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What mesh count should you use for screen printing?
One of the most important parts of successful screen printing is understanding mesh sizes. Screens come in a wide range of mesh options that correspond to the kind of image required for the shirt.
While multiple mesh counts are standard in any screen printing shop, they all have their unique uses for the best quality output. Learn more about mesh differences and what mesh to use for screen printing below.
When shopping for different screens, it is important to know how the numbers can affect your end product.
The first number corresponds to how many openings are in a 1-inch square area. Lower mesh numbers, like 80, have 80 openings for the ink to go through for each square inch. Higher mesh numbers of over 300 have that many more spots for the ink to pass through during the screen printing process.
Understanding the diameter of the mesh is crucial to producing a lasting print. Mesh diameters are often the second number listed after a mesh count. This tells you how thick the threads are of the mesh. For example, a 156-64 mesh has a thicker mesh thread and will allow more ink through than a 230-48 mesh.
There are two low-mesh standards that are used in screen printing shops: 30-61 mesh and 80-86 mesh.
You'll need some of these screens in your shop for orders that have little detail.
Low mesh screens are best when used with plastisol and thicker inks.
Lower mesh screens hold more emulsion than higher mesh – meaning that you'll need to expose these screens longer to allow the emulsion to set properly.
These screens are considered a coarse mesh that is best for thicker inks. Most 30-61 mesh counts are only used for high density and glitter inks. These inks contain larger particles that require a lower mesh count to pass through the screen.
You'll use these screens when working with heavy under bases for athletic applications. Metallic inks also may require an 80-86 mesh count based on the manufacturer. This low mesh count is ideal for laying down heavy ink deposits with high opacity.
These screens will be the standard ones used in your shop for most orders. Water-based inks are best used on medium-mesh screens. It's always a good idea to order more of these screens as they will be busy in your shop!
This medium course screen is an industry-standard. It is a great option for most applications and can handle both text and spot colors. Screens with these mesh counts are a go-to choice for many screen printing shops.
Another common mesh in screen printing shops, 156 mesh count screens do well with open areas of ink that don't put down too much ink. This mesh is the perfect option for a mix of adequate coverage as well as fonts.
This finer medium-mesh count is a great choice to capture details and fine lines. Many screen printers like to use 196 mesh to help thinner inks from bleeding. Printing your tags with this mesh is highly suggested as well to capture small font. Use this mesh when printing lighter inks on dark fabric.
This very fine mesh is usually chosen to halftones to achieve a graduated color. 230 mesh count screens are used for process and simulated printing as well. These prints turn out with a softer hand feel, although their limited ink won't produce a bright image.
If you have a Photoshop guru on your hands, you will most likely need some high mesh count screens to capture every detail.
UV inks also do well on high mesh counts due to their thin nature.
This super-fine mesh can handle those tiny details that come together to make an awesome print. 305 mesh count screens lay down pinpricks of ink to reduce the chances of dot gain. This option is a great choice for photo-realistic prints that require a lot of different colors and shades.
Shading is a crucial technique that is important to get right for product quality.
Halftones can be tricky, however, so the industry has created a rule of thumb for best prints.
Simply multiply the lines per inch (LPI) of the artwork by 5 to get the needed mesh count for screen printing. For example, a halftone print with 40 LPI would be multiplied by 5 to get 200.
So, choosing a 200 mesh count for the print would work best.
Water-based inks used on finer, or higher mesh screens, tend to dry out quickly.
This means that you'll constantly battle cleaning higher mesh when producing a large order. Certain supplements can help combat dried ink, like retarder, to keep the ink flowing smoothly.
Playing around with different mesh counts will help you learn about what screens to use for different prints. Stocking these screens in your shop is necessary to fulfill a wide range of orders. If your shop only uses plastisol inks, you will probably have lower mesh screens on hand.
Shops using water-based or UV inks will tend to use a higher mesh count screen as well. Choosing what works best for your business and expertise is crucial to making great prints. Consider these tips on what mesh to use for your screen printing business this year.
This article was written under the guidance of Matt Marcotte. Matt is a member of Printavo's Customer Success Team and has more than a decade in professional screen printing – from sales to production management.