Screen printing is a process that includes many complex steps that you must execute perfectly. Because of this, this art form takes up quite a bit of time, depending on what materials you choose.
It generally takes 30 minutes to a few hours to do a screen print, depending on how many items you are printing on. Additionally, having your designs dry, set, and cure properly can take a few hours or days on top of the printing time.
In this article, I’ll explain why it takes so long to ink a design for your screen prints. I’ll also cover why specific steps in the process may take longer than others. How Long Does It Take To Do a Screen Print? Well, there are several things to take into consideration:
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Key Factors That Determine the Turnaround Time for Screen Prints
The key factors that affect the total turnaround time for screen prints include how many colors you use, how big the print details are, and the drying type. Additionally, errors in creating the print will add more time due to redoing parts of the designs again.
Screen printing has multiple steps that you must do carefully. Along with this, some steps may take longer than others based on the choices you make along the way.
Using Multiple Colors
The screen printing process takes a long time because of the multiple steps that you must complete cautiously and slowly to ensure a great finished product. However, having various colors in a design you want to print extends this time because spreading the ink and setting the screens must be done for every color.
Like other types of printing, screen printing works by applying pigments in sections. This process means that you must print your first color on all your items and wash the screen before you can do the next color. You have to layer the colors individually, resulting in more time to wash the screens and tools in between pigments.
If you have a design with a single color, the entire process might only take you 15 to 20 minutes or so, depending on how many items you have to print. Yet, if you have at least two colors, you’re looking at an estimated 30 minutes to a few hours if you have many prints to complete.
If screen printing seems challenging, you can always check what the easiest printmaking technique is.
Smaller Details in Your Design
Small and intricate details will also extend the time needed to print your designs because, with smaller components, you must work slower and delicately to ink, transfer, and stabilize your designs.
Screen printing works best with a design or stencil with large design elements such as block letters or thicker lines. These components make it easier for the ink to transfer through the screen and onto your selected material.
Details like cursive writing or thin lines require more caution and patience. If you go too fast, you can risk ruining your entire design.
If a design’s details are too small, the ink may smudge through the screen and blur the element on the final print. This can be an issue if you quickly smear the ink too thickly or rush to remove the screen too fast.
Additionally, your ink may not show up on the design at all. If you quickly apply ink unevenly, the tiny details may not even transfer to the material during the printing process.
This action results in having to completely redo the ink printing process for that color until it finally shows up in the completed screen print.
Washing Screens Between Layers
Another factor in the turnaround time for your screen prints is the need to wash scenes between colors. A quick rinse without soap and a thorough drying are enough to prepare the screens for another ink round.
Yet, you must do the washing process must gently to avoid damaging the screen. You also want to ensure that you don’t rush and miss ink spots stuck in the screen mesh. Failing to remove them during the washing process can cause them to bleed through the next time you use them.
Luckily, this cleaning process only takes about 5 minutes to do. However, more colors mean more cleaning, and these minutes will add up as the cycle continues.
To watch a detailed demonstration of this cleaning process, check out this video:
Dry Time and Curing
The longest part of the screen printing process is waiting for your designs to dry. For some inks, this process lasts a few hours. Yet, for others, this can easily take a few days. You must let your designs dry before you wear them, or you apply a different colored ink on top.
There are two main ways to dry your screen prints.
Air drying means leaving your prints to dry on a table or rack. This drying method is typical when printing on paper, but you can also use it for fabric screen printing. Air drying can take a few hours to a few days, depending on how thick the ink is.
While air drying adds significant time to your process, placing the printed materials somewhere warm and dry can help speed this up.
Once the ink is all dry, you’ll also need to cure your design, which means using heat to set the ink into the design so that it is preserved and sealed. This process prevents the design from rubbing off, fading, or cracking when you wash or wear the printed item.
Curing is done using a type of heat press after the ink has dried. Depending on how many items you have to press, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours to complete everything.
Using a Flash Dryer
You can use a flash dryer if you don’t want to wait around for your prints to dry. A flash dryer is a machine that dries and cures your prints in just a few minutes. If you have multiple items that need drying, you will still have everything done and set within a few hours.
No matter which drying method you choose, you will still need to factor in a decent amount of time for your prints to finish long after you have done the actual printing.
Additional Time for Trial and Error
Screen printing can be tricky to get the hang of, especially if you’re staring at it for the first time. No matter your experience, you may need to factor in time for mistakes through trial and error.
Sometimes ink won’t stick to your chosen material. Other times, you may wonder why the design didn’t print straight or why different colors mixed into one another. The process takes practice, and you spend more time perfecting it.
Learning to spread the ink properly and line up your screens with your designs will take more time. However, your total time will slowly decrease as you get better with the more prints you do.
Screen printing is a lengthy art process. Not only do you need to factor in the time to create your piece, but you must also consider the time it takes to clean your screens, maintain equipment, and dry your art. Screen printing may take more time to master, but with practice, you’ll produce many beautiful prints in no time at all.