Every printer strives to create a smooth print. Smooth prints ensure that fibrillation — when shirt fibers poke through the shirt — is kept at a minimum, and the print looks professional and sharp. But how do you ensure a smooth print every time? Here are 3 ways to achieve buttery smooth prints before, during, and after printing.
SCREEN PREP FOR A SMOOTH PRINT
Proper screen prep is essential for getting a smooth print. One huge factor is screen tension. As a rule of thumb, 25 newtons of tension is considered “good” tension. The lower the mesh count of a screen, the harder it is to maintain high tension.
Proper off-contact is also important in preventing fibrillation. The screen needs to snap off the substrate as quickly as possible as the squeegee passes over it. If the screen sticks to the shirt, it will pull up shirt fibers along with it. Typically, off-contact is set between 1/16 and ⅛ inches. There are a couple of ways to set up off-contact. If you’re printing on a press with a Z micro, simply adjust the micro until off-contact is where you’d like it.
Don’t have a Z micro? No problem. Place about four cleanup cards between the platen and print head to create that space. Lower the print head down into the registration gate. On the back of the print head, loosen all the bolts so the screen can move freely. Let the screen level out naturally as it rests on the cleanup cards. Once it’s aligned, tighten the bolts again. Remove the cleanup cards and put the screen down again. You should be able to see and feel an even space between the screen and the platen.
Getting proper screen tension and off contact are important. Once you start printing, there are a few things you can do to keep a smooth print throughout the print run.
If you’re printing a white underbase for your design, avoiding fibrillation is important. Tamping down fibers with the first print will keep the print looking and feeling smooth throughout the entire print process. Using an underbase has a few benefits, and one of these is creating a smooth base for the print.
Once you’ve printed the underbase, flash the ink until it’s gelled. Then, take a look at the flashed base. Are there shirt fibers sticking out of the white ink? If not, you can take it easy knowing that your underbase is successfully tamping down those pesky shirt fibers.
USE A SMOOTHING SCREEN
If you’re still seeing fibrillation, it’s time to turn to another method: the smoothing screen. A smoothing screen mattes down the fibers of the shirt. Smoothing the print helps boost the vibrancy of the ink.
If you're a DIY printer, all you need to do is grab either a 200 or 230 mesh screen, coat the screen with emulsion, expose it without any imagery on it, and place it on the press as a blank screen. You're going to need a clear lubricant like Curable Reducer or mineral oil: something that is liquid and is less likely to start to gel from the heat of the ink.
When using the smoothing screen, you'll want to use enough pressure to flatten the fibers, but not too much where you're jamming it in. Using a smoothing screen is a normal process for printers. Even the best screen printers won’t always create a perfect print.
SMOOTH THE PRINT AFTER PULLING A SQUEEGEE
When you’re done printing, but still trying to achieve the smoothest print possible, it’s time to turn to heat. Plastisol ink is essentially liquid plastic and becomes malleable when it’s heated up. Use a heat press, iron, or a Stampinator to smooth the print once it’s been cured.
Every print shop should have a heat press. It’s a versatile tool that can be utilized for heat transfers, neck labels, foil, and more. Another use for the heat press is to create a smooth finish on a print. If you’re not happy with the roughness of a print, place the shirt on the heat press and lay a heat-resistant non-stick sheet overtop. This will create a flatter, smoother, glossier surface. For a semi-gloss finish that’s still smooth, use parchment paper.
Printing directly to fabric? All the same, the principles apply when printing colors that we mentioned when printing the white base. Getting a smooth print takes a little extra effort, but it’s a normal process to get that smooth finish every printer dreams of. Use proper mesh tension, off-contact, and whichever smoothing apparatus works best in the shop to get a buttery smooth print.