Below is an excerpt from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.” Learn helpful tips and tricks on how to run a screen printing business.
Thinking About Production
Once you have the big ticket items out of the way, it’s time to think about production. Dan from Forward Printing has helped me (as well as many of Ryonet’s Screen Experience students and customers) learn the best practices of how to set up a solid screen printing production workflow. Per Dan, the key is flow. Ideally, your process should keep things flowing in a single direction, uninterrupted. Art, screens, and shirts come into the press; get printed on the press; go into the dryer; come off the dryer; and shirts and the dirty screens that printed come out the end. The screens then make their way to be cleaned and back to the beginning.
Here are some shop layouts that Dan from Forward Printing did as a consulting project for one of our ROQ clients, Tipsy. You can see how he has arranged the shop flow in the production area and the screen room. Things should flow from point A to point B without resistance in a logical manner.
A Screen Room Divided Into 2 Parts
Here’s what your finished darkroom could look like. You’ll see that in this example, it’s been organized to facilitate a consistent, one-directional flow.
Your darkroom, of course, is very important to this process. I like to think of the darkroom as the “clean room” of screen printing. It’s where the magic of making good screens happens—and good screens equal good prints. Here’s what you need to create the right darkroom conditions:
1. A low humidity space, free of dirt and dust
Wet screens breakdown and don’t hold detail well. Ideally, you want your darkroom to be 35-40% humidity. Because moisture is a problem, it’s a good idea to keep your water and your screen area as segregated as possible. The easiest way is to put your washout and cleanout screens directly outside the darkroom. If they must be in the darkroom, make sure to add some type of divider or strong ventilation to keep the moisture away from your screening area.
2. Two separate sinks for washout and cleanout
Ideally, you should have two sinks, or a sink and a fluid cleaning table that has access to water and a drain. You want one sink to be clean. This is your washout sink, where you degrease screens and washout your images. You want the other area to be your cleanout sink. This is where you finish the deinking process and reclaim the screen. The cleanout sink’s cleanliness is much less important than the washout sink. Ensure your sinks are filtered to avoid particulates from going down the drain.
Your clean sink can be filtered using screen mesh, 110, 125, and 156 mesh. But if you are going to be cleaning ink in it, it needs a more advanced filter. Technically, most water collection areas don’t allow any colored water to go down the drain. This means your filter needs to be pretty high tech. Most shops that I know don’t take this as seriously as they should, and mainly focus on getting the particulate and ink residue out of the water before sending it down the drain. The better your filter setup the better off your pipes and the earth will be.
3. Two dip tanks to maximize efficiency
Having two dip tanks can maximize your efficiency in a dark room and keep things much cleaner. Why two? One for cleaning screens with de-inker/emulsion remover (a.k.a. dip tank solution) in it, and one for developing screens with clean water in it. The screen developer goes directly to the right or left of the clean sink, and the screen cleaner goes directly to the right or left of the dirty sink. For under $600 you can get set up with two of these solutions and save a ton of labor and cleaning energy.
A Clean, Dry Coating Area, Separated From Your Water Source
Your coating area needs to be away from the water source, so no splashed water gets into your screens. It should also be VERY CLEAN as mentioned above and DRY. Using 1-2 dehumidifiers is typically key for this. Some printers like to coat on a table with two hands using a coating stand; others like to use one hand and their other hand to hold the screen, and some like to coat on the floor. Just ensure you have enough space to handle the screen for stability. It’s important to have a clean and sharp scoop coater to coat the screen.
I would recommend doubling up each scoop coater that you have so you can replace it with a fresh one if you get a ding in it. I like to glue or screw my scoop coater end caps on with JB Weld or machine screws. Having plenty of screen racks helps speed of the process.
A Drying Cabinet or Several Screen Racks and a Compressed Air Source
Your drying area should also be away from the water sources. If your budget can afford it, a drying cabinet offers the best of all worlds. A drying cabinet will help dry screens quickly and evenly, and it will keep the dirt out as it has filters. If you don’t have the budget for a drying cabinet, several screen racks should help. Dual dehumidifiers can also come in handy. You want these in and around your screen drying area. Some shops use fans to speed up drying, once the screen is degreased or coated. While this does get the air moving, accelerating the process, it also can blow dirt and dust on the screen and give it an uneven coat by sending the emulsion to one side. If you decide to use fans, keep them on the low setting when drying emulsion and ensure to clean them often with compressed air. You’ll definitely want to keep a clean compressed air source in your darkroom either way.
A Dirt-Free Workspace That’s Easy to Clean
I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping this area clean. I recommend putting everything you have on casters with the exception of your washout sink. Even your dip tanks should be on casters. Having everything on casters allows you to move things out of the way and get the dirt and dust that can collect in all the corners.
Like what you read? Get more great business tips on running a screen printing business from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.”