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Selecting the Right Mesh

(December 1999) posted on Wed Dec 15, 1999

Narrow your options to improve your results

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By Mark Goodridge

The phrase "fine detail" is bound to be used when screen printers give advice about mesh selection, but it is never explained. Certain meshes are often recommended for printing designs containing fine details, but there is no general agreement in the textile screen-printing industry as to what, exactly, a fine detail is. When you are discussing mesh selection, fine detail is not necessarily the point at which the image becomes difficult to print. Instead, it is the point at which the nature of the design has a decided effect on which mesh you choose to print the design with. I think that it is reasonable to say that a line that is fi-point wide (about seven-thousandths of an inch) would be considered fine detail in most textile screen-printing shops. Similarly, a 20% dot in a 30-line halftone can be considered fine detail.

The guidelines for mesh selection provided here will certainly get you in the ballpark. However, they are just that&emdash;guidelines. The best source of information to help you solve your mesh-selection problems is your own production records, assuming of course that you maintain complete and accurate production records. To help solve your mesh selection problems, record the following information about every job that you print:

mesh type (mesh count and color)
screen tension
type of ink
ink modifications
type of design (single color, multicolor, process color, fine details required, etc.)
garment type
garment color
garment-fiber blend
printing problems, if any.
Reviewing this information regularly will help you learn what mesh counts provide the easiest, best prints under all your production conditions.

Ink manufacturers are another excellent source of information to help you with your mesh-selection decisions. Most fo the ink manufacturers provide technical data sheets. Although the information on most of these sheets is usually very general (recommending mesh counts from 110-355 threads/in. does not help the average screen printer narrow down the choices much), it will provide you with outside parameters and suggestions for special situations.


Table 2 lists mesh selections that will work well in all common textile screen-printing situations. If you wish to experiment, start with the corsest mesh and then work your way up to the higher meshes listed. You may also find that the higher mesh counts are good choices if you are printing with an automatic press or with meshes that have ben tensioned to the mesh manufacturers' recommended tension level.

Table 2. Ink/ Mesh Combinations
Ink                                                                 Recommended Mesh Count (3)
Glitter Inks(4)                                              38, 74, 86
Puff Inks                                                      74, 86, 110
Puff Inks used as an underbase           140
Suede Inks                                                195, 230
Metallic Inks                                              74, 86, 110
Fluorescent Inks                                      74, 86, 110
Water-based Inks(5)                               110, 140, 195

3. Mesh counts are for thread/in.
4. Some glitter inks require coarser meshes.
5. Mesh count does not have as much effect on hand and opacity when printing water-based inks as it does with plastisol inks. You can achieve soft hand at much lower mesh counts and good opacity at much higher mesh counts with water-based inks than with plastisol inks.


Regardless of shirt type or design, some inks require special mesh considerations. Be careful in selecting the meshes you use with these inks. See Table 3.

Table 3. Design/ Garment/ Mesh Combinations
Design/ Garment Combinations Recommended Mesh Count
Light Colored T-shirts
Ordinary single-color print 110, 140, 195
Ordinary multi-color print 140, 195, 230
Detailed print 195, 230, 280, 305
Halftones and process color
305, 355, 380
Dark Colored T-Shirts
Heavy coverage 74, 86
Underprint 86, 110
Detailed print
86, 110
Nylon Jackets
Light-colored garment 195, 230
Dark-colored garment
110, 140
Special Situations
Athletic prints 74, 86
Overprint colors 195, 230, 280
Water-based ink on towels 74, 86

One Last Tip

Of course, the mesh-selection challenge you face most frequently is determining what mesh is on the frame you are holding in your hand. Here's a tip from Nancy Gray of Stretch Device: Write the mesh count on the frame if it's wood, or on the mesh in a corner of the frame if the frame is metal, with a permanent, black, fine-point, felt-tipped marker. To protect the number from being erased by screen-reclaiming chemicals, paint over it with polyurethane varnish if you wrote the number on a wood frame. And if you wrote the number on the mesh, apply frame adhesive to both sides of the mesh over the number to preserve it.


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