Adding ink to a screen for the first time can be a bit daunting. It seems easy enough, but once you get the ink bucket, spatula, and screen, you might wonder exactly how to do it. How much ink do you add? Where do you put it? If you’re asking these questions, keep reading. Let’s walk through how to prep ink for printing and how to apply it to a screen.
Photo by Aerogant Printing Company
PREP YOUR INK
Before you ever place ink on a screen, it’s important to get it warmed up and ready for printing. Think of plastisol ink like natural peanut butter. When it's been sitting for a while, it's stiffer than usual and may have a little bit of oil on top. When mixed well, it develops a nice, creamy texture. Inks work in a similar way.
Ink performs best when it’s at temperatures around 80°F. Once you’re printing, the heat of the platens and flash unit will keep it flowing like butter. A warmer shop means your ink will be easier to use, and you probably won’t have to stir it as much.
There are a few ways to prep your ink for production. Depending on the temperature in your shop and the chemistry of your ink, you can either stir it with a spatula or use a special drill bit. Short-bodied inks like FN-INK™ or smaller containers of ink — pints, quarts, or gallons — are best for using a spatula. If you’re using a large container of ink, a thick ink like white, or a long-bodied ink, a drill bit is your best bet.
If you’re printing with water-based ink, prepping the ink will be much easier. Stir the ink with an ink spatula to warm it up, and you’re all set. Once the ink is warm and creamy, it’s time to add it to your screen.
HOW MUCH INK DO I ADD?
You may feel a little bit like Goldilocks when adding ink to a screen. Too much, and you’ll get ink everywhere. There will be nowhere for the excess ink to go, and you can end up printing a much heavier ink deposit than you’re looking for. Adding too little ink, though, means that there won’t be enough ink on the screen to fill the stencil and get a good print.
To some extent, adding ink to a screen depends on the size of the job and the design you’re printing. If you’re printing a small design area, you won’t need as much ink on the screen as if you were printing big blocks of text on a back print.
Accept your inner Goldilocks. Start by adding smaller amounts of ink to the screen. If it doesn’t seem right, add some ink or take some away. You can always do a test print to make sure there’s enough ink to clear the screen, but not too much to smash out the design. You can always add more ink to the screen later.
Photo by Golden Press Studio
CUSTOM MIXED INKS
What if you’re mixing a PMS color for a job? You don’t want to mix too much and waste ink. On the other hand, a color shift can affect PMS mixed colors. So what do you do?
Gauge how much ink you’ll need based on similar jobs you’ve done in the past. Have you printed a similar-sized design before? Use past jobs to determine how much ink you’ll need to custom mix for the PMS color.
Pro Tip: To keep better track of how much ink was used, catalog your prints once the job is done. It’s helpful to have notes on mesh count, print order and location, and inks used in case you receive an order later that’s similar to a previous job you did. You can use those notes to help you troubleshoot and find the best way to print the job.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for adding ink to your screens:
- Open the ink bucket, stir it until creamy, and scoop out a few ounces of ink with an ink spatula.
- Gently spread the ink on the screen at the top of the screen closest to the press.
- Avoid pushing the ink directly through the image. You’re not printing just yet! If ink is pushed through the image, some can transfer through the screen to the garment without an actual print stroke.
ADDING WATER-BASED VS. PLASTISOL INK
Avoid adding ink to the image area of the screen. It’s possible that the ink can seep through the image. Make sure you aren’t pressing the ink through the image.
You’ll also need to add more water-based ink to a screen than you would with plastisol ink. Since water-based ink is thinner than plastisol, the same amount of ink won’t flood the screen as well. Add more water-based ink to get a perfect flood stroke.
WHAT’S A FLOOD STROKE?
A flood stroke is a light print stroke meant to pre-fill the image area. Raise the screen off the platen and gently pull the squeegee over the screen, covering the screen with ink. This is not a print stroke. Apply as little pressure as possible.
By doing this, you’ll pre-fill the stencil with ink, making it easier to clear the screen when you start printing.
Photo by Aerogant Printing Company
Adding ink to your screens can seem a little tricky to start with, but it’ll be second nature soon enough. Follow these best practices and you’ll be surprised how easy adding ink will become.