Question: Our printing doesn’t seem to be getting better, what are the best ways to go about improving our printing abilities?
Answer: My two cents? Stop being penny wise and pound foolish. Saving twenty dollars and buying a gallon of inexpensive but inferior emulsion is a terrible idea. Inferior emulsions don’t have the resolution of most of the more expensive emulsions because they don’t have the solids content. Without the resolution you will you lose detail in your printing.
As for the cost, consider that with inferior emulsions you might experience premature stencil breakdown, which means you will get pinholes. What if you lose a press full of expensive garment-dyed sweatshirts that get a pinhole in the print. You can’t usually use cleaning fluid on garment-dyed shirts so that press full of twelve or fourteen expensive sweatshirts is trash and maybe you just ate up your emulsion savings for the year in about five minutes.
Or perhaps you wrestle with a process print because you can’t hold the halftones and as a result you are setting up on press for three hours and that costs you at least $450 in press time, or your great “savings” on over twenty gallons of emulsion.
The same scenario can be laid out for ink, frames, mesh, reclaiming chemistry, and my personal favorite squeegee rubber.
Inexpensive squeegee rubber will get ink through a screen, but not very well. Better squeegees give you ink coverage and hold halftone detail and sharp lines and edges on your prints. You can print ok with inferior squeegees, but you will not ever get superior prints. In addition you will lose countless dollars in struggling to set up jobs when halftones gain too much, lines blur, prints don’t line up with underprints, and most expensively of all when you have to double hit a print to get enough ink down. If you double hit even on one screen on an auto press, you almost double your production time and double your cost of print production.
You don’t need the most expensive supplies, but you do need good solid basic supplies and equipment or you are going to waste your time, which is going to cost you money and you are going to struggle to improve your print quality.
Check out the section of our site here that indicates the companies Tom and I work with and why. In order of importance/cost I would say work on improving your shop in this order to start:
- Improve your squeegees. Triple durometer. We buy them at Saati. Replace them as needed. If you sharpen them, not too many times and it better be a good sharpener.
- Improve your screens. Either use Newman Roller Frames or get the good aluminum frames GSF sells but only if you get a good screen stretcher or find someone who can stretch them for you.
- Get good emulsion. KIWO and Saati are good options, talk to them about what to use.
- Find a way to get decent films or get a good Direct-to-Screen. We use an Epson with ink and film we get from SPSI. Tom has a KIWO and a Douthitt DTS. You will struggle without good film or good DTS.
- Use a good ink system and make sure you have a good contact there to help you out. Tom and I both use Rutland inks.
- Get a decent exposure unit. I started using a 150 watt bulb and a pie plate and it “worked” but… If you can’t get a good screen made you can’t print well.
- Eventually get a good press. If you seriously want to do the best printing get an MHM. Nothing compares to the level flat platens and screens you start with all the time with MHM. If you have some lesser press, then level and adjust it often.