Oversize Printing: What it Is and What You’ll Need
Whether you're creating large-scale artwork prints on paper or want to make a t-shirt with a design that covers the entire back, oversized silk screen prints can be a great way to make a significant impact. But to pull off this look, your regular screen printing equipment may not cut it. To create larger prints, you'll need to have the right size tools. Otherwise, your final creation just won't look as good. Use this comprehensive guide to learn more about the screen printing process, what size prints are considered oversized, and the tools you'll need to start printing.
What Is Oversize Printing?
As the name suggests, oversize printing is a type of screen printing that involves making prints on a large surface. Anything that uses a screen larger than the standard size is considered oversized. For most projects, screen printers usually use 18"x20" or 20"x24" screens. But, if your design reaches or goes beyond the edges of your standard screens and platens, it's time to shop for new equipment.
Aside from the size, the process of making a large print is essentially the same as with a regular silk screen print. You can print oversized designs on t-shirts, other fabrics, paper, wood, and more. There are a few different methods and types of printing presses you can use for oversize printing. We'll review the most basic technique below, along with the essential equipment you need to get started right away on your own project.
The Oversized Screen Printing Process
The technique used to make an oversized print is essentially the same as any other size print. Before we get into the specialized equipment you'll need, let's review the basic steps of screen printing.
- Create the design and print it on a transparent film.
- Choose the right size and style screen and coat the mesh with emulsion.
- Place the film on the screen and use an exposure unit to harden the emulsion and create an imprint of the image.
- Rinse off the unhardened emulsion and make any corrections to the imprint, if necessary.
- Put the screen on the printing press, place the print surface on the platen, and lower the screen onto the surface, so the design rests where you want it to go.
- Pour the ink onto the top end of the screen.
- Use a squeegee to pull the ink slowly and carefully along the screen's surface, imprinting the design on the material below.
- Use a flash dryer to cure the ink and create a smooth, high-quality print.
- Remove any leftover residue and perform one final quality check.
What You'll Need
Here's a quick list of the tools and materials you will need throughout the screen-printing process. We'll go into greater detail about each piece of gear below.
- Exposure unit
- Printing press
- Flash Dryer
In addition to these supplies, you'll also want to ensure that you have something to print on, like an article of clothing, tote bag, or large piece of paper. You should also have the proper cleaning supplies close by, so you can tidy up as soon as you're finished and ensure your gear is prepped and ready for your next printing project.
Making the Screen
The process of making an oversized silk screen print begins in the darkroom. It is here where you'll prepare your screen for the printing process. For this part of the procedure, you'll need transparent film, mesh screens, emulsion, and an exposure unit. Alternatively, you can skip the screen-making process altogether and order a professionally-made custom silk screen frame.
To make a larger print, you must start with a larger film. Most jobs only require 8.5"x14" film. For larger designs, however, you'll need a 13"x19" or 17"x22" film. Double-check to ensure your film printer can accommodate a larger film before purchasing. If not, you'll need to get a little crafty with your regular-sized film. Split the design in half and print it on two standard-sized films. Then, you'll need to line the two pieces up perfectly so your image looks how it should. Arranging the films just so can be a frustrating and challenging process; to save yourself time and effort, we recommend using a bigger film, if you can.
After printing your design on the film, you'll need to burn it onto a screen. For large prints, you'll need a bigger screen, too. You should leave a four-to-five-inch perimeter around your design for large-format silk screens. So, if your image measures 21"x28", the interior of the mesh screen should be 25"x36," and the frame should be 30"x40". Check the size of your design to ensure you find the right size screen. In addition to the screen's dimensions, you'll also need to consider the frame material and the mesh count.
Screens come in different mesh sizes, from 60 to 305. The mesh size corresponds to the number of threads that cross each other per square inch of the screen. Highly detailed images work best with high mesh counts and vice versa. You must also think about which type of ink you plan to use. Thin inks, like water-based ink, typically demand a higher mesh count, and thicker inks work better with lower mesh counts.
Aluminum and wood are the most prevalent screen frame materials. Wooden screens are an affordable and versatile option. At Holden's Screen Supply Corp, you can find wood frames in a range of sizes from 8"x10" to 36"x36". Keep in mind that wood can become warped with moisture, so these screens aren't suitable for dip-tanks. Metal frames are made with commercial-grade aluminum for durability and longevity. These frames won't warp when they come into contact with water in a dip-tank or washout sink. Metal frames are available in sizes from 18"x20" to 25"x36".
Emulsion and Exposure Unit
With the right size and style screen in hand, you can prepare the silk screen for printing. Coat the mesh with a layer of light-reactive emulsion. You can use the same emulsion you use for regular-sized prints. Then, you'll need to find a suitable size exposure unit.
Regular-sized exposure units are not large enough to expose the entire image onto the oversized screen. Instead, you'll need to use a larger exposure unit. This will allow you to place the whole picture in the ideal location on the unit, so you can properly expose your design onto the screen.
Customized Pre-Burned Silk-screens
Creating a screen can be a time-consuming process. And with the specialized materials you need for oversized printing, it can be expensive too. That's why we at Holden's offer high-quality custom silk screen frames. The screens come pre-burned with your design, so all you need to do is print it. The process of getting a custom silk screen frame is simple too.
Upload your design and provide a few basic details, like your desired frame size, ink type, the surface you're printing on, image size, and positioning. It's as simple as that! The only thing that's left to do is wait while the professionals personalize your mesh screen and ship it out to you.
Once your screen is good to go, it's time to begin printing! Along with your screen print press, you'll need some other supplies like screen printing squeegees and platens. Much like the tools required for the screen-making process, you'll need to ensure your gear is the correct size to make an oversized silk-screen print.
Ink and Squeegees
The print size won't impact the type of ink you can use. Instead, you'll need to consider the type of material you plan to print on and the available colors. For oversized prints, make sure you have enough of your preferred style and color on hand to accommodate the larger design.
A squeegee is a flat, flexible piece of rubber or plastic used to spread the ink across the screen. For oversized designs, you'll need larger screen printing squeegees. The proper size will allow you to clear the design area consistently and easily.
As a general rule of thumb, the squeegee should be at least two inches wider than your image. These tools are available in a wide range of sizes, so it will be easy to find one that's suitable for your project.
Printing Press and Platens
For oversized prints, you'll likely be able to use the same press that you use for your other projects. However, you may need to replace the platen. Platens are the wood or metal surface that holds the garment, paper, or wood in place while you transfer the ink onto it. Wood platens are more affordable but don't hold heat as well. Aluminum ones are more durable and can retain heat well. If you're planning to create a lot of oversized prints, aluminum is a better option. But for one-time projects, wood will work just fine. Platens also come in various shapes: flat, curved, and even shaped like a dome. Your choice will depend on what type of print you're making.
If the platen on your screen print press is smaller than your design, you will run into a few issues when making your print. Thankfully, platens are easy to swap out, and they're available in many different sizes and shapes. The standard platen is 16"x16", so measure your image to see if you'll need to replace the platen before printing.
Once the print is on your chosen surface, you'll need to consider how the ink will dry. A flash dryer can be a helpful tool in this process. You can use this machine to dry your screen printing ink. It helps speed up the drying time for water-based inks. A flash can also help to guarantee an even application of your design on any medium; it prevents streaks and blotches from forming, ensuring a high-quality print every time you run through your screens.
A regular-sized flash dryer may not do the trick for oversized prints. If the dryer isn't able to gel the whole print at the same time, you'll get an uneven cure, and your finished product won't look as high-quality. Consider getting an oversized flash unit, which will radiate heat evenly across the whole print.
You may be able to create a similar effect with two smaller dryers. Arrange them so that each flash is heating half of the print. While it may take some planning and coordination, this method can work. Although, there is no guarantee that the ink will dry consistently.
Oversized Screen Printing Tips
Are you ready to start creating oversized screen prints? Here are a few tips you can use to make high-quality prints on any material.
- For beginners, start with a simple design that features clear-cut lines and one color.
- Avoid accidental errors and distortions by making sure the screen mesh is tight and the platen doesn't move while in use.
- If you're printing on clothes, avoid printing over seams, pockets, and zippers, which can create inconsistencies in the design.
- Know the limits of oversized prints; for clothing, it can be difficult to print oversize designs on v-neck shirts, tank tops, and children's clothing.
- When spreading the ink, use as few strokes as possible-- make sure your squeegee is straight and in good condition to do so.
- Use consistent pressure when spreading the ink, too.
- Always clean the squeegee after each use by spraying it with a solution of warm water and mild detergent, rinsing thoroughly with cold water, and air drying completely.
- Watch out for stray ink blotches on your press from previous projects; clean off the machine after each use.
- Take your time and be patient; otherwise, you'll make careless mistakes and need to repeat the process from the beginning.
Creating gorgeous screen prints of any size is impossible without the right gear. But having the proper equipment is even more crucial for oversized prints. If your supplies are too small to handle the larger design, you could end up ruining your print and wasting materials. Before creating a big print, ensure you have the right-sized gear, as mentioned above. Visit Holden's Screen Supply Corp. for all of your oversized screen printing needs.