The digital revolution has forever changed the world of graphics. But that doesn’t mean that we should forget about our old friends. There was a time when screen printing was our best friend. And it still has a lot of uses. In some cases it is more cost effective than digital and sometimes it is more durable and other times it is more practical. Digital may be cleaner and easier, but it’s not always better (as is so often the case with the easy way out).
Screen printed graphics can be more durable than digital prints in some circumstances.
Large runs of identical graphics can often be printed less expensively than digital processes by using old-fashioned screen printing techniques. Generally speaking, the more colors a print run has, the more competitive a digital price will be. But the larger the volume of the run, the more competitive screen printing will be. Every shop has its own price points, but the graph on the facing page gives a rough idea of how screen printing and digital printing can intersect financially. Screen printing rapidly overtakes digital as the volume rises.
Under certain circumstances, the quality of screen printing is higher than digital. This applies especially in cases where the printing has to be direct to substrate. Flatbed printers using UV ink sometimes have lower image quality than solvent or aqueous printers because of the larger pigment grain sizes. However direct digital printing to many substrates will only work well with UV inks, causing a potential image sharpness issue.
Screen printing to the rescue! With its razor-sharp edge quality, screening can be used where fine detail is required in the finished product. Small text and fine-line illustrations are good examples of screen printing’s strong points. Photographs, however, are usually better with a digital print.
Flatbed direct digital printing also is limited by size in what it can print onto. The object must be able to fit on the table and under the gantry. That eliminates a lot of specialty work with large and/or high objects as well as awkward surfaces like walls and vehicles. It must also be a flat surface, whereas screen-printing even works on unusual shapes like bottles. With special jigs or printing equipment, almost anything is possible in the world of screen printing.
Screen printing has its own unique look as well. While digital provides a smooth, consistent look of perfection, screen printing has a “real life” look and feel to it. The natural textures of paint on substrate combined with the rich, pure tones of screen ink make for a unique appearance in the digital era. This natural look and feel is highly prized in historical recreations, high-end decoration and fine art. Offering screen printing as a service can open up whole new worlds of business opportunities.
P.O.P. is a good example of a high-volume application that is commonly used for screen printing. Glass is a good example of a substrate better suited to the screen printing process than digital inkjet printing.
Sometimes “tough” is what is needed, and screen printing can fill the bill. The “one-ink-fits-all” approach of digital technology is accepted only because of the difficulty of changing ink types in the equipment. With screen printing on the other hand, the inks are a relatively inexpensive factor in the process and changing types is not an issue. There are many types of specialty inks for most substrates, including rock-hard, multi-part epoxies. Because the inks are formulated to work with individual substrates, they can adhere much more permanently than digital inks to many tricky surfaces and uncoated materials. When durability is a factor, screen printing should be considered a prime candidate.
There are many ways that old friends can be useful, even in a modern, high-tech graphics shop. The new broom may sweep clean, but the old one knows all the tricky corners. It might be time to dust off the history books and resurrect other old graphics processes. Who knows what treasured old friends may be rediscovered.