The mesh size is measured by how many threads there are per square inch. For Example, an 86 mesh screen has 86 threads per square inch. The higher the mesh count, the finer the holes are in the screen allowing finer detail but also reduces the amount of ink you can deposit. The size of the mesh has a lot to do with how thick the ink you are using is. How detailed your image is also a consideration in the mesh count selection.
If you have a design with extremely high detail, a lower mesh screen won't hold the fine lines or dots in the image and they will simply not show up causing a lack of detail in the finished product. On the other hand, if you are trying to print a thicker ink (such as white) through too high of a screen mesh, barely any ink will print through the mesh as the holes are too small. You may notice that different companies have slightly different sizes available. If the mesh count is fairly close, such as 156 vs 160, 196 vs 200, or 81 vs 86, the difference is so small that it doesn't matter because you won't see a significant difference in your final product.
There are many variables involved in silk screen printing so we certainly cannot tell you exactly what mesh sizes are used for all applications. However, the following is a general outline of what sizes to use for basic types of printing.
proper mesh selection one of the many keys to a proper print
Consider the following guidelines for general purpose
screen printing jobs
1. 40-61 mesh count - considered very course mesh counts. They are used for shimmer, glitters and high density inks. Shimmers and glitters have particles in them that wil not go through the finer screen meshes.
2. 86 mesh count - considered a course mesh and will provide a heavy ink deposit for high opacity. It is typically used for printing bold copy onto dark colored fabric. Typical use is a white underprint for an athletic look.
3. 110 mesh count - considered a medium course screen, it is by far the industries choice as the "do-it-all" mesh. Great for spot colors and text.
4. 156 mesh count - considered a medium screen mesh. It is commonly used for printing onto light colored fabrics with regular detail and medium ink deposit.
5. 200-240 mesh counts - considered a fine mesh count for printing onto white or light colored goods with a soft hand feel. Very good for high detail artwork. It can hold large halftone's but is not recommended for four color process prints or fine detail half tone printing.
6. 305 and higher mesh counts - considered very fine mesh counts is used for extremely high detail textile printing and fine halftone four color process and simulated process prints.
Along with our comprehensive selection of amazing screen printing equipment packages, Texsource prides ourselves on our ability to help you, our customer (and even if you are not yet a customer!). If you find yourself challenged by a particular situation, we speak screen printing here - call us and let us help you, even if you just need some advice on determining mesh count!
UPDATE - Dwayne Collins of Texsource gives a video overview of Mesh Count Selection