Using T-Shirt Screen Printing Equipment: The Basics of Screen Preparation

Pad Printing | Aug 27, 2013

Learn the ABC’s of preparing screens for t-shirt printing machines.

An important yet frequently overlooked step in the t-shirt printing process is screen preparation. Proper screen preparation can reduce the time you spend fixing pinholes or remaking screens owing to poor emulsion adhesion. Following the right screen preparation procedures can also help you get the stencil you want and achieve good press performance, while prolonging the life of the mesh.

Preparing Older Screens for Emulsion

When preparing an older screen for use with t-shirt printing machines, it’s important to ensure that the mesh is very clean before you coat it with emulsion. The cleaner the mesh is, the better the emulsion will adhere to it. 

Take the following steps to prepare old screens for use:

  • Gently remove old stencil from the mesh
  • Remove ink stains and haze from the mesh with haze remover
  • Degrease the screen to eliminate oils and other contaminants from the mesh
  • Allow the screen to dry completely before coating it with fresh emulsion

Clean and prep the mesh carefully. Avoid excessively scrubbing the screen because it could wear the mesh. Using an emulsion remover in combination with the physical force of a pressure washer may be sufficient for the job. However, you also have to take care to ensure that the pressure washer doesn’t exert extreme force and damage the mesh fibers. In addition, leaving harsh haze removers on for too long can damage the mesh.

Once the screen is free of ink stains and emulsion, you must degrease it.  In order to properly degrease silk screen mesh, wet both sides of the screen thoroughly with water, apply degreaser, and use a scrub brush to brush the entire surface of the mesh, starting with the squeegee side first. Make sure that the scrub brush you use isn’t too rough and abrasive, so you don’t damage the mesh. After you’ve scrubbed both sides of the mesh, rinse the squeegee side first and then flip the screen and rinse the print side. Air-dry your screen in a dust-free environment so that water residue doesn’t dry on them.

Preparing a Brand New Screen for Emulsion

When preparing a brand new screen to use for the first time, you need to abrade, degrease, and dry the screen. Slightly abrading the mesh roughs it up a little bit so that the emulsion adheres to it better. Use a brush that is hard enough to abrade the surface of the mesh a bit and make sure that the brush is clean so that it doesn’t contaminate anything. When degreasing the screen, it’s best to use a mesh prep made specifically for screen printing. Some DIYers use dish soap, but it isn’t recommended because it may contain oils.

Today’s emulsions are much better at adhering to mesh than in the past, but you’ll still get the best results by prepping your screen properly. 

Follow these steps in order to prep a new screen:

  • Wet the screen
  • Spray mesh prep on the screen
  • Scrub both sides of the screen with a brush
  • Let the screen sit for a couple of minutes
  • Rinse the screen off thoroughly, edges and all, with a pressure washer or hose
  • Set the screen out to dry in a dust-free environment to prevent dust, dirt, debris, and oil from getting onto the screen

When drying your screen, be careful about putting it near fans or drafts that could carry dust. After you complete these preparation steps, your screen will be ready to coat with emulsion.

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