What is screen-off contact? If you frequently screen t-shirts, this is a term you should be familiar with. Screen-off contact is the amount of distance between the screen printing mesh and the substrate (the fabric or item on which you are applying the print). However, there is a purpose for this gap. To allow a clean and crisp print while applying your flood stroke, you do not want the screen to lay on your substrate before you are ready to apply pressure with the silk screen squeegee. As you print stroke with the squeegee, the screen will only make contact with the substrate when pressure is applied. This proper amount of distance will result in an impeccable finish to your fabric or item.
Additionally, when applying your screen to your substrate, you should also be aware of the tension of the mesh in the screen. Every fabric that can be used for screen printing has a specific screen tension that is recommended by the manufacturer, measured in newtons per centimeter. Using a calibrated tool called a tension meter, you should be able to determine the perfect number of newtons needed to stretch the mesh and achieve the best printing results.
The right number of newtons per centimeter will prevent low tension in your screen. Two issues can occur when using a softer mesh than recommended: fabric wave and mesh release.
Fabric wave can appear when applying pressure while pulling or pushing the squeegee across the substrate. In doing so with a low-tension screen, a small wave of screen mesh can form in front of the squeegee blade resulting in it filling with ink and smearing onto the garment when the squeegee finishes at the edge of the screened print.
Most commonly associated with a soft mesh is mesh release. If printing with the right screen-off contact, the only place the screen may meet the substrate is along the edge of the squeegee. If the mesh tension is too low, the screen will not release from the fabric or item as you pull the squeegee across. When it releases, the screen printing ink on the garment will try to grab onto the mesh resulting a rough design. Especially when screening a multi-colored design, it may grab previous colors and start to build up, creating a murky-edged image.
To ensure you have the proper screen printing equipment that’ll guarantee a clean finish, browse our wide selection of screenprinting supplies!