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What's the best way to make a screen for water-based printing?

Prepping a screen for water-based inks can be a little more tricky than plastisol. The print deposit is thinner, the ink dries on the screen over time, and the ink can potentially break down emulsion faster than plastisol ink would. Because of this, you need a good screen to get a good print. Here are the steps you should follow:

1. Choose the right mesh count. Base your mesh count decision on your image detail and coverage area of your print. The larger the area and the less detail present in your design, the lower the mesh count. The higher the detail and smaller the coverage, the higher you can go in the mesh count. The lowest mesh count printers should use when prepping a screen for water-based printing is 156. 

2. Pick the right emulsion. When printing with water-based inks, it’s important to choose a water-resistant emulsion to coat your screen.Using a water-resistant emulsion like Baselayr Long Lasting or Baselayr Complete will help you to avoid premature emulsion breakdown.

3. Prepare the screen properly. Make sure you degrease it or use emulsion prep to ensure there isn't any dust, oil, or debris on the screen.

4. Coat a thin layer of emulsion on the screen. When coating a screen for water-based printing, create as thin of a stencil as possible. A 1x1—or at most a 2x1—coat is best for coating screens for water-based printing.

5. Once the screen is dry, expose it. Exposure times vary depending on your emulsion thickness, mesh and thread counts, standard vs. thin thread mesh, and your light source. Use a 21-step grayscale calculator to dial in your exposure times.

6. Post-expose or post-harden. If you have any soft emulsion, expose the screen again to harden it. If you're going into a long print run, you'll want to harden the stencil more. Apply a thin, even layer of an emulsion hardener to both sides of the screen. Remove any excess. Leave the screen alone for a few hours to allow the hardener to penetrate the emulsion.

If you'd like more information on making screens for water-based printing, give this article a read.

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