The Top 4 Things You Should Know About Screens

One of the bigger hurdles that I’ve seen when working with my clients is knowing what is involved with a screen. Seems pretty straight forward, right?! I mean, you can’t screen print without one. But when it comes to tension, mesh count, mesh color, frame type, and how many times it’s been used, everything has to be dialed in. So let’s dive right in…

Mesh Count

Whether you’re new to screen printing or not, one of the first things you may have noticed is multiple types of screens with numbers on the frame. Those numbers are important and can be the difference between a horrible or successful print. When purchasing screens, you shouldn’t simply grab a few that are just available. Do the work beforehand to know what type of design you’ll be printing on what type of garment and how detailed you will need to go.

If you are going to be printing a design that contains gradients and looks almost like a photo, the screen mesh will need to be able to hold the halftones needed to replicate that design as a screen print…..(and we will dive into artwork setup and halftones in another blog and video course very soon!) If you are printing a design that contains thicker text and has no detail, then you may need to lay more ink down or need an underbase, so your mesh will need to be more open….Here’s what I mean - Mesh count refers to the number of threads that cross each other per square inch. The lower the number, the less thread that crosses allowing more ink to go through the screen. The higher the mesh count, the finer the holes in the screen which allows for less ink to pass through and is great for the finer detailed artwork. Don’t settle for just any mesh count. Know what you need so that you can do the absolute best job you can.

36-80 MESH - Glitter / Metallics

110 MESH - Thicker layers of ink needed such as block letters or underbase

155/160 MESH - Spot color designs

230 MESH - Finer detail with halftones or if using waterbase inks

305 MESH - CMYK and Simulated Process, photo realistic designs

Mesh Color

This is more of a personal preference, but as you know with screen printing, if one small detail of the process is slightly off, it can affect everything else. It’s good to be in the mindset of trying to do it right the first time, or at least make the 101 mistakes early on….

So there’s white mesh and dyed (yellow) mesh. Yellow mesh takes a little longer to expose due to light refraction so it tends to “soak” up the light and can give more of a crisp burn. Given that you would need this type of exposure for detailed artwork, mesh counts of 200 and up tend to have yellow mesh. On the other hand, white mesh is typically used for lower mesh screens from 155/160 and lower. The type of artwork being burned on these lower mesh counts wouldn’t necessarily require yellow mesh, although some screen suppliers give options for this.

Frame Type + Size

Wood frames are more affordable and can last through several uses. Over time with the amount of prep and reclaim, wood frames will warp and become unusable. When I first started, I wanted to hold onto wood frame screens even after warping because hey, it’s a one color design and always uses black ink for the reorder….what could go wrong. I was not doing myself or the work any favors and the quality was not up to anyone’s standards - Which brings me to aluminum frames. Although you might spend an extra $10 on aluminum frames, not only is it well worth it but you’ll easily and quickly make that money back.

Everything you spend your money on for your shop is an investment, right? So if you have to step back and do some quick calculations to prove aluminum over wooden frames, do it. It’s simple math and you’ll be less pissed in the long run. Wood frames are great to get started, when you’re not running high volumes and you are getting your feet wet with the process in its entirety. Once you begin to build a customer base and grow your volume, make the switch right then and there.

20x24 Frames - Great size for manual printing

23x31 Frames - The size for most automatic presses

Mesh Tension

So you know how I tried to hold onto screens with wooden frames even after warping because I didn’t think it would affect the one color design…..Well, it threw the tension off completely and was not at all as clean or crisp of a print as it could have been. The tension of the mesh matters 100% and if it’s even slightly off, then this could account for mistakes such as too much ink being printed, a design that is out of registration, ink smudging, double printing, and how could you even print an underbase using a screen with loose tension?!

(Maybe you stretch your own screens and use Newman roller frames. If that’s the case, shoot me a message and let’s nerd out on how great these are! If you know, you know.)

Sometimes we can create our own obstacles by trying to cut corners on what may seem like no big deal at first, but that’s what ends up having a substantial impact. I say “we” because I did this numerous times when I first started my company. I kept digging myself a hole thinking I didn’t have time or money to go that extra little step, yet throwing an extra $10 on each aluminum screen would in fact save me time and save myself and my company money.

If you have any questions on screens or any other area of the process, leave a comment and we can dive into your questions! Remember, all of this can be learned and you can become a master of your craft. Ultimately it comes down to truly knowing your tools and machines so everything can work in tandem efficiently and produce the best quality. Setbacks will happen and there will be times to set aside for troubleshooting, but know that you got this.



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©2022 Adam Tanaka