ImagesMagUK_June_2024 68 images JUNE2024 It’s all about controlling the variables. Screen printing has more than its fair share of those, and we all have our own methods for keeping on top of them: perhaps it’s a card system for regulating squeegee blade condition, or a specially adapted screen frame for keeping an eye on pallet parallelism. Whatever we have in place, we’re justifiably proud of our endeavours to beat the variables and force our awkward process into submission. But there’s an elephant in the room. We all know its name, we all know in our hearts that it’s really important. It’s time to face this problem. It’s time to talk about mesh tension. Before we discuss why it’s such an ignored topic, let’s summarise the promised benefits of higher and consistent tensions: ■Lower off-contact, leading to less stress on the stencil, squeegee and machine (or human). ■Lower squeegee pressure, leading to Will Pearson of Phantom Screenprint argues that too many printers are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to mesh tension. Here, he shares his cure for your shop’s tension headaches Higher tension, lower stress! brighter, smoother, more opaque prints with plastisol as we are now depositing ink on the surface of the shirt (rather than driving it down deep into the fabric of the shirt, which makes for a rough, thick and dull print). ■Conversely, it’s easier to get a more thorough ink penetration deep into the garment with water-based inks using higher mesh tensions. ■It’s much easier to achieve tight and accurate registration, meaning faster set-up times and less time doctoring artwork to have traps etc that don’t need to be there. ■Sharper definition, less dot gain, lighter highlights and less muddy shadow areas, and more stability throughout the run – ie the first print looks like the last one with no perceptible image depreciation. ■Lower ink consumption – up to 40% less, in fact, meaning softer prints, lower flash dwell times, smoother running and lower ink costs. ■Easier to reclaim, and screens ‘ghost’ less. Screens are also much easier to coat consistently with higher tension. ■Successful wet-on-wet printing. I’ll repeat that: successful wet-on-wet printing...! So, what’s the problem? Why don’t we all just use higher tension screens? Well, most print shops have no control over what’s coming in the door, or a way of measuring their screen tensions, so we just don’t know where we are with it. We optimistically assume that our screens are acceptably tight because, well, we’re printing jobs with them, right? How to fix it Fixing the issue isn’t completely straightforward, but it is well worth doing. If you need convincing, go back re-read the above eight bullet points! The first issue to address is knowing the quality of the screens coming in the door. They all look the same, but there can be huge differences. In order to know what you’re working with, you