Innovative Screen Printing on Metal: Unleashing the Potential of Stainless Steel

Screen printing is popular for paper, fabric, ceramic, and other materials but also great for metal. In this article, we will beam our lights on screen printing on metal and discuss innovation and the potential of stainless steel sheet finishes. Let’s begin.

What Is Screen Printing on Metal? 

When you hear about screen printing on metal, it simply refers to different ways you can apply decorations and designs on various metal surfaces. You can do this with a combination of a mesh and a good quantity of printing ink or paint. With this method, you can easily create durable designs that are not only eye catchy but of high quality too.

How Does Screen Printing on Metal Works 

Screen printing on metal is an easy procedure that involves using a stencil to spread ink on a metal surface. So before you can successfully screen print on metal, you have to create a stencil that you will use in applying ink on the metal.

Stencil is any sheet that bears performance designs, shapes, and patterns that you can cut out, and when you place a metal under the perforated stencil, it creates an imprint of design in the perforated space.

When you are working on multiple colors on a particular metal surface, you should use a different stencil for each of the colors, one at a time.

The Screen Printing Process on Metal

Steps for Screen Printing on Metal 

To create a beautiful output with your screen print on metal, here’s what you should do:

1. Create Your Design

Before you put ink to metal and bring your print to life, you must first create a design. They should be an already prepared design that you intend to print. These designs can be logos, text, or any graphic content.

2. Select and Prepare The Screen 

Next up, prepare your printing screen and mesh. You can choose a high or low mesh count depending on the kind of metal you want to print on. The number of silk threads crossing each other per square inch is referred to as the mesh count, and your mesh count will depend on the design you intend to print.

Even with a tiny amount of ink, printing with a higher mesh count can generate superb details, whereas screens with lower mesh counts allow the ink to flow through since their apertures are broader.  After that, you can coat the mesh with any of these two types of emulsion: Diazo and SBQ-based emulsions.

Diazo is a practical choice that, with a longer exposure, can yield richer details. On the other hand, detailed print works well with SBQ-based. It is pricey and doesn’t require mixing, but it also cures quickly.

Dual-cure emulsions that incorporate SBQ and Diazo are also available. Compared to Diazo, it requires less mixing and cures faster. 

3. Expose The Emulsion 

After coating the mesh screen with emulsion, you should place acetate film on the mesh screen. After applying the acetate film, expose the emulsion to light so that it can harden quickly. You can even use different emulsion colors to print; you just need different screens for each color.

4. Create the Stencil 

Exposing the screen or stencil under bright light for a specific time will harden the stencil’s open areas. If there is any emulsion that is left unhardened, you can rinse it away to see the imprint of the ink on the screen clearly.

To create the exact design, the printer can carry out extra touch-ups on the imprints to make it possible. The stencil will be ready for printing when it finally dries.

5. Prepare for Printing 

When it’s time for printing, press the screen against the metal material in the position of your choice, and then place the printing board underneath the metal to print.

6. Apply The Design

The printed metal has come to life at this stage. At this point, you can pick up your squeegee and spread your preferred color on top of the screen. As you apply the ink, the design begins to take shape as the ink covers the metal.

7. Heat Curing and Finishing 

To ensure the design does not fade and give it a smooth finish, you have to cure it using heat.

Materials and Equipment for Screen Printing on Metals 

Several different pieces of equipment make screen printing on metals possible. These types of equipment include a computer, screen printing machine, ink, squeegee, and dryer. Here is a breakdown of the functions of these types of equipment.

    • Computer: The purpose of a computer is to create designs and graphics using graphic computer software.
  • Screen: The screen is a board surface where you place your printable materials.
  • Ink: Ink is the main piece of equipment in printing. We will discuss more ink as we move further in the article.
  • Squeegee: Squeegees press the ink prints across the screen to allow the desired design to reflect on the metal.
  • Dryer: This is the equipment that hardens the ink printed on the metal to ensure it has a long-lasting effect.

Surface Cleaning and Preparation

Innovative Techniques for Screen Printing on Metal 

You can achieve a good screen print on a metal surface through:: 

1. Screen printing

With screen printing, you can create colorful and eye-catching designs on different types of metal. This technique achieves its results by pressing inks through fabric mesh and producing a durable design.

2. Direct digital printing

Direct digital printing is similar to screen printing in marking metal enclosures. The key difference is that screen printing uses a limited number of colors, otherwise known as spot color. But direct digital printing can provide a variety of colors through the half-tone process.

This method is more suitable for printing on flat surfaces than on textured surfaces. It is also effective on powder-coated products because inkjet printers can deposit ink on the entire surface simultaneously.

3. Embossing

To screen print by embossing, you clamp two dies (one above and one below) on the metal to imprint the design. A typical example of embossing on metal is car registration plates. The registration numbers are usually embossed on the metal, making the embossed area slightly higher than the metal surface. 

4. Etching

Etching is another printing technique that can create readable marks on metal by using chemicals. These marks can withstand wear and friction. It is a very durable process of metal screen printing used on stainless steel and aluminum.

5. Laser Engraving

Laser engraving uses a laser marking machine to create decorative imprints on the metal surface. The laser technology distinguishes the imprinted parts from the unmarked surface. The process is common for marking logos and QR codes on metal surfaces.    

Applications of Screen Printing on Metal 

After screen printing on metal, you can use it in different industries, including designs, logos, decor, etc.  Here are some examples of how these industries apply screen printing on metal.

screen printing

  • Nameplates and Labels: Different industries use screen printing on metal to design durable metallic designs for industrial and identification purposes. These nameplates can either be embossed or etched on the metal surface.
  • Decoration: Screen printing on metals is also useful for the arts and decor industry, and they use it to create beautiful art designs and indoor and outdoor decorations.
  • Automotive: Automotive industries use screen printing on metal to customize visual information on metallic surfaces such as wheels and dashboards.
  • Branding: Screen printing on metal is common for branding, designing, and packaging products for more visual appeal. Some instances include inscribing logos and graphic designs on metallic product materials such as cans and tins.

Is It Possible to Carry Out Screen Printing on Coated Metal?

You can carry out durable and long-lasting screen printings on coated metal. You can screen print on any metal surface.

However, coated metal printing has some downsides, such as cost, because it requires special materials and equipment that are more expensive than traditional metal printing. Also, coated prints are susceptible to scratches, which affects their durability.

But none of these erase the fact that you can successfully create high-quality print designs on coated metal with the proper materials.

What Is The Procedural Difference Between Screen Printing on Metal Sheets and Screen Printing on Metal Plates?

The two major differences between both surfaces are their thickness and their use. Metal plates are usually thicker than metal sheets and are more durable than metal sheets. However, the procedures for printing on metal sheets and metal plates are the same.

The simple steps of printing on metal plates and metal sheets are to place your stencil on your metal plates/sheets before applying ink to the screen and press it with a squeegee. Then after you are through printing the entire design, you will cure the ink under heat or UV light to ensure that the ink sticks properly to your metal surface for more durability.

2. Innovative Techniques for Screen Printing on Metal.

Where Can I Do Screen Printing on Metal Near Me?

When you need to do some screen printing on metal, you can get help from any professional digital printing company near you. You can contact anyone who has done some metal screen printing work recently and ask them for referrals.

If you are still looking for a local print shop, you can search for one online. A simple search with the keywords ‘screen printing on metal near me’ or ‘metal printing services near me’ will show you print shops based on your location.

The location should not be a barrier; professional stainless steel material manufacturers like Tuolitan Metal can handle your screen printing needs irrespective of where you are. Tuolian Metal offers the best metal services in the market today. 

With over 1,000 clients across 100+ countries, the company has fast become a reputable force for both small, medium, and large enterprises.

What Is the Best Screen Printing Ink For Stainless Steel?

Before deciding on the best screen printing ink for stainless steel, consider the printing equipment, your desired outcome, and the type of stainless steel. These will help you determine the best screen printing ink for you.

Since stainless steel has a smooth and glossy surface, you should opt for any ink that can stick to it properly. You can try some of these:

  • Epoxy inks: this is a popular ink for screen printing on stainless steel. It is resistant to solvents, super durable, and can withstand high temperatures, even up to 600°F. It does not need extra heat as it can cure at room temperature, making it a cost-effective option.
  • UV curable inks: If you use UV curable inks to print on your stainless steel, you can be sure of durability and high resistance to abrasion and chemicals. Since you cure the inks with UV light, they can resist UV rays. Although it may be costly, this ink type is perfect for mass production and screen printing on stainless steel.
  • Solvent-based Inks: This ink will give you an excellent adhesion and durability print. The solvent carries the pigment and penetrates the surface allowing the pigment to settle properly on the surface. 

If you want to print on a glossy or smooth surface, use solvent-based inks. One downside with this type of ink is that it contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could harm the environment.

  • Water-based inks: This type of ink is a more friendly option as it uses water as the solvent. They offer exceptional penetration and are suitable for stainless steel materials with textured surfaces. Water-based inks offer great color saturation and dry up pretty quickly.
  • Ceramic inks: After applying ceramic inks, you must apply heat to fuse the pigment to the stainless steel surface. Depending on the material’s properties, heat may end up warping it. Using ceramic inks may be more costly and time-consuming when compared with other screen printing alternatives.

5. Is UV Printing The Same as Screen Printing

Is UV Printing The Same as Screen Printing?

Although UV printing and screen printing are both methods for imprinting designs on various surfaces, including metal, they are different. Their discrepancy lies in the method of applying designs to the metal surface.

For UV printing, you apply the ink directly to the metal surface with an inkjet printer and proceed to cure it using UV light rays. The result of this procedure is often a durable image on the stainless steel material.

Conversely, screen printing is the process of marking a design with a mesh and emulsion on a metal surface. To complete a colorful design, you must apply each color one by one after the previous one must have dried up.

If you’re looking to create plenty of designs in a short period, screen printing will slow you down as it requires a good deal of patience. UV printing, however, is fast and helps you create awesome prints in record time. Finally, UV printing is suitable for a wide range of materials, including those unsuitable for screen printing.

What Materials Can You Not Screen Print On?

We’ve taken time to look at the materials that are suitable for screen printing. Still, it’s also important to consider the materials that are not exactly suitable for screen printing. They include:

  1. Rough and textured: Screen printing needs a smooth, flat surface for the best results, and a rough and textured surface would hinder the process.
  2. Non-porous: Glass and some types of plastic are non-porous and would not absorb the ink during printing.
  3. Heat sensitive: Because screen printing employs heat to cure the ink and print, heat-sensitive materials will melt or deform throughout the process
  4. Flexible: materials, such as silicone and rubber, would most likely expand during printing, causing the desired pattern to be ruined.
  5. Curved or uneven: A curved or uneven screen would lead to a design with uneven ink coverage.

What Is the Best Printing Method on Metal?

There are different methods of printing on metal, such as engraving, screen printing, digital printing, etc. However, there’s no one universal best method, as what one considers to be the best method may differ from the next. 

Also, the different methods of printing have their uniqueness and downside. But when judging the best methods, some of the pertinent factors to always consider include durability, quality, and vibrancy.

What Is the Best Metal Screen Printing Machine on the Market?

A wide range of metal screen printing machines is available in the market today, each with unique properties and methods of creating designs on metal surfaces. With these excellent options available, it may take work to decide on the best.

If you want to head to the market to purchase a metal screen printing machine, you should look out for features like durability, size, capacity, ease of use, printing precision, etc. Some machines even come with extra specialized features.

If you are looking for heavy-duty metal screening machines for large-scale printing the ROQ Automatic Screen Printing Machine or Vastex V2000HD may be the best option for you. However, if you need a scalable machine that can handle both small and large-scale printing jobs, the M&R Challenger III or Anatol Horizon is ideal for your need.

Still, it would help if you properly researched the manufacturers and different machine types before settling on one. Ask the right questions too or seek a referral from your friends, colleagues, and family, and you’ll be glad you did.

Can I Use Metallic Screen Print Ink on Mesh 160? 

Yes, you can use metallic screen print ink on mesh 160. A mesh count of 160 is in the average range and is suitable for metallic ink. With proper testing and adjustment, you can successfully use Mesh 160 to create the design of your dreams.

Can I Screen Print on Metallic Foil?

Screen Printing on metallic foil is possible. Since metallic foil is a non-porous surface, UV-curable inks are more suited for printing on it as they can fix even on non-porous surfaces and cure easily.

The texture of the material can also affect the final output. For a beautiful design, a thicker metallic foil needs more viscous ink and a higher mesh count. You can fine-tune the final design by adjusting the print ink deposit and curing time.

Before you begin mass printing on metallic foil, test the ink on a small piece of the material. With the test, you can avoid any printing mishaps when you start.

Is It Possible to Screen Print on Metallic Paper?

Metallic paper can be tricky to work with, but with the right tools and proper skills, you can make it work. First, you must check out the texture of the paper. Some metallic papers have a smooth surface, while others are rough and textured.

A textured surface, on the other hand, will necessitate more viscous ink and a larger mesh count for optimal coverage and a better design.

Metallic paper can be sensitive to heat and some ink types; thus, a test print is ideal before beginning the main design. This would help you avoid ink bleed, smudges, and unnecessary damage to the metallic paper.

Conclusion

Screen printing on metal lets you bring your design ideas to life on any metal surface. Regardless of your metal type or the design you want, you now know that you can make it happen! To get the best results out of metal screen printing, contact a professional to walk you through the process and make it seamless. 

One Stop Stainless Steel Supply.

Whether you need stainless steel materials for your business or fabrication projects, TuoLian is your best supplier. You can find all types, grades, and thicknesses based on your needs. Guaranteed that we provide the best quality at a reasonable cost.
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