History of Printing Mesh

Sit in on a trade show seminar or visit an online forum, and you'll encounter countless debates about the "right" type of mesh to use. The truth is, while there are some guidelines to follow, the best way to determine what's right for your shop is by trial and error. Only problem is, who has the time to experiment? There are literally hundreds of mesh types out there. Trying to choose the best one can seem like an overwhelming task, but by following some general rules of thumb, you can narrow down your mesh choices to a dozen or so. Then testing each kind won't seem so unmanageable. Specs. It may look like the screen on your back door, but screen printing mesh isn't the same kind of material. The biggest difference is that unlike what keeps bugs out of your house, this type of mesh is made from fabric, not wire. For this industry, monofilament polyester is the most frequently used mesh material. When you start shopping for mesh, you'll also need to determine the weave, count, thread diameter and color that's best for your shop. The type of weave is a no-brainer. When researching mesh, you may come upon the terms plain-weave and twill mesh. The difference between the two is how the threads are woven to create the mesh pattern. Make sure you purchase plain-weave mesh instead of twill mesh, which can cause moiré problems, especially in the high mesh counts. Mesh is often referred to by its mesh count – i.e. 120 mesh, 230 mesh etc. – representing the number of threads per inch. The lower the count, the bigger the mesh openings. Low mesh counts are commonly used with specialty inks such as glitter and puff to allow big ink particles to reach the substrate. High mesh counts are mainly used to print fine details and halftones. Printing through high mesh counts also produces a thin layer of ink on the garment, creating a soft hand. Mesh with a count that falls somewhere in the middle is what most screen printers rely on for their basic, everyday print jobs. The last factor you'll need to decide on is thread diameter. Until a few years ago, terms such as S, T and HD were commonly used to refer to thread diameter. Now, however, a more universal method of referring to the diameter number (in microns) helps keep consistency throughout the industry. While there's no standard thread diameter for each mesh count, there's generally a heavy-duty and a light version for each mesh count. The thinner the thread, the better the detail, but the weaker the fabric. The mesh manufacturer or your local distributor will help you weigh the benefits of each and determine what's right for your individual shop. As you shop for mesh, you're sure to come across different colors. Mesh is typically offered in white and yellow, although orange is available from some manufacturers. During exposure, a white mesh will refract the light similar to the way in which a fiber optic cable works. The light travels down and out, affecting edge definition and quality. This isn't as important with lower mesh counts, but when you're doing a lot of fine detail and halftone work, such slight adjustments will show up in the final print. For this reason, many printers stick with white for lower mesh counts, but use yellow or orange for higher mesh counts. Assess Your Need. Everyone has a preferred type, but there are some general guidelines to go by when you're in the market for mesh. Look around your shop and you'll find clues to what type of mesh counts you should be printing with. The three factors to base your decision on are the type of garments you're printing on, your ink type and the kind of frame system that you use on a regular basis. You'll also need to take into account the type of print jobs you typically do. For most screen printers, T-shirts are the order of the day. They can probably get by using a middle-of-the-road mesh count such as a 110 mesh. However, if you print a lot of athletic numbers and use thick ink to withstand the rough treatment jerseys encounter on the field, you'll probably need a coarser mesh count to allow the thicker ink to reach the material. In such cases, it's not necessary to use a high mesh count. On the other hand, if you do a lot of halftone and fine detail work, you'll need a higher mesh count to retain the minute details in the design. Also let your distributor or manufacturer know what type of frame system you use, as some types require sturdier mesh (and higher thread diameters) to withstand repeated use. In general, most screen printers find that a 110 mesh count will work fine for most jobs. The key word here, though, is "most." Don't rely on 110 mesh for each and every single job. Instead, try out different mesh counts with different print jobs, and keep a record of your production results. Note the mesh type, screen tension, type of ink and whether the print job is multicolor, process color, etc. Also note the garment type: Are you printing on a nylon jacket or a cotton T-shirt? Regularly reviewing your records will help you see a pattern, and decide which mesh tends to work best with a particular ink and design combination. You'll be surprised by the varying results between your "everyday" mesh count and one that's a little higher or lower. If you want to experiment with different mesh counts, start with the coarsest mesh and work your way up to the higher numbers, noting how the print looks with each version. Hit the Trail. Most screen printers have an established local distributor that they order supplies from. Others may prefer to order directly from the manufacturer. To find a list of mesh distributors and manufacturers, check out IMPRESSIONS' 2003 Sourcebook. Decoding the Salesspeak. The world of mesh can get a little technical. Here are some key terms to help you navigate the terminology: Low-elongation (LE) mesh – Most monofilament polyester fabrics are low elongation. The term refers to the mesh's ability to retain its tension level. In the past, stretching screens required tensioning the mesh to say, 25 N/cm, letting it relax to a lower tension then repeating the process. Today's low elongation mesh typically only requires one go-around. Monofilament polyester mesh – Some printers who've been around for years still use multifilament polyester mesh. However, the majority of the industry has switched to monofilament. Although it must be abraded for good emulsion adhesion, monofilament mesh tends to stretch, hold tension and print better than multifilament mesh. Plain-weave mesh – Almost all mesh for the textile printing industry is plain weave. The term refers to the method by which the threads are arranged to create the mesh openings. Warp – The threads that run the length of a roll of mesh. Weft – The threads that run the width of a roll of mesh. The Numbers Game. Mesh is typically ordered by the roll, usually in yards. The price depends on the width of the roll (40", 50", 60" wide, etc.), the mesh count and the color. White mesh is not quite as expensive as yellow or orange mesh, because it doesn't go through the dying and rinse processes. Setup Surprises. Be careful how you open the packaging surrounding your new roll of mesh. Avoid using a knife if possible – mesh can be damaged just by being carelessly opened. Once you've opened your new mesh, store it someplace out of the traffic flow. Try hanging it on a wall like a paper towel roll. Getting it up and off the floor can prevent accidental damage. Keeping the roll visible also allows staff to monitor the supply. Don't wait until the last minute to order mesh – you may not be able to get a new supply in time for that next rush job. Care and Feeding. Once you stretch your screens, what can you do to keep the mesh in top shape? For one thing, be careful with your screens. While coarse mesh can withstand more wear and tear, high mesh counts can be easily damaged when moving them around the shop. To extend the life of your mesh, try stretching your screens so that the squeegee stroke runs parallel to the warp. After several print jobs, who can remember what the mesh count is on a particular screen? To help keep confusion to a minimum, consider writing the mesh count number directly on the screens or frame. Or, color code your stock: white for lower mesh counts, yellow for the more detailed work. So while there's no hard rule for what mesh counts to use, knowing what to look for can help you find what's right for your shop. – CW from Internet

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