environmentally friendly?

Yes, our inks contain no toxic or harmful chemicals and are certified as ISO14001 and REACH compliant.

What about the other chemicals used in the screen making process?

Yes all of the chemicals and substances used throughout the screen making process are not toxic to the environment.

Do you do metallic or glitter inks?

Yes, we have a range of specialist inks. Choose from metallic, glitter, neon, reflective, foil, puff.

Can you match the inks to my branding colours?

Yes, we can match our standard inks to your branding. Either provide us with a pantone colour or send us an existing piece of branding.

Will I have to pay for the screen on my next order too?

No, if you use the same artwork at the same size again in the future, you do not have to pay any more screen origination charges.

This guide should have answered any questions you had about screen printing on to cotton bags. If you still have questions, give us a call on 0114 272 1201 or drop one of our account managers an email with your questions.