Best Practices for Cleaning Ink Off Screens

Screen cleanup: satisfying when done right, frustrating when hiccups happen. It’s a simple process, but there are nuances to properly cleaning your screens that will keep them cleaner and make them last longer. Colin Huggins is an expert at screen cleanup, and offers a few tips on the process.

HOW TO CLEAN WATER-BASED INKS OFF SCREENS

Water-based inks can be cleaned up with water. However, the water in water-based ink evaporates as soon as it is exposed to air. The more it evaporates, the more difficult it will be to clean. Using a product like Sgreen® Aquawash will greatly reduce the image stain by picking up water-based pigments. 

HOW TO CLEAN PLASTISOL INK OFF SCREENS

Since plastisol ink doesn’t dry out, it’s easy to clean, even if you’ve let the screen sit for a while. Once you’ve carded off all the excess ink, lay your screen flat and spray it with either Sgreen® Ink Degrader or Sgreen® Supreme Wash and wipe with a rag. Once the chemical is fully absorbed by the rag, repeat the process until the screen is fully clean. 

Pro Tip: The difference between Supreme Wash and Ink Degrader is how quickly the chemical evaporates. Supreme Wash is meant to be an on-press cleaner because it evaporates quickly whereas Ink Degrader takes longer to evaporate, so it’s better to use once you’re done printing with that screen.

RELATED: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PRINTING WITH PLASTISOL INK

GET INTO A HABIT

Establishing a habit of cleaning your screens is important. The sooner you clean the screen after printing, the easier it will be to get the image area clean. Many printers like to set their screens to the side when they’re done with the job, often for several days or more. This habit contributes to image stain, also called a ghost image, on your screen. If your haze remover isn’t doing the trick, it might be because you waited too long before cleaning it. 

RELATED: DEHAZE, DEGREASE, DE-GHOST WITH SGREEN® STUFF

Screens stacked against a wall

Image by Stark Screen Printing

COMMON HABITS THAT MAKE IMAGE STAIN WORSE

A lot of the time printers place two or three designs on a single screen to reduce the amount of screens they would have to make for a job. Where printers place the tape to cover the other designs may or may not cause an issue. Taping underneath the image (shirt side of the screen) and printing over the tape causes the ink to puddle in the mesh. Over time, the tape  will start to make the ink gummy and dry it out. The ink becomes extremely difficult to remove without aggressive cleaners.

There are one of two ways you can avoid or solve this problem. If you have already taped underneath a screen and printed, remove the tape and clean the screens after printing as soon as possible.

Otherwise, taping the image on top of it (squeegee side) will avoid the issue. When switching from printing on one design to the other, clean off the ink with Supreme Wash, wipe it off with an old rag, tape it, and continue printing.

Stacked screens on a table

Image by Salt and Pine Co. 

RECLAIM VS. STORAGE

Cleaning your screen looks a little different depending on what you want to use it for in its next life. Whether you’re storing the screen for later use, cataloging it, or reclaiming it for a new stencil, you’ll want to follow a few simple steps. 

RECLAIMING

When reclaiming a screen, it’s important to leave the screen as dry as possible. Sgreen® Supreme Wash will evaporate and make a dryer screen, while Sgreen® Ink Degrader will leave a residue. Whichever product you use, make sure to finish wipe the screen to remove any residue. 

RELATED: HOW TO RECLAIM SCREENS TO ACHIEVE BEST RESULTS 

STORAGE/CATALOGING

Whether you offer your own clothing brand or have repeat customers wanting to print the same design, properly cleaning the screen to store for future use is extremely important. 

When using a chemical for the initial clean, use something that evaporates quickly (like Supreme Wash) to make sure your screen is both clean and dry. If you’re in a pinch, you can use the spray-out booth to ensure all residue has been removed from the screen. 

Screens being loaded into a drying rack

Image by Golden Press Studio. 

You still want the screen to be as dry as possible before putting it away. Use cotton material, like cotton T-shirts or shop rags, to absorb any leftover chemical before storing the screen.

No matter what ink you use or what you’re using the screen for next, it’s important to remove as much as the ink from a screen before reclaiming or cataloging. It’s another step, but it’ll save you time and frustration in the long run. 

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