What Is Automated Screen Printing & How Does It Work?
Screen printing, and in particular automated screen printing, is a popular technique that is used in a huge range of different industries.
Even if you haven’t heard this term before, it’s likely that you will have worn or used something that has been screen printed without even realising.
Once a manual process, this traditional method has been adapted for today’s technological age and to keep up with growing consumer demand.
In the guide below, we’ll take a look at what automated screen printing is and how it works. We’ll also look at the benefits of using this technique.
What is screen printing?
Let’s start by looking at the principal of screen printing. This is when a design is transferred onto a flat surface using a mesh screen and ink (or sometimes paint).
This process has also been referred to as ‘silk screening’ or ‘silk screen printing’.
In most cases, the flat surfaces that are being printed on tend to be paper or fabric. That being said, if you’ve got specialised ink and equipment you can also print on metal, plastic, glass and even wood.
What is automatic screen printing?
As we said, the traditional process is manual, but over the years, as with so many things, this has been adapted to become an automated task using a screen printing machine.
These machines can produce prints far quicker than the manual process, sometimes as many as 5000 prints in 8 hours, compared to the 500 manual prints achieved in the same time.
As a result, lots of companies offering or requiring screen printing services have moved over to automatic systems and electronic manufacturing processes.
How does it work?
The most basic method of screen printing involves creating a stencil on the mesh screen and then pushing the chosen ink or paint through it using squeegees. This creates an imprint of the stencil onto whatever surface is beneath.
While automatic printing will follow a similar process, the machine takes a lot of the hard work and manual labour out of it. For most machines, this process will follow similar steps, though some may differ (more on this later).
As a general rule, the first step will be placing the material on rotating print pallets or a conveyor belt. It then passes under the mesh screen where automatic squeegees pull the ink through the screen to create the image.
Sometimes a series of flat screens will need to be used one after the other to add different layers of colour or different images.
These machines can print on long lengths of material, whether that’s cloth, paper or anything else, as it moves along the conveyor belt or pallet. Most materials will then be fed into an oven or dryer to ensure that the ink or paint dries as quickly as possible. This part of the process will depend on the type of material being used.
This is the basic step-by-step breakdown, but as we said above, some machines can differ which means the printing process will also differ. This will usually depend on the type of material being printed on and whether it’s ink or paint that’s being applied.
Why automatic screen printing is used: The key benefits
There are lots of reasons that a business might consider using automatic screen printing or investing in one of these machines themselves. One of the key reasons that the screen printing technique was used is because it can produce vivid colours and images, even on darker materials.
Some of the other benefits of automatic screen printing include:
1. Ensuring consistency and uniformity across designs
As the same stencil is used, it is much easier for the machine to accurately reproduce the same design on the chosen materials.
And because it is the same design it can be created again and again. That is why this method is often used in industries like retail, for example, for producing large numbers of the same clothing, and ensuring these look the same.
2. Speeding up the process and tackling large orders
As expected, the automatic process is far quicker and more efficient than the manual alternative. In fact, speed is one of the key reasons that so many businesses are moving over to these automated systems.
Because it is easier to produce the same items on a larger scale and at a much faster pace, it is far easier to handle large orders. This can increase the number of goods being produced ready for sale, which in turn can help to increase profits.
3. Cutting down on labour and costs
This increase in efficiency, speed and accuracy can help to reduce both the manual labour required to produce goods, as well as labour costs.
This is good news for any business as it helps to reduce the size of the workforce and the need to hire more people. Particularly when employees unexpectedly go off sick or can’t make it in for any reason.
Plus, it also means that existing employees can focus their attention elsewhere within the business, ensuring everything is running as smoothly and effectively as possible, rather than having to handle the manual printing process themselves.
4. Reducing stress
Finally, as the manual process is left down to machines, it does not rely on humans to push and pull squeegees, remove products and ensure everything is lined up correctly. Instead, most will only be dealing with pushing buttons and making sure the machines are working as they should.
This can hugely reduce the stress on the team, leading to a far more happy and productive workforce. It also reduces the physical stress on their bodies, as it reduces the need for manual work, which can lead to aches, pains and even injuries.