Unlike DTG and other printing processes, screen printing does require some patience, skill and experience. Misprints, ink issues, fibrillation, pinholes and others are some of the common problems in every screen printing shop, which can slowdown your production process.
In this blog, I’ve laid out top major factors, problems and its solutions that will help you run a smooth and efficient screen printing shop. Be it an experienced screen printing or a newbie, there’s something for everyone.
Avoid Screen Print Misprints
- Make regular audits: These first step would be to perform a quality audit by keeping a log of all the misprints you get on your station. It should transpire the real cause of the misprints as you understand the patterns. You should also keep a log even after the misprints have stopped.
- Check the quality of artwork: Sometimes you may have to dump a print just because the error was in the artwork. The worst part is that these errors are mostly avoidable. This is where artwork approval is particularly helpful for decorators. You should have at least two professionals who will proofread mockup, check from grammatical and spelling errors. Moreover, you should get it signed by the customers before sending it for printing. Make sure the colors are labeled according to the color system you use in your shop.
- Equipment maintenance: We can’t stress enough on the fact that you have to keep your equipment and presses running smoothly. You don’t want any unexpected results when running prints. Also before commencing your print job, you have to make sure that the screens have the right tension, there are no nicks in your squeegees. If you have automatic screen printers, we suggest you closely follow your manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines.
- Talk to your employees: Before any new project, you should gather up your team and have a chat with each of them about the project and how you are planning to execute it. Number of print stations, project notes, and other production details should be laid out before beginning your work.
- Adjust your curing temperature: Under curing, scorching, dye migration are the common curing related problems that’s common even among the experienced screen printers. Avoiding curing related problems takes experience and some common sense. Before using your new curing equipment, you should try out just one t-shirts to determine the duration and temperature control. Always run a test run under the flash cure for new substrate, new machines and old machines.
- Keep your shop Tidy: For the most part, stains, pinholes on screens, dried up paint, dirt, lint and other stuff cause major problems and is primarily because of a messy print shop. Educate your team to be tidy as well.
- Dealing with misprints: If you have a misprint t-shirt, you could use a spot gun to remove any stains. For pinholes, you could path the background on top of it and heat press it to give it a smooth texture. If none of the above can be done, you could use the misprint t-shirts for your shop; you may cut it into pieces and use it to clean and wipe equipment. Even better would be to donate it to someone or keep it for yourself.
Efficient Artwork Production
Typically work process flows faster in a screen printing shop. A slowed down production process is definitely costing the shop a lot of time and money. Artwork is one of those aspects that can seriously slow down the shop. From taking artwork notes from clients, creating artwork, revising artwork and then approval, all takes a ton of time. You should work to streamline your art production process to decrease time. It suggests that you can finish projects faster for your customers and speedup the turnaround time. To achieve this, you could
- Have guidelines for accepting artwork: Nearly all customers who come to you probably have no idea of how screen printing works. They may get you images and photos that could not be screen printed. Usually, it takes days to educate the customers and get the right type of image that can be screen printing. This is where, you can cut short a lot of time simply by setting some strict guidelines and let your customers know beforehand before submitting their photos.
- Have a protocol for preparing artwork: Keep a professional who will prepare the artwork for faster separation process. From removing color pollution to clearing out the edges, a pro should be able to do it as fast as possible. Then give right naming to the files, so that it’s easier for you to find the right files of your customer
- Have shortcuts when possible: There are a couple of shortcuts that you could try to save time. You could create a hot folder that will auto change all file names and file types added to the folder. If you are drawing your own designs you can use little common images to add to the main image for a change. You could also purchase designs directly online to save a ton of time. Moreover, you can set up auto scripts for all color separation work.
- Make approvals faster: Before the actual printing process, you need your customer’s approval, which you can speed up by setting up an auto replay system in your email or have a template ready for the final artwork and send it to your customers.
- Outsource if you have to: Sometimes you will have to outsource your artwork production work, when you have a lot to deliver on a tight time period. This is the common scenario among screen printing during the high season. These is no better way to speed up your process than outsourcing some of the work. Although it’s a little expensive, it’s definitely worth the money if you want to keep your customers happy and deliver their products on time.
Troubleshooting Exposure Issues
Screen exposure or screen burning issues are tough to deal with and are really pesky when things don’t turn around the way they should. Almost universally, every screen printer has had some issues with screen exposure that some time. Many face it on a daily basis.
Problems with exposure typically transpires while washing out the screen. Some common problems could be screens that don’t wash out well enough, softened emulsion, blurred images, pinholes and others.
Here, we are going to write down a few easy techniques to avoid screen exposure issues:
- Washed-out stencils: If you find your stencils wash down it suggests that the screen weren’t exposed enough. Two primary causes are transparent positives and short exposure times. To tackle this you first have to hold the film positive up to the light and if you see through the black ink then you will have to use darker ink to create positives. If you can’t see through the ink, you could try exposing for longer time. To test your exposure time, use a cardboard, cover the screen with a swatch and then expose. Test it several times and find the best exposure time for the emulsion.
- Stencils that don’t wash out: If the stencil don’t wash out the problem is just the opposite i.e. it has been over exposed. Here, you have to make sure that UV light isn’t sneaking into the exposure room and to tackle it you have to run multiple tests as mentioned above to get the right exposure time using equipment that you use. Make sure UV light isn’t getting in around the edges of the positive.
- Soft emulsion: Soft emulsion is the result of laying too thick of an emulsion coating on the screens. After washing out you will find that the emulsion is soft and spongy. In this case, you will have to expose the screens for a longer time.
- Jagged stencil: It is a typical problem when the stencil edges are soft, over washout, using the wrong mesh count. This could be caused due to the UV light leaking around the edges, which could be because the positive isn’t held tightly to the glass. Moreover, if you are too harsh or aggressive while washing the screen, you will find a jagged appearance on the stencil.
- Dealing with pinholes: Many don’t bother to check the screen after washing out, which is where most of the pinhole problems lurke. For a small pinhole, you could just tape it up and run your press. But if you get frequent pinholes issues, you should check your exposure process. Some common problems could be unclean screens, outdated emulsions, and unclean glass of the exposure unit. Simply by checking a few things such as exposure time, tidy screens, washout pressure and other factors, you can prevent pinholes.
Top Tips to Flash Curing Your Prints
- Flash cure only when you have an underbase to increase the opacity of the print and when there is overlapping of colors.
- Flash cure plastisol ink between 240 to 250 fahrenheit so the ink is gelled and not completely cured. If it is completely cured, other layers will not stick to the print permanently.
- Adjust you distance depending on your fabric; if it’s 100% cotton, you should keep your flash cure unit closer to the fabric and for synthetic fabrics or blends, keep it at a distance to prevent scorching.
- Use the right pallet adhesive that can withstand the heat.
- Preheat your pallet to make sure that the flash cure time is consistent throughout the press run.
- For some projects, you may need a cooling station after the flash cure.
- Keep the temperature of the flash unit room within strict temperature boundaries. Avoid keep your flash units near windows where it could be affected by its draft.
- Keep humidity under control using a dehumidifier.
Avoid Common Plastisol Screen Printing Issues
- Sticky prints: It’s not uncommon to find your t-shirts getting stuck to the self, which is because of the sticky prints. When you take it off, it would either leave the self with a stain or your t-shirt with a missing colour spot. This is typical when you don’t give your plastisol ink enough time to cool. Before cooling down completely, the t-shirt will get stick to anything it touches.
- Ghost imaging: Screen printing can be challenging when you are not careful and you are more likely to get tons of problems related to ink. One of these problems is called ghost imaging when the image can be seen at the back of the substrate. It is typical when the printing is done on a pure cotton substrates using low-bleed inks which are actually meant for synthetic substrates. Simply using the right ink is enough to avoid this issue.
- Fibrillation: It occurs when the fibers of the substrates break down. It can be prevented by using a high quality ink and applying a thicker deposit of ink. Using a clean or white underbase will also help keep the substrate fibers together.
- Peeling away prints: As discussed above, a peeling away print can be caused by either undercured ink or use of improper ink. To resolve this issue, you have to check the temperature of the ink during the curing process.
- Dye migration: It can be solved by using ink additive to prevent dye migration; moreover, you should cure your ink at lower temperatures but for a longer period of time.
- Washing away prints: As mentioned before, when prints wash away, it suggests that the ink wasn’t fully cured. This can be checked by taking care of your curing temperature. You can use a heat gun, temperature tape to check during the curing process. Adjust you temperature, speed and distance from the substrate to get the right cure for your t-shirts.
- Cracked ink: This too is a problem of under-cured ink and can be avoided with proper curing.
Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid If You are New to Screen Printing
Here are the top 5 screen printing mistakes newbies makes, which you should avoid to make your business more efficient.
- Not learning the skills from a pro: Although you will find many YouTube videos and they are pretty good to learn the basics, it’s not exactly for those who want to be a pro screen printer. To hone you skill, you have to do things on your own and would be better if you become an apprentice of a master screen printer.
- Strictly following manufacturer’s instructions: Rookies would always stick to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid troubles. Although it’s good to stick to instruction, but not wise without testing it first. Screen printers should test their equipment and run a test production to makes sure everything turns out as expected.
- Not Networking: When you are in the industry, you have to network your reach to other screen printer as well. You will have to reach out and talk to customers, possible partners and industry influencers.
- Trying to reinvent the wheel: Some rookies try to create their own style and methods, which is nice for RnD but not for customer projects. Screen printers should always follow the industry best practices and stick to the recipe.
- Always using the same equipment: Many new screen printers thinks that they only need one set of tools to run their small business; but that’s not always the case. If your production process, screen printers need a multiple set of the same equipment such as various sizes of screen, and various types of colors for various types of substrates. Make sure you have all the equipment you need to run a business meeting various client needs.
Running a screen printing business efficiently truly takes a lot of work. Even with all your safety measures and best practices you will fail sometimes. It’s common among screen printers to see a loss in business a few times a year. However, if you can manage to keep your production process efficient for the rest of the time, that’s enough to make big profits.