What the heck is mesh count and why does it matter? Mesh count is the number of threads crossing a screen in a square inch. A 156 mesh has 156 threads crossing every square inch, while a 320 mesh count screen has 320 threads of mesh intersecting in a single square inch. But why does that matter? How do printers choose the right mesh count for a job? Here’s a guide to the most popular mesh counts and how to use them.
FACTORS THAT DICTATE MESH COUNT
First, take a few factors into account when choosing mesh. Start with the level of detail in a design. The higher level of detail in a design, the higher mesh count a printer should use.
The fine lines or dots in the image with high detail would simply fall through the holes in the mesh on a low mesh count screen.
The same applies to low-detail images on high mesh counts. If printers choose a mesh count that’s too high for the amount of detail in the design, not enough ink will lay down on the shirt, creating a sub-par print.
The next factor to consider is the viscosity of the ink being pushed through the screen. Thinner inks, such as water-based ink, generally require a higher mesh count. If too low of a mesh count is used, then the thin ink could potentially flood through the larger holes, soaking the garment with more ink than intended.
When printing with thicker ink, such as plastisols or white inks, consider lower mesh counts. Too high of a mesh count can have the same effect as before: the ink won’t pass easily through the mesh, leading to opacity and coverage issues.
MESH COUNT GUIDE
Now it’s time to talk about mesh counts: what they mean and when printers would use them. Here’s a quick tip: if the mesh count is fairly close, such as the difference between 155 vs. 156, 196 vs. 200, or 81 vs. 86, the difference is so negligible that it will not matter in the final print results.
The two most standard mesh sizes are 110 and 156. A mesh count of 110 will lay down a fairly thick layer of ink. This mesh is great for block text letters and larger spot color designs. It’s also a recommended mesh for an underbase because printers will only have to do one pass, which speeds up production. 156 mesh will lay down a moderate amount of ink but offers more detail capability for the image.
156 mesh is the most popular mesh count option. It’s great for most plastisol inks and plenty of design types. If 156 mesh is a bit too high, switch to 110 mesh. This mesh count, while lower than 156, still allows for a great print while opening up to allow thicker inks to pass through more easily.
LOW MESH COUNTS
There are mesh counts lower than 110, and they are most often used for specialty printing. The major place printers will see lower mesh counts used is for glitter and shimmer inks. These inks are made special to have flakes of glitter in them to give the desired look. These flakes can get caught in the mesh of the screen if the mesh count is too high, with none of the flakes going onto the shirt itself.
Glitter inks have larger, more obvious flakes to them, while shimmer inks will have smaller particles to give a more subtle look. A mesh size of 36 is ideal for glitter inks, though printers can go up to 64 mesh. For shimmers, an 86 mesh is recommended.
HIGH MESH COUNTS
Higher mesh screens, 200 mesh and above, are most often used for finer detail images and thinner inks. Graphic, discharge, and water-based inks should be printed through screens of this mesh size. The higher mesh count helps to keep the thinner inks from flooding onto the substrate.
For a softer hand feel to plastisol prints, these higher mesh counts can help as well. By printing the thicker ink through the finer mesh, much less of it is laid down, allowing a thinner ‘plate’ of ink. The results are a softer feel to the print. While plastisol prints may feel softer, printers will have to either print more passes to lay down an opaque layer of ink or create a vintage look with lower opacity.
305 MESH COUNT AND ABOVE
This size is used for jobs with the highest level of detail, and fine halftone four-color and simulated process prints. Fine halftone dots need very high mesh counts in order to hold and expose properly. Otherwise, as stated before, the halftones and lines will simply fall through the mesh, leaving you with a less-than-desirable image to work with.
Mesh counts above 305, such as 355, 380, and 400, are mainly used for graphic printing with UV inks. UV inks are extremely thin, and many times are used for high-detail printing on signs, banners, or CDs. Using a higher mesh allows the automatic printers used in UV printing to regulate the amount of ink passed through the screen.
THREAD AND MESH TYPE
There’s more to consider about a screen before printers buy. Here are a few more factors to check out before choosing a screen for a job.
STANDARD THREAD VS. THIN THREAD
There are two kinds of thread types: Hi-Dro (thin thread) and Hi-Tex (standard thread). Confused? Here’s a comparison:
Hi-DRO, or thin thread, has long been the standard for printing water-based ink. Its thinner thread profile and wider dimensional openings allow water-based inks to flow through easily. Printers experience less screen clogging compared to standard mesh. Thin thread mesh lets printers maintain and print higher levels of detail. Emulsion and ink are not restrained since the threads take up less space. Over the last several years, more shops have been gravitating towards using Hi-DRO for their plastisol prints, especially for their base prints.
Hi-TEX, or standard mesh, has a thicker thread compared to Hi-DRO. The Hi-TEX has been the workhorse of the plastisol textile industry for decades. The threads can hold high tension levels and are more resistant to tearing and popping while on the press, compared to thin thread meshes.
YELLOW VS. WHITE MESH
White mesh lets the emulsion expose faster. White thread causes the light to scatter, which can result in detail loss or fuzzy image edges. Since lower mesh counts need a thicker emulsion coating, they typically have white meshes to help speed up the exposing process.
Yellow mesh causes little to no light scattering, so it can keep the details of the image better. The trade-off is that it takes 30% longer to expose.
Wood screens are an affordable solution for beginning screen printers and printers looking to create permanent or long-term designs in their screens. For the longest life, wood screens should be cleaned with press wash and limited in-sink washing. Do not use dip tanks.
The advantage of an aluminum screen printing frame is the durability and longevity it retains. Unlike wood frames, aluminum frames will not warp when exposed to water in a dip tank or washout sink. This will ensure a flat frame through thousands of prints to come. Aluminum frames are also lightweight, making shipping less expensive and saving money in the long run.
ECO Frames, also called click frames, allow printers to attach the mesh to the frame themselves. Having the ability to stretch the mesh yourself means printers can get back into production quicker, can swiftly change mesh counts between orders, and will have more space in their shop. These frames are fit for printers who have been in the game for a while, got a handle on screen printing and are looking for a new challenge, and need to clear some space in their shop.
One last thing to consider is that different mesh sizes hold different amounts of emulsion, due to the size differences in the holes, and that can affect your exposure times. For instance, a 110 mesh screen will hold much more emulsion than a 305 mesh screen. While the difference isn’t extreme, printers will need to vary exposure times slightly for different mesh sizes. Because of this factor, a finer mesh screen will expose faster than a lower mesh screen. The difference is small enough that the variance should only be as much as 5-10% in either direction, dependent on the mesh size.
Mesh count is a major factor when setting up a successful print job. Too high or too low can disrupt a job and leave a less-than-desirable print and a lot of frustration. Always keep in mind the inks being used and the level of detail in the design. Choosing the right mesh will become second nature in no time.