Screenprinting at home, or in a personal studio, takes a bit of investment so it’s good to do some research, seek advice and make sure you’re spending your hard earned pounds on the right equipment for your requirements.
Buying a screen can be confusing, as there are lots of options to choose from, and lots of opinions about what is best! The right choice for you may not be the same as for somebody else, so think carefully about what you hope to achieve with your printing.
You will need to think about:
- The surface you want to print on to
- The inks you want to use
- The design you want to print
These are all factors in finding the right screen to suit your project, and also your budget.
The first choice you will need to make is the screen itself; what the frame is made from.
The two options are:
- Metal (usually aluminium)
There are pros and cons to both.
- Can be re-stretched by hand, particularly for textile printing
- Warps over time with constant washing
- Takes longer to dry
- Re-stretching by hand can be difficult to do, especially with fine mesh
- Lasts forever
- Dries quickly after washing
- Stretched professionally ensures an evenly stretched weave, even with fine mesh
- Can be re-stretched many times without warping
- More expensive
- Can only be re-stretched professionally
Your next decision is your mesh.
We talk about mesh in terms of mesh count: this is the number of threads per centimeter.
For example, a 120t mesh has 120 threads in each direction, per centimeter, meaning it is very fine.
A 43t mesh only has 43 threads per centimeter, meaning it is coarser and therefore the weave is more open.
- The higher the number, the finer the mesh.
- The finer the mesh, the more detail you can print.
This diagram shows the difference in mesh counts:
The wider openings in the lower mesh count allow more ink to be pushed through the screen. This is beneficial when printing onto absorbent surfaces such as t-shirts and tote bags, or when using a thicker substance such as flock adhesive.
The smaller openings in the higher mesh count let less ink through, so that only a thin film of ink sits on the printed surface. This is good for paper so that there is less tendency for it to cockle as it dries.
There are lots of mesh counts to choose from but the most commonly used ones are:
43t – for printing on to textiles, using flock or foil adhesive, or using alternative inks such as conductive, thermochromic and glow in the dark. At LCC we use 43t and also 55t, which is a bit finer.
77t – the ‘in between’ screen, can be used for printing finer detail on to smooth textiles, or on to heavy paper and card stock. At LCC it is often used for printing on to bookcloth and veneer for skateboards. A good option for home printing, as it gives you flexibility across different surfaces / inks.
90t – for fine detail, printing onto paper, card and other hard surfaces such as acrylic and metal. The most commonly used screens at LCC, and the screen I am using at home.
120t – for very fine detail and fine halftone dots, on paper.
(The ‘t’ after the number is a UK measurement, so be aware that American mesh count is different, if ordering online)
It is also worth noting that the finer the mesh, the more fragile it becomes, and also more expensive!
You may have noticed that screens have different coloured mesh on them, usually yellow or white. Which one to choose?
This is to do with the exposure of screens in a UV exposure unit, when using photo emulsion stencils.
Yellow mesh absorbs some of the UV light, and so helps create a sharper and more defined edge to the design.
White mesh can deflect the light slightly, causing it to “bounce” or “scatter” which results in lower resolution and less definition.
However, it is only really noticable on finer mesh counts, normally 77t and above, which is why textile screens often have white mesh, and screens for printing on paper tend to be yellow.
For suppliers please see our links here, and of course do get in touch with any questions!