The art of screen printing is accessible to almost anyone. The process is straightforward and uncomplicated, and the materials are relatively inexpensive. To get started, one must have a design in mind, a basic knowledge of the process, and few key screen printing supplies. But knowing which screen printing supplies to purchase can be intimidating to a beginner printer, especially without knowing which supplies demand more attention over others.
Two of the most important items to purchase are the screen printing frame and corresponding mesh. This is essentially where the design meets the canvas, (whether that canvas is paper, fabric, or other backdrop). The frame holds the mesh in place, keeping it level and straight with equal tension from each side. The most common frames types are manufactured from wood and aluminum. Aluminum frames are preferred because they are inherently stronger and last longer over time Wooden frames offer a lower price point, but absorb ink and have a tendency to warp and become weaker with each use. Both are widely obtainable and impart excellent results.
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The screen printing mesh is just as important as the frame. This mesh is available in an array of different materials, from traditional silks to more durable plastics and metal. Stainless steel mesh is becoming a more common alternative to vinyl and nylon screens, due to stainless steel's durability and capability to stay in shape over many uses. Mesh also comes in a wide variety of gauges. Larger-gauged mesh is ideal for larger areas without fine details, while smaller-gauged mesh will render minute details without bleeding or smearing. The most common sizes of mesh are 110 and 156, representing the number of threads intersecting per square inch. These two sizes are perfect for the novice printer and will provide medium-scale details precisely.
Another item to carefully consider is ink. There are several types of ink for specific printing projects, and choosing the wrong one could affect the rendering of the design. For example, in textile printing, there are two types of ink: water-based and PVC-based. Water-based inks depend on the water acting as a solvent - when the water evaporates, the pigments begin to cure and set. On the other hand, PVC-based inks do not contain water or any solvents, but require the printed ink to be heated in order to cure. Both of these types of ink are commonly used, but PVC-based inks are used for finished textiles such as tee shirts and sweatshirts, but feel thick and somewhat sticky when touched. Water-based inks, used in roll-to-roll textiles, feel softer but are more difficult to manage and cure evenly.
Once the inks have been carefully chosen, there are only a few other items needed for basic screen printing. Many companies have taken the guesswork out by packaging the essentials in a starter kit, complete with instructions and helpful tips on successful printmaking. After a few runs, upgrading to a more substantial frame and mesh is advisable, since these are the items that play a bigger role in the actual design transfer, and will also be used the most.