Screen printing, sometimes referred to as silk screening, is an age-old technique that applies ink to a material using mesh, a stencil, and a squeegee.
The stencil allows the ink to pass through the stencil and screen only where the artwork is located, leaving a neat design on the material below.
A relatively simple process that won't cost you too much, screen printing is becoming incredibly popular among the crafty individual hobbyist or DIY "freak," but also among companies and organizations.
Particularly in the music industry, screen printing allows bands and musicians to create high-quality promotional products - like t-shirts - for cheap, creating an enticing profit margin when these products are sold.
Are You Ready to Begin Screen Printing?
Screen printing may seem like an easy trade to learn, but you must master all of the minor details in order to ensure a high-quality image is created on a consistent basis.
Some screen printers do more than others, so make sure you know all the details and full capabilities of yours.
Ready to begin? Read the 13 screen printing tips first.
1) Properly prepare the ink.
An ink's quality is crucial to the quality of the final image produced. If it's too thin or too thick, the printing quality is difficult to regulate. Should the ink not be of print-quality consistency, you can add products to help thin or thicken the ink.
In the case of ink being too thick, make sure the reducer you add to it is soft hand and clear. This product will help the ink spread easily and give you less work to do.
If the ink is too thin, try storing it in a room temperature - or even slightly cool - setting, waiting another 24-36 hours to try printing.
With the correct texture established, you must stir the ink before pouring and using it in your screen printer.
The stirring ensures a proper consistency and eliminates chances for blotches and clumps to form. Once your ink is smooth and appears "creamy," you're ready to pour.
2) Ensure the artwork is ready for screen printing.
Just as important as preparing the ink, setting up the artwork correctly for your screen printer is a must.
The best way to do this is to have the image copied onto a transparent layer, which you can have a local printer do for a very small fee.
While complex designs are possible, a beginner should look to try to screen print simple designs with clear-cut lines first. The goal should be to create a copy of the artwork that is black and on a clear background.
If correct, the artwork will block the emulsion on the screen, allowing the ink to pass through the screen and create the image on the desired surface.
Need help ensuring your artwork is prepped correctly? Consult a professional.
3) Gather all the required materials first.
With the artwork and ink prepped, gather the rest of the materials necessary for screen printing:
- Material (fabric for t-shirts, a poster board, etc.)
- Screen frame (a wooden frame that contains the ink, mesh, and the artwork)
- Black-colored layer (layer on which the screen is placed)
- Sensitizer and activator
4) Keep the screen as tight as possible.
A loose screen can ruin the screen printing process as it will compromise the final printed image. If the screen isn't tight, the image will "bleed" as the image area accidentally becomes a moving target.
However, when the screen is tight, the final product will have supreme quality and be easier to manufacture as less pressure is required.
5) Watch out for mesh count.
Did you know that every screen has a different mesh count? Higher mesh counts release less ink through screen and onto the print, while lower mesh counts work the opposite way.
The mesh count you need depends on the complexity of the design you're printing and how many colors are being used. For a bold look, use a lower mesh count screen. More complex designs should use a higher mesh count screen.
6) Know your color-based limitations.
One-color designs are often best for screen printing materials quickly. While multiple colors are possible, the more complex your design is - both shape, size, and color - the more careful you need to be when multiple colors.
You'll also need to change out the screen - or at least thoroughly rinse between ink applications - which is difficult and could compromise the final image's quality.
We'd recommend only experienced "printers" use complex color combinations when using a screen printer.
7) Thinning out with multiple colors and inks.
For the ambitious printer, we'll help you out too, though.
When applying multiple colors, it's important to understand how muck ink should be applied. The first color added is the one that needs to penetrate the deepest into the material.
Because colors added later will lay on top of the ink already added to the material, those inks should not be as thick.
It's critically important to add a thinning agent to the subsequent colors added to avoid color blotching and wasting ink and other resources.
For example, if you were adding three different ink colors, the first color applied should have the thickest density, the second color with a medium-density ink, and the third color with a light-density ink.
8) Platen: don't move!.
When pressing the image, the platen can't move. At all.
This is the easiest way to ruin the final image and distort your design. When going through the screen printing process, don't let the platen move.
9) A straight, sharp squeegee.
To help the ink pass through the screen and reach the material, a squeegee is required. One thing you need to be sure of is the squeegee is sharp and straight.
When screen printing, the fewer strokes you make, the better, so ensuring your squeegee is in prime condition is crucial.
10) Take your time to save time.
Screen printing is an art form just as much as a manufacturing process. In order to save time, take your time when screen printing materials.
As you've already seen, this is a complex process that requires patience, a careful eye, and an undistracted mind. If you rush through screen printing, chances are you'll have to repeat the process over again.
11) Learn about curing
After being screen printed onto your desired material, ink needs time to settle, or "cure." Despite popular belief, you cannot speed up the curing process with higher temperatures or different settings. You just need to wait it out.
12) Pressure and number of strokes.
The type of pressure applied when screen printing depends on a few factors: the thickness of the ink, the material's color, style, and consistency, and the complexity of your art design.
As we stated earlier, the fewer strokes with the squeegee, the better for creating a high-quality screen printed image. Your goal should be to use consistent, good pressure while also using as few strokes as possible.
13) Cleaning the machine and its materials.
Maintaining a clean screen printer and all the materials as you go is very important. As the printing process progresses, keep an eye out for ink that has "bled" onto areas of the screen printer where the ink shouldn't be.
Random ink blotches from past production can ruin an otherwise perfect image. Please don't skip over cleaning the screen printer in a thorough and consistent manner.
Congratulations, You're Ready to Begin Screen Printing!
Take these tips with you every time you're ready to begin the screen printing process. If you have questions beyond these 13 tips, reach out and let me know.
I'd be happy to walk you through this complicated printing setup.
Happy Screen Printing!