Screen printing doesn’t have to just be about printing t-shirts. You can print on just about anything with the right tools and process. One unique material to print on is wood. It’s a fun process that can make you stand out from the pack as a screen printer. Want to know how to do it? Here’s a step-by-step guide to screen printing on wood.
STEP 1: CHOOSE A HIGH-QUALITY WATER BASED INK
Water-based inks have gotten better and better over the years, and offer an eco-friendly option over plastisol inks. High solids water-based ink is what you mainly see on the market today. The ink has a thicker body and has better coverage and opacity. It’s soft, but not as soft as low solids water-based ink — you can feel the ink on the shirt printed with high solids water-based ink.
Water-based inks are best because they penetrate the wood. Plastisol ink sits on top of wood and can easily scratch, rub, or peel off. High-solids water based ink prints more like plastisol inks (underbase and separations are almost interchangeable between the two). Water-based ink will also dry on its own, or with the addition of Warp Drive.
Pro Tip: Make sure the wood you’re using is unfinished wood. If the wood has a varnish on it, the water-based ink won’t seep into the wood and can rub off.
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STEP 2: DECIDE ON DETAIL AND WOOD GRAIN
The level of detail in your design will determine your ideal screen mesh and the kind of wood grain you should screen print on. If you have a highly detailed print, you’ll need to use a higher mesh screen and a smooth grained piece of wood. Make sure you have about ⅛” of off-contact space between your screen and the wood.
The biggest thing to consider when printing on wood is making sure the wood doesn’t move as you’re printing on it. You can create a jig on your platen with paint sticks, squeegee rubber, or anything else to hold the wood in place. A layer of water-based pallet adhesive will help as well to make sure the wood doesn’t shift during printing.
If your print has less detail, such as a text, you can use a lower mesh screen and a rough grained piece of wood. Keep in mind, the wood grain will affect the appearance of your final piece. A smoother grain will give you a smoother print, whereas a rough grain will cause the print to look more “distressed”.
Make sure to pass over the print several times to be sure the ink clears the screen. Pull your print directly up from your design and admire your work.
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STEP 3: CURE THE INK
Cure the ink however you’d like. You can run it through a conveyor dryer at 270 degrees a few times, use a heat gun, or air-dry it. Add Warp Drive for extra insurance if you’re air-drying. If you’re curing it with a heat source, keep an eye on the wood to make sure you’re not scorching it or, even worse, setting it on fire.
Printing on wood can be a fun project to test and show off your skills. Experiment with different designs and wood grains to see what you get. You’ll be able to show off your printing skills and open the door for printing on more unorthodox materials.