Ready to start screen printing? It's a big jump, but it's so worth it. To build your shop, you will need to obtain some equipment and supplies. Our team of experts put together a handy check list of everything you should know about and consider for your future shop.
The screen printing market has an abundance of screen printing presses. All these presses have different features, abilities, and prices. You want to make sure you're getting the right press for your goals and/or your customers' needs. How do you even begin to choose?
First, you pick a trusted brand. If you're looking at a Riley Hopkins press, you're in the right place. With more than 30 years of experience in the printing press industry and a professional reputation to match, Riley Hopkins makes some of the highest quality and most economical screen print presses a person can buy. The beloved press line is known worldwide for having top-tier features, fast adjustment, and cutting edge looks.
If you're brand new to screen printing, consider starting off with the Riley Hopkins 150 Press. The 150 is a simple, high-quality press that'll help you master the craft. If you're planning on establishing your screen printing business, consider the Riley Hopkins 250 Press.
Stark Screen Printing's flash dryer.
A WAY TO GEL INK
If you're planning on printing multicolor designs, you will need equipment to gel or flash the ink. A heat gun can work, but it's very difficult to maintain consistent heat across the whole print.
Rogue Lab uses a conveyor dryer to cure garments.
EQUIPMENT FOR CURING
You'll definitely need equipment to cure garments (don't want the prints to wash out). Many new printers use their flash dryer to cure garments. It works well for people learning the craft while saving some cash. If you use a flash to cure garments, take note on different variables like the temperature of room (pay attention in winter and height of summer, weather can shift conditions outside parameter, how long it takes to warm up platens); the type of t-shirt material; the kind of flash, the type of platen; and the temperature of ink, shirt, and platen. These variables will affect how long you will need to flash the garment to reach proper cure.
Printers could also use a heat press for curing. A heat press is more reliable than a flash dryer because it provides a stable heat source. It will share a readout of any temperature fluctuation while you're using it. A heat press is essentially a conveyor dryer without the conveyor belt. If you're already decorating with vinyl, a heat press will be an excellent, multi-use tool for you.
Best case scenario is to invest in a conveyor dryer. Conveyor dryers run multiple shirts through at a time which helps speed up production. You will need to adjust the speed of the belt and heat accordingly to the garment and the ink you are using. It may not be plausible to purchase one now, but it could be a good goal to have for the future.
LED exposure is the new standard for exposure units.
The exposure unit, is a very, very important piece of the darkroom. Needed to burn the images onto screens, the quality of the exposure unit matters. Some may start out with a bulb, while others get the X1620 LED Exposure Unit. If you're able to chip in a bit more money, invest in a LED exposure unit like the X2536 LED Exposure Unit. LED units are a game changer because a) they last WAY longer compared to UV bulbs, b) use WAY less energy, saving you money and c) produce an optimal wavelength so the stencils are even sharper. It's worth the investment.
Pro Tip: Wherever you burn screens, make sure it's light-safe!
LEARN MORE ABOUT LED EXPOSURE UNITS
If investing in an exposure unit is not doable for you right now, some businesses offer to burn screens for you, like NorCal Screen Printing and Supplies.
Symmetree cleans screens in a washout booth.
SPACE FOR CLEANING SCREENS
To rinse out freshly burned screens or reclaim old screens, you're going to need a space to accomplish those tasks. The most optimal way to clean screens is in a washout booth.
For some, getting a washout booth right out the gate is not in the cards. You could use a tub or laundry room sink as a washout booth, but you'll need to be careful about what goes down the drain. Inks and emulsion cannot go down the drain because it can lead to clogging the pipes. Place some sort of trap on the train to catch the waste. You need to consider the chemicals going down the drain as well because some are hazardous. Use Sgreen® chemicals, you won't have to worry about it because they are eco-friendly. If you're using your backyard as a washout booth, grab a black garbage bag and a spray bottle. After you expose a screen, spray both sides of the screen, place it in the plastic bag, and bring it outside to your hose or power washer (if you have a power washer, do not have it set higher than 1600 psi). As soon as you take it out of the bag, immediately spray the screen.
Symmetree checking out the printed film.
To make stencils, you're going to need a film printer. Many types of film output printers exist. The most common is an inkjet printer. Inkjet film has one side that's coated, and one side that isn't coated. The coating is important because it holds onto the ink from the printer. The coating also helps maintain the density and shape of the image.
When you print on film, the printer is using one of two inks. The ink could be UV-blocking (Epson printers use this ink) or it's a dye ink that's meant to completely stop all light. ScreenPrinting.com sells the Epson T3270 printer with UV-blocking ink and it works wonderfully with high-detailed prints or halftones.
Asking a local print shop to print film positives for you is definitely an option if you do not have the funds for a film printer at the moment. Ask around to see if shops would provide that service and how much it would cost.
You will need a few programs to create the art and print it off properly. For creating art, screen printing experts suggest to use Adobe® Illustrator or Photoshop. If you have a graphic design background and know how to draw, consider drawing the design first in Procreate and then bring it over to Illustrator to make it print-ready.
For printing films, you'll need software as well. There are many versatile programs to choose from. Make sure you use one that works well in your shop.
Alright, screens are pretty important in screen printing. Screens have various mesh counts, which are used for different applications. What is mesh count? Well, mesh count is a measure of how many threads of polyester cross each other per square inch in the screen. For example, a 110 mesh screen would have 110 threads crossing per square inch. The higher the mesh count, the finer the holes are in the screen.
Here's a generic summary of the uses for most mesh sizes:
- 110 — great for polyester inks, white on black prints, block text, white base, and large spot color designs
- 156 — the jack-of-all-trades for screens, many jobs can be done with this mesh count
- 200 — best for semi-detailed prints or water-based inks
- 230 — great for high detail and finer lines
- 280 — larger halftones and ultra-fine detail
- 305 — CMYK, simulated process, halftones, ultra-fine detail
Don't forget about thin thread vs. standard thread, white vs. yellow screens, wood vs. aluminum, etc. It's a lot to learn, so take it one step at a time, but keep it on your radar.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MESH COUNTS
Salt & Pine Co. prints with FN-INK™ in her shop. Photo by Life Unframed Photography.
The two most common screen printing inks are plastisol and water-based. Plastisol inks are the most uncomplicated way to start screen printing because they are easier to print, do not dry in the screen, cure painlessly, and are vibrant and opaque. Water-based inks are good if you'd like a softer feel, but the ink will dry in the screen and it's much more difficult to reach proper cure.
Baselayr Complete Emulsion is perfect for capturing fine detail.
Emulsion, the liquid that you coat screens with, comes in two variants — diazo and presensitized.
Presensitized emulsion is highly sensitive, exposes quicker, has a longer self-life and, captures fine detail beautifully. The downside of this kind is that it is VERY sensitive. In fact, it is so sensitive that daylight on a cloudy day would start to expose your image. If you wash the screens out outside, the emulsion would overexpose even the stencil. It's not for beginners.
Diazo (mixed) emulsion requires the addition of a Diazo powder before printing. This must be mixed into the the entire base prior to opening and printing for the first time, and is often referred to as “sensitizing” the emulsion. The diazo-mixed emulsion takes longer to expose but is more forgiving. The 10% window of error also applies to diazo-mixed emulsions. Since it takes longer to expose diazo emulsions, your window of error is larger. Say you expose a screen for 10 minutes, you could go over or under by a minute.
Other factors like ink, type of exposure unit, and lighting in washout area will also affect which emulsion you use.
LEARN MORE ABOUT WHICH EMULSION IS RIGHT FOR YOU
Stark Screen Printing has the whole line of Sgreen® chemicals.
Don't forget about the cleaning chemicals! First off, go with Sgreen® chemicals. The line is eco-friendly, biodegradable, and non-hazardous. They're safer for you, the screens, the plumbing, and the environment. Which chemicals do you need? Supreme Wash should be in every shop. It cleans up anything and everything. Cleaning off water-based inks will require Aqua Wash. For cleaning up plastisol inks, use the Ink Degrader. To reclaim screens, you're going to need the Emulsion Stripper to remove the emulsion and Stuff to degrease and dehaze the screens.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Me too. Luckily, shop packages exist that will contain everything you need to get started. No need to pick and choose, just select which package would be right for you and your business. Check out the different manual kits offered on ScreenPrinting.com.
That's everything you need to get started! Check out our blogs, videos, and free courses to get answers to all your questions, from cleaning ink to separating designs in Adobe® Illustrator. Happy printing!