Screen printing, as we know it, has been in existence in for decades. The process is simple enough, the materials are relatively inexpensive, and almost anyone can master the art in very little time. But selecting the proper equipment is not always as straightforward: there are many types of inks to choose from and difficult decisions to make over which kind of screen printing frame to use. Finding a frame that can endure multiple washes and repeated tension adjustments, yet remain intact over time is key to successful printmaking.
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Essentially, screen printing frames are constructed from two main types of materials, wood and aluminum. The most basic frames are constructed from lighter weight wood - softwood, oil-stained lumber, or kiln-dried can be found at any craft store. In general, wood frames are the less expensive, making them perfect for the novice printer. They are great for creating larger, simpler images. But there are drawbacks to wooden frames: they tend to warp more easily than frames made from other materials. This will cause the screen to bend and become susceptible to uneven printing. They also become stained, due to wood's natural propensity to be porous and soaking up ink. Eventually, wood will dry out from repeated use, give way, and pop, rendering the frame unusable.
Aluminum, on the other hand, is an ideal material for screen printing frames. Aluminum screen printing frames are also lightweight, but are extremely durable. Because they are so sturdy, they usually last longer than wood, and therefore do not have to be repaired or replaced as often. Higher quality frames are welded together, which provide additional, reinforced strength at the corners. This will allow for less warpage in the long-term, which also means less time adjusting the tension. In addition, they can endure multiple washes without retaining extra ink, since the metal is not porous. More importantly, aluminum renders fine, detailed images more clearly than other frames over time, yielding a better, cleaner print.
There are different types of aluminum screen printing frames. Draw-bar frames are the most technologically advanced on the market; with their built-in tensioning control, they are unmatched in convenient and trouble-free adjustments. Stretch and glue frames are another available option. While they are more basic, especially when compared to draw-bars, they still deliver incredibly sharp details and will last a very long time when properly maintained.
Whichever screen printing frame is being considered, there are important factors to carefully think through. Make sure that the frame lies flat on a level surface. If it does not, it will only warp more quickly, potentially leaving a rough, muddy image. If thinking about a wood frame, look at how the corners are joined. Single or double mortis and tenon corner joints are much more secure and heavy-duty than corners glued or stapled together. Also look at the wood itself: polyurethane or oil-based stains offer more protection against ink seepage, even though this is only prolonging inevitable ink absorption. If contemplating an aluminum screen printing frame, understand that the cost is slightly higher than wood; even though they may cost more upfront, they will not have to be replaced as frequently. A high-grade, premium aluminum frame will last almost indefinitely, which prompts many people to regularly choose aluminum over wood.