5 Common Mistakes Beginner Screen Printers Make When First Coating a Screen with Emulsion
Designing for print is one of the most rewarding pastimes of today’s graphic artists. Successfully transferring your creative vision from paper to reality is the mark of a true professional. Many new screen printers are under the misconception that using a silkscreen allows anyone to create quality, professionally printed goods at home.
Although there are less expensive ways to achieve great results, you truly get what you pay for when it comes to printing screens and emulsions. If you’re thinking about dipping your toe into the waters of silk screening as a hobby or as part of an up-and-coming business venture, here are five common mistakes that beginning screen printers often make when coating their own screens with emulsion:
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Mistake #1: Choosing the wrong screen mesh.
Screen mesh refers to the material used for the mesh portion of a silkscreen, where light can pass through to make your design transfer onto your substrate. The optimum choice for emulsion is 100% polyester.
Mesh count refers to how many threads there are per inch. Think of this as another way to describe how open or tight the weave is on a certain piece of material, and the tighter it is the finer detail you will be able to achieve with that particular type of screen mesh.
Professional quality screens should have an industrial coating, meaning they should be able to hold up over time when exposed to various types of chemicals during production runs. It’s crucial that you know exactly what kind of screen mesh you are using for your project because the wrong choice can make or break the success of your printing.
Mistake #2: Not purchasing enough emulsion.
Just like it’s important to know what kind of screen mesh you are buying before opening the box, it’s also crucial that you understand how much emulsion is needed for each project.
Some level of trial and error will be involved here, but most silk-screening experts agree that about 2 ounces is necessary per square foot of material used for stenciling projects. For example, if you wanted to print a t-shirt with an 8-inch diameter circle on the front, 3/4 ounce would probably be sufficient (3/4 is one-quarter of 2).
However, if you needed to print a 12 inch square on t-shirt fabric, you’d need 1 3/4 ounce (3/4 is one-quarter of 4). Keep in mind that this is only an estimate though. You won’t actually know how much emulsion is needed until you complete the design process and it’s time to coat your screen with emulsion.
Also, keep in mind that you may need more or less than the recommended amount depending on the project at hand.
Mistake #3: Waiting too long or not long enough between each coat of emulsion.
An important step during silk screening is allowing your freshly coated screens ample time to “cure” before running another project. Top silk screen printing experts recommend waiting at least 6 hours after coating your screen with emulsion before beginning to expose it.
This helps ensure that the emulsion is adequately dried out so it won’t hold water or other fluids when you are trying to transfer light through it during exposure. However, far too often people will either try to save time by exposing screens earlier than recommended, or they wait too long and end up having to re-coat their screen because the emulsion has dried out beyond use.
Mistake #4: Exposing your screens in an area where lighting is less than ideal.
Most home silk screening operations are conducted in basements, garages, shops, etc., but these locations are often plagued by less-than-perfect lighting during the day. Silkscreen exposure is a very precise process, which means that if your environment isn’t properly lit, you may end up with a print that’s too dark or too light.
If you can avoid it, don’t expose silk screens in any area where sunlight isn’t available at some point during the day to help ensure proper exposure time and quality results.
Mistake #5: Not washing out screens carefully enough after exposing them to light.
You certainly don’t want to run your freshly exposed screen through the washer as soon as you are finished exposing it because water tends to interfere with the proper curing of emulsion.
However, there are some risks involved with not washing out your screens carefully, too. If you wait too long to clean off the emulsion or don’t clean it thoroughly enough after exposing it to light, you run the risk of having a screen that won’t hold ink when you need to use it.
Professionals understand these common mistakes and have the experience needed to avoid them altogether. Whether you’re a beginner silk screening newbie or a seasoned pro who has been doing this for years, here is one final piece of advice from all the professionals at Silk Screen Supply: Be patient! Don’t attempt multiple projects before allowing your first project adequate time between coats of emulsion or properly exposing your screen.
Silkscreen printing is a precise process so you want to do it right the first time. Fortunately, this level of precision means achieving excellent results isn’t terribly difficult once you have all of your equipment and understand how to properly prepare your screens. When you are just starting out, take your time and don’t expect perfect results immediately.
You will probably have some failed prints at first or projects that look slightly off before refining your silk screening process over time. If something doesn’t go quite as planned during the first few attempts at silk screening projects, simply try again until you are satisfied with the outcome!