Screen printing offers your art department a valuable and practical way of teaching students a skill set that they can go on to use in their working life, but setting a brand new screen printing department up can be a daunting task. We can break the process up into a step-by-step process to make this task easier.
Step 1: Choosing an ink system
If you are wondering why choosing an ink system is step 1, there is good reason for it. In educational environments the “go-to” choice of ink system is water-based. The main reason is because there is a belief that it is more environmentally friendly and requires less chemical to clean.
Many fallacies surround water-based inks when in fact they are difficult to use (think blocked screens) and contrary to popular belief, you cannot simply wash ink remnant safely down the drain because it may contain co-solvents, nasty preservatives and other ingredients that are hazardous.
A user friendly alternative ink – Plastisol
We have tested high rag content papers that are used by educational establishments for compatibility with the Lancer range of Plastisol inks and found that results were excellent. These tests were carried out by master screen printer Douglas Grigar himself.
Plastisol ink offers a much simpler solution, especially in a teaching environment. The most important of these is that you will never have ink dry in a screen again – ever!
Projects can even be spread over multiple days without any worries of screens becoming blocked and at the end of the project, simply return unused ink to the pot, thereby cutting waste.
When used correctly, Plastisol ink presents you with an economical, user friendly and environmentally sound option that will make the life of the art teacher and technicians simplicity in itself. Use it to print textiles and paper products. With proper training you will only need minimal amounts of chemicals to clean up and the product has a very long shelf life.
Plastisol inks do need to be heat cured, so one additional piece of equipment becomes necessary in your art department. This is a screen printing dryer or flash cure unit. So herein lies the reason we discussed inks before equipment.
Step 2: Artwork Production
High quality artwork is of crucial importance. Ideally your art department will need a dedicated inkjet printer with compatible screen printing software called a RIP to produce dense black images. In our conversations with art teachers and technicians working in established screen printing departments, artwork production is one of the single biggest problem areas. After all, if you produce poor artwork, the steps that follow can never improve on this.
Step 3: Equipment Selection
What products would you like your students to print?
What would be your maximum image area?
The answer to these questions will lead you down the initial road of selecting important items like the silk screen printing machine itself and other key ancillaries like the screen exposure unit and screen drying cabinet.
Keep in mind that a decision to print products larger than A2 in your your screen printing department will severely restrict your equipment options and potentially even prevent you from diversifying your potential print media towards textiles such as t-shirts, which has much to offer the student.
a) The Screen Printing Press
A screen printing carousel offers a lot of flexibility compared to a flat bed press, since it will allow you to print textiles as well as other materials more efficiently, print using multi-colour designs and allow multiple students to work around the press at the same time, provided you choose an “all-heads-down” press. Imagine how productive your students could be!
A key decision is how many workstations you need your machine to have and whether you require an entry level “all-heads-down” silk screen printing machine or a top level solution like the Vastex V2000 screen printing press that offers excellent micro-registration capabilities. Screen printing equipment can vary wildly in quality, so good research is an important step. The productivity and capabilities of your new screen printing department will depend much on the press chosen.
b) The Screen Exposure Unit
Exposure speed, detail required and maximum image area will determine your choices in this area. Metal halide screen exposure units offer the biggest image areas (larger than A0 available) but overall the initial purchase cost and running costs will be the highest.
If fast exposure time and good detail is a requirement and you are able to restrict image area to A1 or less, you will also have the option of LED screen exposure units. Lower upfront cost and almost zero running cost with virtually no maintenance requirements compared to metal halide while still offering the same speed of exposure and levels of detail make LED the new “go-to” screen exposure technology. If the budget is very tight, speed is not important and detail not as demanding, one further option would be a fluorescent uv tube screen exposure unit.
c) Screen Drying Cabinet
This item could be seen by some as a luxury, but it is in fact crucial to efficient screen production and elimination of contamination related problems. Most educational screen printing departments do use a screen drying cabinet.
d) The Curing Oven or Flash Dryer
e) Screen Coating Rack
A screen coating rack is essential for teaching the proper technique for coating screens consistently.
f) Washout Booth
It is ideal to have a dedicated area for every step of the process in your new screen printing department. If you want to keep the mess of pre-press preparation and post print clean-up contained, a high quality stainless steel washout booth that will last for many years to come is ideal. Please note that washout booths are often manufactured from lower grade galvanised steel. If you are on a very tight budget, this may be an option you want to consider. Such units do not offer the same life expectancy as a stainless steel product.
Step 4: Training
As an educational institution it is crucial that you are able to pass on the latest techniques to your students. It not only ensures their safety and success in your class but also their success as they move into their working life using the techniques they learned at school.
Proper training will also allow you to lower internal costs and cut waste in your art department.
If an art teacher relies only on what they were taught at school themselves in order to educate students, this leads to the propagation of outdated, wasteful and in some cases even harmful techniques. Due to such outdated methods there is often a tendency to rely on internet videos and advice on forums, just to “get by”.
Master screen printer, Douglas Grigar travels from the USA to teach the best screen printing class our industry has to offer. He will move your skills to the next level and if you wish to recruit an inexperienced technician for your new screen printing department, this training class is an excellent opportunity for them to learn how to do everything the correct way, using the most up to date methods from the outset.
A Complete Package
Dalesway Print Technology can offer a complete support package to set up a brand new screen printing department. With a comprehensive range of reliable screen printing equipment, European and Canadian screen printing supplies and screen printing classes and training by an industry expert, you are assured of the very best the industry has to offer.