The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing Emulsion

The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing Emulsion

Introduction to Screen Printing Emulsion

Screen printing is an age-old technique that has evolved over time to become a popular method for creating custom designs on various materials. Central to the screen printing process is the use of emulsion—a light-sensitive liquid that coats the screen and aids in the creation of a stencil. This ultimate guide will walk you through the ins and outs of screen printing emulsion, providing helpful tips, tricks, and insight along the way.

Cropped view of stencil for serigraphy on floor near artisan holding squeegee with light sensitive emulsion

Cropped view of stencil for serigraphy on floor near artisan holding squeegee with light sensitive emulsion

Types of Screen Printing Emulsions

Screen printing emulsions fall into three main categories, each with its unique properties and advantages:

Photopolymer Emulsion

Photopolymer emulsions are pre-sensitized, meaning they are ready for use straight out of the container. These emulsions are known for their fast exposure times and excellent resolution, making them a popular choice for professional screen printers.

Diazo Emulsion

Diazo emulsions require the addition of a diazo sensitizer to become light-sensitive. These emulsions are more affordable and offer a wide exposure latitude, making them a great option for beginners and those working with a limited budget.

Dual-Cure Emulsion

As the name suggests, dual-cure emulsions combine the properties of both photopolymer and diazo emulsions. These emulsions offer excellent resolution, durability, and a wide exposure latitude, making them a versatile choice for various screen printing applications.

Preparing the Screen for Emulsion

Before applying the emulsion, ensure the screen is clean, degreased, and free of any contaminants. Use a mesh degreaser to remove oils, dirt, and residue that may interfere with the emulsion's adhesion to the screen.

Cropped view of craftsman holding squeegee while applying photographic emulsion for screen printing

Cropped view of craftsman holding squeegee while applying photographic emulsion for screen printing

Applying the Emulsion

Coating Techniques

There are two primary methods for applying emulsion to the screen: the scoop coater and the direct pour method. The scoop coater provides a more consistent and even coat, while the direct pour method is faster but may result in an uneven application.

Coating Thickness

The thickness of the emulsion coating can significantly impact the final print quality. Thicker coatings may take longer to expose but can produce better ink coverage, while thinner coatings can lead to pinholes and other print defects.

Drying the Emulsion

After applying the emulsion, it's crucial to dry the screen properly. Place the screen in a horizontal position in a clean, dust-free, and light-tight environment. Ideally, the temperature should be between 86°F and 104°F, and the humidity should be below 40%.

Exposing the Screen

To create a stencil, the emulsion-coated screen is exposed to UV light. Exposure time varies depending on the emulsion type and light source. It's essential to conduct exposure tests to determine the optimal exposure time for your specific setup.

Post-Exposure Processing

Washing Out the Screen

After exposure, the screen must be washed out to remove the unexposed emulsion, revealing the stencil design. Use a pressure washer or high-pressure spray nozzle to remove the emulsion gently. Be sure to hold the screen at an angle to allow the water to flow away from the stencil.

Reclaiming the Screen

Once the print job is complete, you can reclaim the screen for future use. Use a screen printing emulsion remover to dissolve the remaining emulsion, followed by a high-pressure wash to clean the screen thoroughly.

Printing Techniques

Manual Screen Printing

Manual screen printing involves using a squeegee to push ink through the stencil onto the substrate. This method is best for small-scale projects, as it provides the most control over the printing process.

Automatic Screen Printing

Automatic screen printing machines use pneumatic or electric mechanisms to apply ink to the substrate. This method is ideal for large-scale projects, as it provides consistent results and faster production times.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Common screen printing emulsion issues include pinholes, under-exposure, and over-exposure. To avoid these issues, ensure proper emulsion application, adequate drying, and optimal exposure time.

Screen Printing Emulsion Tips and Tricks

  1. Use a sharp scoop coater for even emulsion application.
  2. Control humidity and temperature during drying to prevent emulsion issues.
  3. Store emulsions in a cool, dark place to prolong shelf life.
  4. Conduct regular exposure tests to fine-tune your process.
  5. Always degrease the screen before applying emulsion to ensure proper adhesion.

Choosing the Right Emulsion

Selecting the right emulsion depends on factors such as the ink type, mesh count, and desired print quality. Consider your specific printing needs and consult with emulsion manufacturers to make an informed decision.

Safety and Environmental Considerations

When working with screen printing emulsions, always wear appropriate safety gear, such as gloves and goggles. Dispose of emulsion waste according to local regulations to minimize environmental impact.


Mastering screen printing emulsion is crucial for producing high-quality prints. By understanding the different emulsion types, proper application techniques, and troubleshooting tips, you can elevate your screen printing skills and create stunning designs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the shelf life of screen printing emulsion?

The shelf life of screen printing emulsion varies depending on the type and storage conditions. Generally, unopened emulsion containers can last up to a year or more if stored in a cool, dark place.

  1. Can I mix different types of emulsions?

Mixing different emulsion types is not recommended, as it can lead to unpredictable results and potential issues during the screen printing process.

  1. How can I remove dried emulsion from a screen?

To remove dried emulsion from a screen, use a dedicated emulsion remover and follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper application and removal.

  1. Do I need to degrease my screen every time I apply emulsion?

Yes, degreasing the screen before applying emulsion is essential to ensure proper adhesion and prevent issues during the printing process.

  1. Can I reuse a screen after reclaiming it?

Yes, after properly reclaiming a screen, it can be reused for future print jobs.

Screen Printing Resources:


Unveiling the Best Screen Printing Machines for Beginners: Your Ultimate Guide

How to Choose the Right Screen Printing Press for Your Business: A Comprehensive Guide

The Ultimate Screen Printing Kit Buying Guide


A Beginner's Guide to Screen Printing Inks

Why Water-Based Screen Printing Ink is the Future

The Benefits of Using Discharge Screen Printing Ink


How to Choose the Right Screen Printing Mesh for Your Project

Everything You Need to Know About Screen Printing Frames

The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing Emulsion


7 Essential Screen Printing Techniques for Beginners

How to Screen Print on Fabric: A Beginner's Guide

The Basics of Screen Printing on Paper


Get Custom Screen Printing for Your Business or Event

Find Screen Printing Services Near You

The Best Online Screen Printing Services for Your Business


The Essential Screen Printing Supplies You Need

How to Remove Screen Printing Ink from Your Screens

The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing Squeegees


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