Everything You Need To Know About Screen Printing On Acrylic

Screen printing is a popular printing technique that involves using a mesh screen to transfer ink onto a substrate. Acrylic screen printing is a variation of this technique that involves printing on acrylic sheets. Acrylic sheets are a popular material for printing because they are lightweight, durable, and easy to work with.

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic, also called PMMA or plexiglass, chemical name is polymethyl methacrylate. It is an important plastic polymer material with good transparency, chemical stability and weather resistance, easy dyeing, easy processing, and beautiful appearance, has a wide range of applications in the construction and industry. Plexiglass sheet can usually be divided into casting sheet, extruded sheet .

Types of acrylic sheets can be printed

We can find many kinds of acrylic material in current markets to satisfy all kinds of design requirements and then to produce products:

Clear Acrylic Sheeting,  White Acrylic Sheeting, Colored Acrylic Sheeting, Mirrored Acrylic Sheeting, Light Diffusing Acrylic, Solar Tinted Acrylic, Non-Glare Acrylic Sheeting, Anti-Static Acrylic Sheeting, Abrasion Resistant Acrylic Sheeting, Impact Modified Acrylic, Lucite Block Acrylic Sheeting, Textured Acrylic Sheeting.

What is Screen Printing on Acrylic?

Screen printing on Acrylic is the process of pushing ink through a mesh screen and onto an acrylic sheet using a squeegee/roller to fill the open apertures. The ink is bonded, dried, and hardened after being exposed to UV light. Due to its simplicity, it is common in many acrylic fabrication applications. Besides, it does not create any problems when there is no tension. Implying, it can survive a single wiping. Sometimes, screen printing on acrylic with a hard coating is a bit difficult. Still, you can achieve this, by making some adjustments to the screen printing acrylic procedure.

To succeed in this, you can either treat the sheet with corona or control the ink hardening much more carefully. It is much easier and safer to work with acrylic than glass. This is because it is cheap and also offers transparency and smooth surface just like glass.

Advantages of Screen Printing on Acrylic

  • Provides screen printers many possibilities of graphics, flat-faced and thermoformed signage;
  • Cost-effective without any equipment to start work, Acrylic affordable than polycarbonate ;
  • it’s easy to erase when mistakes are made in the course of printing;
  • acrylic print provides UV protection between 70-99%, which is durable when printed either directly or on paper and faces ;
  • Acrylic without fade, tear, stain, wrinkle or peel off. meanwhile, it can last long close to 10 years without yellowing;
  • Acrylic is resistant to shattering, lightweight, clarity, brightness, transparency, and translucence;
  • Screen printing provides sleek, modern and vibrant looks which are terrific in contemporary decors;
  • Gives a refractive light 3-D like and gives greater color vibrancy;
  • Time Saving since it is printed directly than paper graphics which takes a much longer time. It can easily be recycled ;
  • Creativity as can be tinted or colored, mirrored or made opaque. Many coatings can be applied to a sheet for excellent performance to enhance resistance, anti-fogging, glare reduction and solar reflexivity.

Disadvantages of Screen Printing on Acrylic

  • The printouts on acrylic are easy to scratch off during transportation. So they need very careful maintenance on the way they are handled during transit, loading and offloading;
  • Acrylic is hard and always difficult for ink to penetrate it. Sometimes, the failure of ink to bite into acrylic is caused by the residue from the masking film for protecting the acrylic sheet.
  • Can only use UV thermoforming ink to adhere to many types of acrylic sheets. This ink is ideal for acrylic because it makes it flexible to undergo secondary operations like cutting, bending and thermoforming. when this ink is used, it requires careful monitoring of ink performance during production, and this is tedious.

Screen Printing machine

  • Printing press: recommend a six-color press before starting screen printing. which allows us to do any printing job. also have an 8-color printing press, and so on.
  • Ink: For acrylic screen printing, UV thermoforming ink is required. Which is ideal for acrylic screen printing because it penetrates its surface very well.
  • Some plastic containers and ink scoops will also be relevant for ink mixing. In some cases, use scales and mixers to aid in mixing the ink appropriately.
  • Squeegee: which is used to pull ink across the screen and lay down the print. There are varieties of these to choose from.
  • Masking tape: the mask is used to tape acrylic on to a flat surface to hold it in place during the screen printing process.

how to print on acrylic sheet step by step

The screen printing process involves several sequential stages. It requires some sections of the screen to be blocked to come up with the desired image. silkscreen, masking tape, printing ink, roller/ squeegee, acrylic sheet, and transparency are needed.

  • 1. Preparing for printing, prepare the screen and decide on the image to print, Ensure you leave a margin around image if you are drawing and surfaces of the acrylic substrates are clean and flat
  • 2. Mounting and taping the acrylic on a flat surface like a table to prevent it from moving during printing process.
  • 3. Place the screen over the top of the acrylic and tape it to reinforce its stability during printing.
  • 4. Using a roll of masking tape, tape each corner of the screen to slightly raise it above the table. Use small pieces of cads at each corner.
  • 5. Drawing marks on the acrylic to ensure ink is applied on to the right areas only.
  • 6. On a horizontal straight line, apply a layer of ink over the image top. Using a roller or squeegee, slowly spread it over the design at 45° angle. Be careful to push a little ink through the screen since this can lead to color bleeding to the image.
  • 7. Scrap all excess ink using a plastic spatula or spoon and return them into the ink pot.
  • 8. Slowly remove the screen from the acrylic top to prevent ink from smearing onto the image. Leave the acrylic to dry for many hours without moving it. Then use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process.
  • 9. Remove the tapes and wash the screen with cold water spray and sponge on both sides. Using a hand towel, carefully dry the screen-printed acrylic. when it is dry, the acrylic screen print is ready for use.

Types of Acrylic Screen Printing

There are two main techniques can be used in screen printing on acrylic: digital screen print and manual screen print.

Digital Screen Printing on Acrylic sheet

Digital Screen Printing on Acrylic is automatic to screen print on acrylic. A protective release liner must be peeled off from acrylic before printing. Which ensures the achievement of a clean print on the substrate material. Digital print with full sheets of acrylic of up to 5 x 10 inches in size can be printed. The digital machine prints directly on acrylic for custom-cut into the desired shapes and sizes. It can laminate and mount the screen-printed acrylic. Also, large banner materials can be printed through digital screen printing for acrylic.

Benefits of Digital Screen Printing on Acrylic
  1. Screen printing is improved since the machine has both faster dryers and ink cured with UV light. It offers a faster and more efficient process to deliver quickly. It eliminates a lot of waiting that is experienced while dealing with manual screen printing on an acrylic substrate.
  2. It produces images with precision even little details are not lost in the final product during the printing process. It is impossible with manual screen printing to come true. Digital printing is recommended for sharp photographic prints or other more complex images.
  3. Saving time and resources, because it can produce images in bulk at a time. Digital screen printing involves a few steps, It can handle small, medium and big orders.
  4. The printer only needs an image and acrylic thus saving cost over manual ones.
  5. It is flexible and allows for variability without increasing cost and timing for production. You can print the same design with numerous captions. This is just a matter of manipulations done in Photoshop on the computer.
  6. It is environmentally friendly because it does not require many materials. Therefore, no worry about waste disposal and other chemicals that may be harmful to the environment.

Manual Screen Printing on Acrylic

If it’s available to afford the digital printing option, you can select a manual careen printing on acrylic. The steps of the manual one are as followings:

  1. Clamping acrylic sheets firmly on the surface is working to avoid shifting during the printing process.
  2. Placing the laser print at the center of the acrylic sheet with the print side facing down.
  3. Taping down the print onto the sheet and the surface using masking tape.
  4. Use a blender pen, and rub the back of the print or photocopy. Apply pressure using this pen methodologically bearing in mind to cover the whole image area.
  5. Using a spoon(heavy wooden or metal) rub the back of the paper and the entire image thoroughly. Firm pressure the image affix onto the acrylic. This application so-called serigraphy process is done for each color of the image if many colors are desired.
  6. Peel off a corner of the paper to examine the quality of the print that has been transferred. If the image is too light, repeat the blending pen-pushing steps to achieve the desired outcome.
Advantages of Manual Screen Printing on Acrylic
  • It is cheaper than digital screen print, especially when you have a bulk order. Because once the screens made, they can be re-used for screen printing over and over again.
  • It gives the true and exact color as desired to finish products. This is achievable because a thicker ink layer is applied on acrylic during screen printing resulting in bolder colors.
  • Designs of different shapes and sizes can be manually screen printed. It does not matter which shape.

Common Problems in Acrylic Screen Printing

Bleeding of colors

This defect happens when the pigment is loose. During printing, at every registration, the printing paste will bleed to the surrounding areas of the image on acrylic. This spoils the printed image. The remedy here is that you should ensure that the paint is thick to the extent that it will stick to the acrylic. Also, at every registration, make sure you clean the under part of the screen.

Unequal gaps left between repeats

Sometimes, repeats of the design do not join. Therefore, you have to make sure you calculate the registration of the screen. You also have to check the repeats just before printing begins.

Irregular screen placement

This happens when you don’t check the repeats. Therefore, you have to check the repeats before you place the screen to register the print.

Formation of color patches

This occurs when the color is not evenly distributed on acrylic. The remedy here is to use enough ink and pull the squeegee properly over the image.

Acrylic sheet sticks to the screen

This is common and causes difficulty when being pulled off. Do not press the screen so hard on the acrylic sheet. Just mask tape it on the edges and pass the squeegee slowly over the screen.

Applications of Screen Printing on Acrylic

Screen printing on acrylic has been applied widely on items that are made from acrylic materials. The applications are very appealing and have been commonly accepted in the current market.

Printing Awards

It has been used to print acrylic awards like the Professor J Anderson memorial award, the 2014 Fielder of the Year Jack Thomas Award among others.

Printing Images

It is applied in printing stunning, colorful images with a raised texture of 3-D on round items with cylindrical printing. For example in beer and wine bottles, cups, candles, awards, tubes, cans, and glasses.

Printing Consumer Accessories

The image below is an illustration of phone and tablet case print applications.

Printing Logos

It is also used to produce good-quality images like logos on phones and tablet cases like the ones shown below.

In summary

Acrylic sheets are a popular material for printing because they are lightweight, durable, and easy to work with. Screen printing allows for high-quality images and text to be printed onto the acrylic sheet, making it an ideal material for signs and displays.

If you’re interested in learning more about screen printing on acrylic sheets or have any other questions, contact us now!

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