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From Mesh to Ink: The Ultimate Guide to Screenprinting Equipment

Screenprinting is a printing technique done by hand to stencil a consistent design on multiple different items and is commonly used for t-shirt and poster designs. The print is created by forcing ink through a fine mesh with a stencil blocking out the ink around the design. Screenprinting takes some time to set up and master, but it's a creative and rewarding pursuit that will leave you with some fantastic results.

There are several steps that you go through to create a successful screenprint:

  • Choose either textile or paper to print your design onto.
  • Prepare your equipment and screen.
  • Create a design you want to use for your project.
  • Expose your screen.
  • Print the design onto your material.
  • Clean everything up!

Should you use paper or textile materials?

The two main materials that people print onto are either paper, often in the form of a poster or stationery, or textiles such as a t-shirt. The overall process is the same for each, but each material is slightly different to work with, and you’ll need to choose your equipment for each project to match your goals. Some trial and error will also likely be required to get the right print.

Printing on paper
There are many options when screenprinting on paper, and the screenprinting technique can be used to print the same design onto many different types of paper, allowing you to get creative! You may want to print many versions of a poster with the same design in a batch, for example, and then take this further by printing stationery and packaging for the same brand. One of the unique characteristics of screenprinting is that even though the design is the same, each finished product will be slightly different, making every print special.

Printing on textiles
The most common textile that people tend to print on is a cotton t-shirt, but you can use screenprinting for anything, from tote bags to bedsheets. The main difference will be the thickness of the fabric, which will impact how the ink is absorbed and how the final design turns out. T-shirts are a good place to start as they are the thinner material and generally easier to work with. Once you've mastered this, you can start testing other fabric types and looking at the mesh and inks that work best with the material you're using.

What mesh do you need for screenprinting?

One of the critical differences between printing on paper and on textiles is the type of mesh you need to use. Mesh is used to charging how much ink goes through onto the material you're printing onto, with finer meshes being ideal for printing onto paper as they let less ink through, and a wider mesh for printing onto textiles. When buying mesh, you'll look for a 'thread per inch' (TPI), which defines how fine the mesh is.

A wider mesh will have a lower number of threads per inch and will allow for more ink to pass, though. It's ideal for printing onto textiles. A mesh with 43 threads per inch is a good starting point for printing on a textile material like this. Once you're comfortable, you may want to start experimenting with your thread counts to see how this changes the finished product.

When screenprinting onto paper, you'll need to use a finer mesh to better control the amount of ink that can get through the screen. An excellent place to start with printing on paper is around 120 threads per inch, but you may want to go as high as 120 threads per inch if you're using a more intricate design. Check out this guide for the best thread counts to use for different types of materials.

What's the best ink to use for screenprints?

Water-based inks
Water-based and plastisol inks are the two main types of inks that you can use for screenprinting, which have unique properties and can be used for different purposes. Water-based inks are generally recommended for beginners, and for projects you're doing yourself at home as they are easy to find in your local hobby store. When using water-based ink, you'll often need to add some more printing medium and water to get an ideal consistency when printing your design. Some water-based inks come pre-mixed, which can save you some extra time and effort, so this is recommended until you're ready to start experimenting more. An advantage of water-based inks is that they can be dried at room temperature with no additional work, but you might have to treat the print with an iron to ensure that it's then machine-washable. Water-based ink is also thinner than plastisol inks, which can make printing onto darker materials slightly more complicated. An initial layer of white may be needed before you add your primary color.

Plastisol inks
Plastisol inks can take a little more effort to work with and produce a more robust final print due to the added thickness. If you aren’t sure about working with plastisol ink yourself, a company like https://thrivescreenprinting.com/plastisol-printing/ would be able to do this for you. There are a few extra steps when using plastisol ink, including curing the ink under a lamp to make sure the ink dries. In addition, the clean-up can be more difficult as the ink is thicker, and solvents are often needed to get the job done. There are some key benefits to using plastisol inks, though, including a more vibrant print that will often last longer without fading. For this reason, plastisol inks are more commonly used on textiles than on paper, where water-based inks work well.

With this information in hand, you should be well-equipped to start your journey into screenprinting. The real learning comes with trial, error, and experience, so have fun printing!


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