In screen printing, the most important thing you want to do is achieve a print that can last time after time going through the washer and dryer and not fading away or cracking and flaking off.
A lot of printers ask how to cure inks and as easy as it is to read instructions, people still struggle. For starters, there are two popular types of inks to screen print with. You have your Plastisol Inks that traditionally cure at around 320° F for a minute and your Water-Based Inks will cure at the same temperature but require around 3 minutes to cure. The popular plastisol inks these days are curing at around 260° - 270°.
So first there are 4 tools you can use to cure your ink. Let us all recognize that not everyone has the same budget to start off with so tools may be different and that is ok. There is no right or wrong even if you think you are a know it all.
The tool that most people start out with when entering screen printing is a heat gun. Will a heat gun work for curing ink? Yes and no. We don't recommend using a heat gun for screen printing because you won't be able to get a consistent and accurate temperature across your print area. Yes, it's the best bang for your buck and even though it looks like a blow dryer it can reach temperatures that will burn a hole in your scalp so realize a blow dryer is not going to reach your inks curing temperature. Heat guns can be found at your local hardware store and could cost anywhere from $15-$50 depending on brand and specs.
Another tool used is a heat press. Picture a panini or tortilla press for t-shirts. A lot of people ask, "Can I use a heat press to cure my ink?" and the answer is yes! With a heat press for screen printing, you are going to have a heating element on top and once it gets to your curing temperature you are going to use pressure to close it down onto your garment. This will cure your garment and give it a nice flat feeling. Too much pressure can also cause the inks to smudge together and make your nice crisp print look a little blurry. Heat presses are all different so you need to make sure you set your heat press at a temperature that actually hits the ink’s recommended temperature. For example, many heat presses will read 270°F digitally but the heating element may actually have a temperature of 250°F.
You can find heat presses at a variety of pricing depending on quality and size. Let's say $200+ would be where you can get a basic heat press.
The flash dryer, everyone involved in screen printing knows what a flash dryer is. This is pretty much a heating element on a rotating post. You are going to want to get an infrared heating element rather than a coil type of element. You can cure with a heat press just make sure you raise it up a couple of inches from the shirt so you don't burn it.
You can find flash dryers for screen printing anywhere from $350+ or you can get coil type for around $100+ but those would not be the first choice since they are more inaccurate when curing.
Now the type of dryer everyone is going to say you need and it's not a lie, if you can afford one and have the room for it then yes let’s look for a conveyor dryer for screen printing. Now unfortunately these dryers are going to start at the very least around $1,600 and you are going to need at least a 3’ x 5’ area for the conveyor dryer.
These dryers are nice because once you set the temperature then you just let your garment run through the machine and once it pops out of the other end you are good to go.
This is a good place to start off with for curing. Keep in mind all equipment is different so some may experience different curing times.
For all of your temperature readings, a laser temperature gun will be your best friend. These will tell you the surface temperature of your ink and allow you to do it quickly and accurately. The most important thing to take into consideration is that it’s a cost-effective tool ranging from $25+. Now there are other helpful tools such as a donut probe but it is going to cost you upwards of $100, which we know can be a hard buy for most printers starting off.
Now when it comes to testing your inks to see if they are cured properly you can do a small stretch test with plastisol inks. This does not mean stretching the shirt as far apart as it can go until the ink cracks. This won't actually help with water-based inks since they go into the shirt fibers themselves meaning if you pull you will most definitely notice the threads separating, which you don’t want to see with plastisol inks.
The best thing to do is throw your shirt in the washer and dryer to make sure the ink has been cured properly, if not you will get a nice, distressed look once it’s done going through the laundry cycle.
There you have it guys! 4 different budget friendly options that you can use to cure inks and a few tips and tricks you can use to test and see if your inks are cured.
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