UV Printing Vs. Screen Printing

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When digital printing technologies are having a dominant grip on leading industries, it is easy to write off conventional printing methods. As a creative designer, you wouldn’t want to make this mistake as some conventional printings are still holding strong amidst their digital counterparts. Chances are, you’ve heard of how UV printing is the rage in today’s industry and screen printing is still a preferred technology in specific applications.

It helps to understand how these two printing technology works and the difference between each other.

UV Printing Explained

A UV printer has a very similar mechanism with the inkjet printer you’re using at home. While a typical inkjet printer may have smearing issues, a UV printer doesn’t, thanks to its built-in UV light and the use of a particular type of inks that contain photoinitiators.

As the UV printer distribute inks on the material, the UV light will immediately cure the inks, leaving no chances for smears and blots. UV printing has opened up the possibility of printing colorful artwork on a broad range of materials, including metal, wood, glass, and ceramics.

You can achieve vivid results with UV printing as it uses a full range of CMYK colors. Besides that, a UV printer can also apply a white coating which makes it ideal in printing on dark or transparent materials. The printer can also apply a clear coating to present a smooth and glossy surface.

UV printing is enjoying rapid growth, thanks to its efficiency and capability to produce realistic photo-quality results. Printing companies are adopting UV printing to deliver high-resolution signage and elegant business cards. Besides that, UV printing is also a greener approach that produces no VOCs that are detrimental to the environment.

Screen Printing Explained

UV Printing Vs. Screen Printing

Screen printing is an age-old printing method that is analog. It utilizes stencils or screen to applies individual colors on the material to create the final image. This form of printing is still popular in printing T-shirts and other apparels.

The process of screen printing starts by creating individual stencils. A single stencil needs to be made for each color used in the image. A T-shirt design that consists of five different colors will require the similar amount of stencils.

A stencil is made by stretching a mesh across an aluminum frame. The photosensitive material is then applied on the mesh on areas that constitute the image are masked from UV light. This results in a hardened area that blocks inks from passing through and the mesh area that allows the inks to pass through.

The stencil is then placed on the material and inks are squeezed through the tiny openings of the mesh. The material is then placed in a high-temperature oven for the inks to cure. This process is repeated for every color that is used in the design, with different stencils. While screen printing is highly analog, it offers flexibility in terms of creativity and color effects on the final products.

UV Printing Vs. Screen Printing

Is UV printing the right option for the T-shirt design that you’ve been working on? Or should you resort to screen printing, has it has been a reliable approach for decades? Here are how each printing methods fare in when they come head-to-head in different aspects.

1. Process

As mentioned, both UV printing and screen printing are at the opposite ends of the technological spectrum. UV printing is the culmination of modern printing, that prioritizes on minimal equipment, efficiency, and consistent print quality. The use of UV light in curing the inks minimizes the wait-time for the inks to dry.

Screen printing is one of the oldest printing methods still in existence. It relies on manually setting up stencils which will then be used to apply layers of inks on the material. The wet ink then needs to be cured with heat before proceeding to the next color.

2. Cost

UV Printing Vs. Screen Printing

Cost is a decisive factor when it comes to choosing a printing method. In this case, both UV and screen printing can advantageous in certain scenarios. UV printing is a linear process regardless of the printing quantity. As it requires no setup cost, UV printing is ideal for low quantity printing.

As screen printing requires the creation of stencils, this would inadvertently impose a substantial setup cost, especially for low volume production. However, the stencil costs become less significant when the numbers increases, making it a viable option for mass production.

3. Materials

Both printing methods can be used on various types of materials. With UV printing, you have choices on materials like acrylic, aluminum, glass, metal, and wood. It has been commonly used to print promotional materials, like pens, mugs, baseballs and phone cases.

Screen printing is a robust printing method that is practically applicable to almost any materials. However, this older form of printing highly concentrates on apparels, particularly T-shirts. It is also known to be used on plastic, metal, and glass.

4. Ink Type

There’s no question that two distinct printing style will have its own unique set of inks. UV printing uses a special type of ink that dries instantly when exposed to UV light. The ink contains chemical components called photoinitiators, which trigger a chain of chemical reactions when activated by UV.

Generally, there are three types of inks used in screen printing, plastisol, water-based and discharge inks. The plastisol is the most common ink that screen printing uses. It contains PVC components that need to be cured at a high temperature.

Water-based inks are a more environmentally friendly option for screen printing that provides a softer print texture. However, using water-based inks introduces challenges like the ink drying up too fast during the printing process. It also limits the material that you can work with as water-based inks are not ideal for poly-fabric combinations.

The discharge inks are water-based inks that are added with bleaching agents. It removes the colors on the area that it’s applied and creates a vintage feel after it has been cured.

5. Thickness

The ink thickness is an important factor when considering the available print technologies. Both UV and screen printing can offer varying thickness although with different mechanisms. You can control the thickness of screen printing by choosing screen mesh with varying diameters of wire.

As for UV printers, you can print layers of inks instead of controlling the thickness. UV inks dry immediately. Adding layers will help you to get the elevated texture. The 3D impressions are created with this textures.

6. Design

UV Printing Vs. Screen Printing
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While both printing techniques deliver outstanding results, designers can have a preference in the tiny details of the final output. UV printers produce vivid images that are long-lasting and fade-resistant. But when artistic aspects are concerned, screen printing may provide an upper hand.

For instance, screen printing can deliver better opacity than UV printers. Screen printing is also able to handle special effects ink more effectively than digital printers. The range of effects provided by screen printing is even wider than UV printing. Screen printing can produce Braille printing and contour embossing easily.

7. Environmental Friendly

As the world shifts towards environmental friendly policies, the choice of your printing methods must follow suit. Which of the two printing techniques offers a greener approach? UV printing is a clean process that neither uses heat or contain toxins in the inks. This made UV printers a popular choice among major printing companies.

Screen printing, in its traditional sense, is not a viable approach for environmental protection. This is due to the use of plastisol inks which contains PVC which can be a harmful pollutant. However, there are efforts to encourage the use of water-based inks which made screen-printing a greener option.

8. Quality

Both printing methods produce high-quality end-results, with long-lasting vivid colors on your choice of materials. Rather than mere comparison on quality, designers should realize that both approaches offer a different style and expression for their artwork.

Screen printing is excellent in producing a vibrant image that is a combination of pure colors. UV printers cannot achieve certain color saturation, as it mixes colors from the CMYK tones. They are ideal for printing a higher amount of details on the material than their traditional counterparts.

Should You Choose UV Printing Over Screen Printing? Or Vice Versa?

Choosing between UV printing and screen printing requires considerations on various factors. When it comes to cost, it makes sense to opt for UV printing if you have a small order. However, screen printing is viable for massive volume as the setup cost will be distributed on the units.

You’ll also need to think about the products that you’re producing. It makes more sense to get your designs on pens with UV printers rather than screen printing. When you have both options equally viable, your artistic part may be dominant and insists on age-old screen printing method.

Ultimately, your decision depends on factors specific to the design and project. Which is your preferred printing method and why? Share your thoughts in the comment below.

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