It’s always a tough climb when you’re starting something new. This includes screen printing. It may seem easy to watch someone else do it, but when you get your hands dirty, it will suddenly hit you that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
So if you’re only beginning to understand your mesh counts from your skims, here are 15 common-but-no-one-thinks-about mistakes to avoid that I have no doubt will keep you motivated throughout the learning process.
1) Using highly detailed artwork – Everyone has that one great design they want to screen print. In fact it’s the reason why they started. But almost always this design turns out to be not-too-print-friendly for beginners. The general rule is to pick an image that doesn’t have a ton of lines or detail e.g. hair. Try something that has a larger print surface. Once you’ve done this you can progress to finer lines when you’re more confident.
2) Not prepping – The result of the final print starts with good artwork, properly prepared. Don’t think you can use a low resolution jpeg and expect a good screen print out of it. All art should have a minimum of 300 ppi. While you’re doing this, also make sure you can print the design correctly and match it with the correct screen mesh for the artwork.
3) Not measuring exposure time – The first real problem people face while learning screen printing is exposing the screen properly. This has everything to do with the emulsion you use. Folks in the US may have a completely different emulsion type/grade from someone in Philippines or Australia. Using an exposure calculator will tell you how long you need to expose your screens.
4) Not using off-contact – I wrote a whole post about this. In short, you should keep a bit of gap between the screen and the substrate so it doesn’t stick together as you push/pull ink.
5) Using WAY too much ink – Unless you’re printing a 100 pieces at once, most beginners don’t need to use more than a few spoonfuls of ink. Too much ink on the screen will no doubt make it harder to manage the glob.
6) Squeegee-ing down too hard – You want a firm grip with a firm push (or pull) down of the squeegee. Do not press down too hard else you might experience slight ghosting or smearing of the image which will obviously botch the job.
7) Not flashing after laying down white ink – There are professionals that say you don’t need to, but I prefer to flash after I lay down a white coat. Letting the white base cure allows other colors to be printed on with more vibrancy. Printing wet-on-wet is okay when you’re using plastisol inks and never water-based.
8) Not using a screen printing press – Unless you always have someone present to hold the screen down for you, you’ll need, at the very least a 1-station press. The press will keep the screen locked and firm, eliminating any risk of jerking or shifting as you work the squeegee.
9) Leaving ink in the screen – Water-based inks dries up faster than plastisol so if you’re using water-based inks (and I hope you are), immediately run some water through the screens once you’re done printing. This will make sure you’re able to reclaim your screens 100%. I also have a spray with some water that I use during a print run. Having some mist on the screen helps moisten up the liquids.
10) not covering your ink container– Don’t leave your ink container open. Keep it covered as much as you can so the ink doesn’t get gloppy or dry up on the edges. I would say this is up there on best practices.
11) Not making notes – Don’t rely on remembering everything, even when you have great memory. Make notes. Write down exposure times, inks used, mesh counts, what worked – what didn’t, everything!
12) Not doing a test print – Most beginners (and some pros) fail to realize how important this step is. Not only do you see if the print turns out as expected, you’re saving yourself all that extra time and energy. Even if you’ve been printing for some time, do a test print before committing to something, especially for the first time, or haven’t tried something in a while.
13) Not using screen tape – I’m guilty of this error many times when starting out. To be completely honest, I did not fully understand the reasons why we tape the screen, or why I kept getting ink on my beautiful white t-shirt. Until I realized that both were connected 🙂 Always tape up the sides to the emulsion so ink won’t accidentally pass through.
14) Not cleaning your screen thoroughly – I was so excited when I received my first order that I completely forgot this step. It was a 3 color job and I had put blue ink onto the previous screen which I didn’t clean thoroughly. It was white. I had gone through at least 5 pieces before I noticed the ‘mix’. I had to clean the entire screen completely before I could resume the job. Those first margins were a little thin…
15) Not washing your hands – Yes, this may sound trivial but believe me, you won’t imagine how many screen printers I’ve chatted with whom had experienced this at least once in their career. Mom was right, always wash your hands before dinner and while screen printing!
I believe that screen printing is a process. Sure there’s a lot of variables and that leaves room for errors and mistakes. But as long as you practice what I’ve preached and have a good understanding of each element you won’t have a problem.
At the same time, don’t think too much and have fun with it. Always remember – “Screen printing isn’t rocket science, but it is craftsmanship.”