The Difference Between Wood and Aluminum Platens

One of the most overlooked variables for new screen printers is the type platen you're using to print on. Many times, the standard wood sixteen-inch platen does the trick. Depending on your needs as a printer, you might consider upgrading to aluminum or honeycomb platens. Printing guru Colin Huggins hashes out the differences between types of platens.

Printer printing on a Riley Hopkins press

Photo by Golden Press Studio

WHAT IS A PLATEN 

A platen is the board or surface that you place a garment on for printing. They come in all shapes and sizes depending on the garment (pockets, t-shirts, leg, youth, koozie) you will be printing on. Since screen printers will print on many different types of garments, it’s a good idea to stock up on a variety of platens as needed.

LET’S TALK ABOUT WOOD PLATENS 

Wood platens are effective, quality products. They are more economical, customizable, and make practical sense to use for garments you’re not constantly printing like koozies, pockets, legs, etc. 

While using wood platens is the most economical choice, they do have a few long term drawbacks. Over time and with repeated use, wood platens will warp, making the surface area bumpy, rippled, or sloped. The wood platen will contract and expand due to moisture and heat. For lesser-used platens, the board will not undergo as much wear and tear. If you are looking to use the same platens year over year, there are several good reasons to look into aluminum platens.

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WHY WOULD I WANT ALUMINUM PLATENS?

Aluminum platens, though less economical, have a thinner profile and are far more durable than their wooden counterparts. Because of the machined aluminum, the surface and edges of the platen are incredibly smooth and should be promoted as being “snagless” compared to wood platens.

Smooth edges on a platen help in two ways. First, it increases your efficiency because fibers aren’t potentially getting snagged or caught on the edges of the wood platen, slowing down your loading speed. Secondly, the smooth surface and rubber top layer allow for a higher level of detail in designs since it is flatter and smoother than wood platens. The best part? Aluminum platens won’t warp over time. You can continue printing high detailed prints without worry.

Riley Hopkins 350 Press with aluminum plates

Photo by Alpine Print Company Ltd.

In the long run, aluminum platens are more cost-effective, as long as you don’t mistreat them. Do not lean on your platens — or any platens, for that matter. If you treat them like tables, they won’t hold up as well. 

WAIT, THERE’S ANOTHER TYPE OF PLATEN

Before you hurry to purchase a truckload of aluminum platens, check out the honeycomb platen. Honeycomb platens have aluminum plates on top and bottom with a waffle pattern in-between. The waffle design heats and cools even faster than the standard aluminum platen. Plus, it’s lighter because the waffle pattern inside allows for air particles to move between the aluminum plates. It boasts the same overall stability as aluminum platens, but gains a slight edge in efficiency. 

Currently, honeycomb platens are only available for the Riley Hopkins 350 press and automatic presses like the ROQ.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO UPGRADE?

Wood platens have been a staple in screen printing for decades. Upgrading depends entirely on what you need for flexibility, and the level of precision you’re striving for. 

RELATED: SUPPLY AND EQUIPMENT UPGRADES THAT IMPROVE PRODUCTION AND QUALITY OF PRODUCT

A printer and press at work

Photo by Symmetree Clothing

If you flash most of the colors in your print jobs, do lots of print-flash-print, or have productions where your platens are getting hot often and for a long period of time, the lifespan of wood platens diminishes quickly. Once a platen starts to have a corner dip or raise up, it's time to replace it. If you see ripples on the platen’s surface, it's time to replace it. If you’re flashing a lot, you can see wood platens degrade in six months to a year. With all the hard work you put in, treat yourself to a set of aluminum platens.

If you’re not flashing a ton and your wood platens are serving you well, it isn’t necessarily worth breaking your budget to invest in aluminum platens. 

Your standard wood platens might not warp tomorrow or next month, but eventually you’ll find yourself needing to either replace your platens or upgrade them. Upgrading to aluminum platens is an investment many printers wished they made earlier in their career. Take a look at your process and decide if making the switch is best for you and your shop.

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