You can perform screen printing on leather products such as jackets, wristbands, purses, belts, bags, etc. Screen printing on leather materials is slightly different from printing other fabrics or t-shirts. We need specific ink, emulsion, mesh count, squeegee, curing temperature while working on leather. So, let us discuss the entire methodology, from preparing screens to getting a perfect print on leather jackets. Let us start.
Step by step Guide for Screen Printing on Leather Jackets:
Here, we will be going through the entire screen printing process of leather jackets from beginning to end with the step by guides. So, the first thing you need a screen.
1. Preparing Screens:
Many people will tell you to build on it, but it is highly encouraged to purchase one. It is available for $20 to $25. You can either buy the wooden frames or the aluminum.
When you buy these screens, they come in a wide range of sizes based on mesh count. The higher the number, the tighter the mesh. For tighter mesh, you need thinner ink/paint. For screen printing leather jackets, 230 is the appropriate mesh which is tightened to 25 Newtons.
1.2. Remove dust/dirt from screens:
It is called degreasing of screens. It removes dust or dirt particles from the screen to work with the clean screen.
Steps to remove dirt from screens:
You can use a standard garden hose and rub brush or sponge.
- First, you are going to wet the screen.
- Spray some of the degreaser on it. Then scrub down the screen and the backside.
- Finally, rinse the entire screen. Make sure you hit the edges, front, and backside of the frame.
Afterward, you can dry your screen. You can either let it just air dry, or you can put a fan on and let it dry a little quicker.
2.1. Apply emulsion on the screen:
To add emulsion onto the screen, you will need a scoop coater. When it comes to the emulsion brand, there are many different types & brands of emulsion. For screen printing leather, you can use Speedball or Chromaline emulsions. After trying other emulsion brands, these were found to be easy to use and easy to clean.
Most importantly, the emulsion is light-sensitive. You want to keep it out of the light as much as possible. You may initially think of a light-safe environment like a yellow bulb, zero UV light, or just completely dark.
But being exposed to a little bit of your room or garage light is completely fine as long as you avoid direct sunlight.
Now, when you pour the emulsion into the scoop coater, make sure that you don’t fill up more than half of the amount you can fill into the scoop coater.
2.2. Steps to apply emulsion onto the screen without Dark Room:
- First, you coat the outside of the screen. Tilt your screen 45 degrees backward, and then you are gonna use the thin side of the scoop coater and press it against the mesh. And let the emulsion slowly drip until it makes contact with the screen. Once it makes contact with the screen, you will still push against the screen with your scoop coater and pull it up till you reach the top. Then you will tilt the entire screen with the scoop coater 45 degrees another way so that the emulsion is slowly going back into the scoop coater.
- Second, flip the screen around and do the print side of the screen’s backside in a similar process. Tilt the screen 45 degrees, apply scoop coater against the screen. Once it makes contact, pull up at 45 degrees the other way till the emulsion gets back in scrape and you are done.
- Next, you want the screen to dry, not to stand sideways but facing downwards. Use two small contains to prop up your screen to airflow on the bottom and top. Also, make sure that when you are drying your screen, it’s in a darker place. The best place to keep it is your restroom, closet, or bedroom when no one is there.
- Scrap off all the emulsion you didn’t use into the container to save as much emulsion as possible. Then rinse off the scoop coaters. Make sure you do it right away and don’t let it dry because it sticks and stays there.
Most importantly, the drying time depends on where you live. In a colder and more humid place, it will take a longer time to dry emulsion. Whereas if you live in a warmer and dry place, it will dry a lot quicker.
2.3. How do you know that the screen is dried after applying emulsion?
To know whether the screen is dried, you can touch both sides of the screen. If it is completely dry and there is no emulsion sticky, then the screen has dried.
To get your artwork printed onto a leather jacket, you need the following equipment below:
- You need specially coated transparency paper.
- An inkjet printer that can print black.
3.1. How to print a film positive for screen printing without an inkjet printer?
There are two ways to get your printed transparency without having an inkjet printer:
- First, if you don’t have an inkjet printer or transparency paper, you can go to a local print shop and ask them to print your design onto transparency paper. Just make sure when you look at the transparency image on a light source, the black is opaque, and a lot of light is not going through it. If you notice that it is transparent, then print two transparency and then overlap them together to have more opaque black transparency.
- Second, you can also get a sharpie and either write or draw your design on it. And the sharpie will be enough to block out the light.
3.2. Attach Printed Transparency Onto Emulsion Coated Screen:
Attach your printed transparency onto the emulsion-coated screen by fixing it with tape on two sides. normally, the design is placed about three to four fingers or at least two inches from the top of the screen. Better get a t-squared ruler to make sure that your image is properly aligned and straight.
4. Expose your Screen:
After attaching printed transparency, you are going to expose your screen. You can perform it in three ways.
- Expose screens under sunlight. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Have a light source on top that hits the top of your screen. It takes up to 8 to 10 minutes.
- By facing your image downwards and having the light hit from the bottom using a screen printing exposure unit. It takes about 30 to 40 seconds.
If you are using a screen printing exposure unit, when you put your screen on top of the lightbox, there might be some gap between the glass and the screen. To make sure that it is making complete contact, you need to put some flat weight on top. For this, you can place a book/cardboard and a gallon bucket of water on the top to gain some extra weight. Then switch on the exposure unit, and it takes about 30 to 40 seconds to expose.
5. Rinse your screen:
Take your exposed screens to the washout booth or patio or shower or wherever you do your screen washout.
The moment you rinse it, you will notice your design being visible just a little bit. That is because you are breaking down the unexposed emulsion. You are going to wash it out completely. Rinse your screen with a garden hose until all the emulsion is washed out.
You can also use a convenient pressure washer, but it is not mandatory if you start or a newbie.
After you have done rinsing, hold your screen up to a light source to ensure that you have washed out all the emulsion on your design. Because, if you don’t, it will cause moe problems when it comes to custom printing.
5.1. Let your screen dry:
After rinsing, let your screen dry. You can use a fan to speed up the drying process. Next, you will align the screen to the center of the palette until you are satisfied and lock it.
6. Ink for screen printing on Leather Jackets:
Next is ink. Plastisol ink is not suitable for screen printing on leather jackets or leather crafting. It will much likely peel away within a matter of days.
While on the other side, water-based ink is suitable to screen printing leather. However, it is highly recommended to use a low cure ink. Unlike other fabrics, leather is likely to burn under high heat curing. You may know, water-based and solvent-based ink needs high temps. Plus, they need forced air to dry properly. You must apply low cure additives to water-based ink to heat sets using a heat gun or a flash.
Moreover, some of you may think of applying Acrylic Leather Paint from Angelus. However, that won’t prove to be a good idea because the paint is very thin and may bleed through the screen, unlike the thicker acrylic paints used for screen prints.
6.1. Which is the best ink for screen printing on leather?
There are a couple of inks suitable for screen printing on leather. Some of them are Speedball acrylic inks that do not require a heat setting. Moreover, a reputed screen printing training school, which performed thousands of prints on leather items, recommends NazDar’s lacquer inks.
Onto us, we recommended going with NazDar’s lacquer inks as it achieved more reliability after screen printing thousands of leather products. Further, you may add a self-curing additive (lancer group makes one) or let the print self cure for about one month.
Next comes the ink color. You can use any ink color you want, put it on the screen, and print it.
6.2. Applying ink on screen:
It would be best if you had a spoon or a spatula to get some of the ink. Then you lay down onto the screen.
7. Screen Printing Procedure on Leather Jackets:
7.1. Load the Jacket onto Screen Printer Platen:
If you load a jacket, it is going to have a lot of room to move. So, for the jacket to stick to the palette, you need to use some adhesive.
Either use a spray adhesive meant for screen printing or get a liquid adhesive known as a liquid glue. If you are printing on 1-10 jackets, use spray adhesive. Because it is a lot quicker and saves time.
Once you load the shirt into the platen and slowly pull back until the collar reaches the edge of the platen(also called palette, shirt board). In this way, it is guaranteed that the print will be three to four fingers down the collar.
A squeegee is what you will use to push the ink through the screen onto the jacket. Most importantly, a 70 Durometer squeegee is suitable for screen printing leather jackets.
Further, there is a wooden & aluminum squeegee. If you are starting, stick with the wooden one. Otherwise, you can get aluminum squeegee because they are easy to clean, don’t warp, don’t stain, nor hurt your wrist as much.
There are two ways to print using squeegee:
- Push method
- Pull method
We will be performing the push method because it is a lot easier for most beginner printers, and it has a lot less stress on your body.
If you are starting, make sure that the squeegee is angled at 45 degrees. Ensure that you are not pushing too straight upwards; otherwise, you will have a lot of friction. Moreover, make sure you are not pushing squeegee too sideways; otherwise, you will be depositing a lot more ink.
7.3. Let’s get started with the screen printing procedure:
First, you will lift the screen just a little bit, and then you will drag the ink from the bottom to the top of the screen. It is also known as flooding. With this process, you are trying to pull all the gaps in the stencil with ink. When you flood the screen should still be able to see your image. However, if you cannot, that means you are not flooding hard enough. Then at a 45-degree angle, you are gonna push the squeegee driving the ink through the screen. And there you have a successful screen print on your leather jacket.
Drying the ink:
The drying or curing of the ink can be done in two ways:
- Pull the jacket out of the platen and put the print on top. Then you are going to dry the ink. You can use a flash dryer or a Minipress. Heat it for 20 to 40 seconds. Do not cure ink under high temperatures as you used to practice with other fabrics. It may ruin the leather. Follow the recommended temperature or the ink setting time specified for the respective inks(discussed above).
- The second of drying is heat gun. It is more affordable than a flash dryer but also takes a lot longer to dry. Control the temperature at the back and hover around the entire design back and forth with the heat gun. Do not focus on one area with the heat gun too long or end up burning the jacket.
Make sure you have a temperature gun that helps you monitor how hot things get. The best way to check if the ink is dried or not is called the stretch test.
How to perform the stretch test in screen printing?
Once the shirt has cooled down, you can try pulling on the ink. And if the ink isn’t breaking apart or flaking, it a good sign of the ink being fused and bonded. If the print starts cracking, that means the ink is not fully dried.
If you find everything all right, your first leather jacket is screen printed and done.
Finally, we are done with screen printing leather jackets. You can apply it to other leather materials like a wristband or a strap piece.
The overall procedure for screen printing leather jackets isn’t unique. It is similar to printing a t-shirt. Moreover, you might consider some of the things, such as ink, mesh count, squeegee with a specific durometer, emulsions, and techniques. We have discussed everything in detail. I hope that helps.