Screen Printing On Plastic- Nightmarish?
February 27, 2011 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to screen-print directly onto plastic, or am I bound for a world of trouble?

In the next couple weeks, I'm going to be learning some screen-print techniques. I'm curious, though, if it's possible to screen-print directly onto, say, a sheet of styrene plastic (and maybe hit the ink with a fixative to make damn sure it stays.) Is this at all possible without investing more than a thousand dollars in one of these? I look forward to any recommendations but would appreciate an eye toward the miserly in terms of expense. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by ThePantsAvenger to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Caveat: A lot of my understanding of screen-printing is theoretical, but I do understand general printing techniques pretty well.

1) acrylic-based inks will stick to plastic just fine so long as nothing scratches the paint. Hell, acrylic-based inks will stick to anything.

2) credit cards, key-cards and the like are all, I'm led to understand, screen-printed, so yes it's possible and common. That said, the printing is done on a poly core which is then coated with a tin layer of translucent plastic, similar to laminating.
posted by lekvar at 12:23 AM on February 28, 2011

*coated with a tin thin layer of translucent plastic, similar to laminating.
posted by lekvar at 12:24 AM on February 28, 2011

I know very little about printing, but I do know about plastics.

The problem is that most plastic surfaces are hydrophobic i.e. they don't like water. If you try to use a water-based ink, it will bead up (like water on a non-stick teflon pan), giving uneven coverage. The adhesion between the ink and the surface will probably also be poor. As mentioned above, some types of inks will likely have additives or properties that can overcome this effect.

This is a big problem for the packaging industry - they overcome this by treating the surface before printing using corona/plasma treatment or flame treatment. Slide 14 onwards in this presentation has a good overview.

The alternative seems to be non-water based (solvent-based) inks. How available these are to a hobbyist, I don't know.
posted by firesine at 3:59 AM on February 28, 2011

You can screen print anything flat. You just need the right ink -- I suggest looking through these to see what best matches the material you want to print on. Most ink systems will come with their own screen wash, and the distributors of these products should be able to make a recommendation about what photoemulsion to use.

If you're doing a single color print, there's no need to get fancy -- a simple hinge clamp setup will suffice, and if you want to get fancy, get a vacuum table.

Solvent-based inks are pretty noxious -- be sure to print in a well ventilated area, and use gloves where possible, esp. with the solvents. Read the MSDS sheets.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:16 AM on February 28, 2011

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