What Is Simulated Process Printing?
Tips & Tricks
min read

What Is Simulated Process Printing?

Were you ever curious about what simulated process printing is and why it's used?

Simulated process printing, also called "sim process" for short, is when you use a few ink colors (a few screens) to make many colors. This process utilizes traditional spot colors to blend them with halftones and gradients similar to the full-color process. Simulated process printing allows a shirt design with dozens of colors to use under ten colors to make the same design.

What is simulated process printing used for?

Simulated process printing is a technique used in screen printing to reproduce full-color or highly detailed images. It is commonly used to print textiles like T-shirts and other flat surfaces like posters and promotional materials.

Unlike traditional four-color process printing, simulated process printing utilizes a different approach, which combines cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) inks to create a broad spectrum of colors. It involves using a limited number of spot colors, typically ranging from six to twelve, to achieve a more accurate representation of the original image.

The sim process breaks down the original image into constituent colors and creates separate screens for each color. The screens are then applied individually to the printing surface with a different ink color on each screen. The desired colors and tonal variations can be achieved by overlapping these colors and adjusting their intensities.

This technique is handy when printing images with intricate details, gradients, or a wide range of colors, especially in cases where traditional four-color process printing may not be sufficient to reproduce the image accurately. Simulated process printing allows for better color matching and greater control over the final result, resulting in vibrant and high-quality prints.

Is simulated process printing more expensive?

Simulated process printing can be more expensive compared to traditional four-color process printing due to several factors: 

  1. More color separations. Simulated process printing requires the creation of multiple screens, each representing a different color in the image. This process involves additional labor and materials, increasing the overall cost.
  2. Spot color inks. Simulated process printing often utilizes spot color inks, which are specialized inks mixed to achieve specific colors. These inks can be more expensive than standard CMYK inks used in four-color process printing. 
  3. Color matching and adjustments. Achieving accurate color reproduction in simulated process printing may require extensive color matching and adjustments during the printing process. This can increase the time and effort involved, leading to higher costs.
  4. Expertise and setup. Simulated process printing requires skilled technicians experienced in color separation and print adjustments. Their knowledge and the setup needed for this printing method can contribute to higher costs than simpler printing techniques.

It's worth noting that the cost difference can vary depending on the specific project, the number of colors involved, the complexity of the image, and the printing provider. It's advisable to consult with printing companies or service providers to get accurate cost estimates for simulated process printing based on your specific requirements.

There could also be an added art charge, maybe $100-$200, to have your colors "separated." 

This charge is the art prep side of the sim process, which is complex and super important.

Although this process is an added cost, it saves much more money than printing all the colors separately, which might need to be more realistic. Bonus? Once your design is separated, you never have to pay for that process again.

How does the simulated process affect my turnaround time?

The simulated process typically adds three business days to your turnaround when working with us. 

It's worth noting that the cost difference can vary depending on the specific project, the number of colors involved, the complexity of the image, and the printing provider. It's advisable to consult with printing companies or service providers to get accurate cost estimates for simulated process printing based on your specific requirements. 

Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Color separations. The sim process involves the creation of multiple color separations and screens for each color in the image. This process takes additional time compared to traditional four-color process printing, which has a standard set of separations (CMYK). The time required for color separations depends on the image's complexity and the technicians' expertise.
  2. Print adjustments. Achieving accurate color reproduction in the sim process often requires adjustments and fine-tuning during printing. These can involve test prints, color corrections, and multiple iterations to achieve the desired result. These additional steps can prolong the overall turnaround time. 
  3. Drying time. Simulated process printing may require the application of multiple layers of ink to achieve the desired colors and tonal variations. Each layer needs to be dry before the next one can be applied. Depending on the ink and printing equipment, the drying time can vary and impact the overall turnaround time. 
  4. Workload and scheduling. Sim process, with its intricate color separations and adjustments, may require more time and attention from the printing provider. If they have a high volume of orders or a tight production schedule, it could impact your turnaround time. It is essential to discuss your timeline requirements with the printing provider to ensure they can accommodate your project. 

To minimize potential delays and manage your turnaround time effectively, it is recommended to communicate your project timeline and requirements. The printing provider (hopefully you consider working with US, *wink*) Then they can provide you with a more accurate estimate based on their workflow, equipment, and expertise.

Planning and allowing extra time can help account for unexpected adjustments or challenges during the sim process.

Why simulated process?

People might choose to use simulated process printing for a variety of reasons. Let's dive into the "why," shall we?

  1. Full-color or highly-detailed images: The sim process effectively reproduces full-color or highly-detailed images with a wide range of colors and tonal variations. It can accurately capture gradients, shading, and intricate details that may not be achievable with other printing techniques. 
  2. Vibrant and accurate color reproduction: This process allows for precise color-matching and adjustment, resulting in rich and accurate color reproduction. This makes it a preferred method when maintaining color fidelity and achieving a specific color palette is crucial, such as in branding or artwork reproduction.
  3. Extensive color range: The sim process offers a larger color range than traditional four-color printing. By utilizing a limited number of spot colors and carefully overlapping them, a broader range of colors can be achieved. This is particularly beneficial for images that require a broad spectrum of colors, such as photographs or complex illustrations.
  4. Enhanced image quality: Can deliver high-quality prints with smooth gradients and fine details. The ability to control ink application and layering allow for the precise rendering of subtle variations in color and tone. This results in a visually appealing and professional outcome.
  5. Versatility across substrates: This process is suitable for various substrates, including custom apparel, as well as flat surfaces like posters, promotional materials, and signage. It provides flexibility regarding the materials on which the image needs to be printed.
  6. Customization and personalization: Individuals or businesses can print unique designs, photographs, or artwork. It enables creative freedom in translating complex or detailed visuals onto different products or surfaces.

While simulated process printing may involve additional costs and potentially longer turnaround times, its benefits in terms of color accuracy, image quality, and versatility make it a preferred choice for projects where capturing the essence of the original image is crucial.

Printing photo-realistic images with simulated process.

If you have a photograph that you want to print on a shirt, odds are it will be printed using a simulated process. Due to the high count of colors in a photograph, a screen printer must simulate all those colors using just a handful of inks. 

Check out this excellent video we have to check out more: https://www.instagram.com/p/CgAV-5FAjKA/ 

The benefit of printing sim process designs using water-based and discharge inks is that you won't be able to feel the print on the shirt. Most other printers that default to printing with plastisol ink will need to lay down a base and then print even more ink on top of that base layer of ink to achieve successful simulated process screen printing. Water-based or discharge ink keeps the shirt feeling softer after printing.

How does shirt color affect the sim process?

Now it's time to decide what shirt colors you should have your design printed on. White will always work best because the shades can blend with a white base and create a more predictable color.

However, if you choose shirt colors that discharge well, such as black or navy, you can still get a fantastic print result. Simulated Process screen printing will work great on light and dark garment colors, though dark colors are more complicated.

More about sim process art separations.

To successfully print a sim process job, the design must first be separated. The separation process will allow screen printers to get all the needed colors onto their screens. All red ink halftones will end up on one screen; all green ink halftones will end up on one screen, and so forth. The separation process usually costs about $100 - $200, depending on the complexity of the design. This is generally a one-time fee, meaning when you return to reorder the same design, you won't have to pay a separation fee again. 

So you're interested in simulated process printing. What's next?

Simulated process screen printing has grown in popularity over the past few years.

If you're considering using this print method on apparel, let us help you get the best print possible with our water-based and discharge inks.

In the meantime, check out our T-Shirt Buyer's Guide, a free resource for YOU. And anyone else who clicks the link. We won't exclude- the more, the merrier. 

​​If you need to be better versed in t-shirt brands, printing styles, or fabric types, it's too easy to get lost in t-shirt jargon and default to ordering solely based on price point because what's the difference? Consider the guide to be your go-to-tee reference. 

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