Published May 19, 2024 ⦁ 14 min read
10 Screen Printing Problems & Solutions

10 Screen Printing Problems & Solutions

Screen printing issues can ruin your designs, waste materials, and frustrate customers. This article covers 10 common problems and their solutions:

  1. Blurry Print Edges: Caused by low screen tension, substrate movement, incorrect off-contact distance, improper ink viscosity, or stencil issues. Solutions include maintaining proper tension, securing substrates, adjusting off-contact and ink thickness, and ensuring proper stencil exposure.

  2. Bubbling: Excessive or foamy ink causes air pockets. Use a harder squeegee, thin the ink, reduce mixer speed, and let ink rest to prevent bubbling.

  3. Contamination: Lint, dust, or debris on screens or substrates leads to poor print quality. Clean work areas, increase humidity to reduce static, and use lint-free materials.

  4. Uneven Ink Coverage: Improper ink thickness results in uneven coverage. Use a rheometer to measure and adjust viscosity, and maintain stable printing conditions.

  5. Ink Drying on Screen: Caused by thin ink, high temperatures, or low humidity. Add thickeners or retarders, control temperature and humidity, flood screens regularly, use mist sprays, and rotate screens away from heat sources.

  6. Ink Spreading: Thin ink or dull squeegees cause ink to bleed. Use thicker ink and sharpen squeegee edges.

  7. Leaks, Pinholes, and Bleeds: Faulty stencils, incorrect off-contact distance, or poor screen maintenance lead to these issues. Remake stencils, adjust off-contact, and maintain proper mesh tension and cleanliness.

  8. Mottling: Uneven ink flow or porous substrates cause blotchy prints. Monitor ink viscosity and pigment dispersion, and use smooth, clean substrates.

  9. Streaks: Dull squeegees or damaged flood bars leave streaks. Sharpen squeegees regularly and inspect/replace flood bars.

  10. Dye Migration: Heat causes fabric dyes to bleed into light inks on synthetic materials. Use low-cure inks or extend curing time at lower temperatures.

By understanding these issues and implementing the solutions, screen printers can improve print quality, reduce waste, and satisfy customers.

1. Blurry Print Edges

Blurry or uneven print edges can ruin the quality of your designs. Here are some common causes and solutions:

Screen Tension

Low screen tension can cause the mesh to shift, leading to blurred images. Aim for a tension of 25-35 N/cm². Use a tension meter to check regularly and re-tension or replace screens as needed.

Substrate Movement

If your substrate (e.g., t-shirt, tote bag) moves during printing, it can blur the design. Secure your pallets and use the right adhesive. Water-based adhesives hold better under heat than aerosol ones.

Off Contact Distance

The off-contact distance is the gap between the screen and substrate. For t-shirts, set it to around 1/16 inch. For thicker materials like fleece, increase it to 1/8 inch. This helps achieve clean print edges.

Ink Thickness

Ink viscosity affects print quality. If the ink is too thick, it may not release cleanly, causing blurred edges. If it's too thin, it can bleed. Adjust the ink with additives to get the right consistency.

Stencil Issues

Improper emulsion exposure or coverage can weaken stencil edges, causing ink bleeding. Ensure your stencils are properly exposed and have a consistent emulsion layer.

By addressing these issues, you can fix blurry print edges and improve the quality of your screen-printed designs.

Problem Cause Solution
Screen Tension Low tension Maintain 25-35 N/cm², check with tension meter
Substrate Movement Substrate shifts during print Secure pallets, use water-based adhesive
Off Contact Distance Incorrect gap setting Set 1/16 inch for t-shirts, 1/8 inch for fleece
Ink Thickness Ink too thick or thin Adjust ink viscosity with additives
Stencil Issues Poor emulsion exposure/coverage Ensure proper exposure and consistent layer

2. Bubbling

Bubbling happens when too much ink is used or the ink is too thick or foamy. This creates air pockets in the print, affecting its quality.

Adjust Ink Amount

To prevent bubbling, use a harder squeegee. A firmer squeegee blade transfers less ink, reducing air bubbles. You can also thin the ink with additives to lower its thickness.

Steps to adjust ink amount:

  1. Check Squeegee Hardness: Use a higher durometer squeegee if needed.
  2. Thin the Ink: Add a small amount of ink thinner or reducer and mix well.
  3. Test Print: Print on a sample substrate to check quality.
  4. Repeat if Needed: Continue thinning until the ink flows well without losing coverage.

Reduce Mixer Speed

Fast mixing can introduce air into the ink. Slowing down the mixer or letting the ink rest can help.

Tips for reducing mixer speed:

  1. Follow Manufacturer's Guidelines: Check the recommended mixing speeds.
  2. Start Slow: Begin at a lower speed and increase gradually.
  3. Manual Mixing: Mix slowly and steadily.
  4. Rest the Ink: Let the ink sit after mixing to allow bubbles to rise and dissipate.
Problem Cause Solution
Bubbling Excessive ink or thick/foamy ink Use a harder squeegee, thin the ink
Air in Ink Fast mixing Reduce mixer speed, let ink rest

3. Contamination

Contaminated substrates or work areas can lead to lint or dust in the image area, resulting in poor print quality. To prevent contamination issues, it's crucial to maintain a clean working environment and take necessary precautions.

Clean Screen and Work Area

Regularly cleaning the screen and work area is essential to prevent contamination from dust, lint, or other particles. Follow these steps to maintain a clean workspace:

1. Clean the Screen: After each print run, thoroughly clean the screen using a high-pressure washer or a degreasing solution to remove any residual ink or emulsion. Ensure the screen is completely dry before storing or reusing it.

2. Wipe Down Surfaces: Use a lint-free cloth and a mild cleaning solution to wipe down all surfaces in the work area, including the printing press, tables, and floors. This will help remove any accumulated dust or debris.

3. Use Lint-Free Materials: When cleaning or handling screens, use lint-free rags or cloths to avoid introducing new contaminants into the work area.

4. Maintain Proper Ventilation: Ensure adequate ventilation in the workspace to prevent the buildup of airborne particles that could settle on the screens or substrates.

Increase Humidity

Static electricity can attract dust and lint, leading to contamination issues. Increasing the humidity level in the workspace can help reduce static and prevent contaminants from clinging to surfaces.

Here are some tips for increasing humidity:

1. Use a Humidifier: Install a humidifier in the work area to maintain a relative humidity level between 40% and 60%. This range is ideal for reducing static while preventing moisture-related issues.

2. Monitor Humidity Levels: Use a hygrometer to regularly check the humidity levels in the workspace and adjust the humidifier settings as needed.

3. Avoid Extreme Temperature Fluctuations: Drastic changes in temperature can cause condensation, leading to moisture buildup and potential contamination. Maintain a consistent temperature in the work area.

4. Use Anti-Static Sprays or Mats: Apply anti-static sprays or place anti-static mats in the work area to help dissipate static electricity and reduce the attraction of dust and lint.

4. Uneven Ink Coverage

Uneven ink coverage can make your prints look unprofessional. This issue often comes from improper ink thickness.

Check Ink Thickness

To get even ink coverage, you need the right ink thickness. Here's how to manage it:

1. Use a Rheometer

A rheometer measures ink thickness accurately. This tool helps you find the right consistency.

2. Adjust Ink Viscosity

  • Too Thin: Add a thickening agent.
  • Too Thick: Add a reducer or retarder.

3. Experiment with Additives

Different inks and substrates may need specific additives. Check with your ink supplier for recommendations.

4. Maintain Consistent Conditions

Temperature and humidity can affect ink thickness. Keep your printing environment stable to avoid changes in ink consistency.

Problem Cause Solution
Uneven Ink Coverage Improper ink thickness Use a rheometer, adjust viscosity, maintain stable conditions

5. Ink Drying on Screen

Ink drying too quickly on the screen can lead to clogged mesh, uneven ink deposits, and poor print quality. Here are some tips to prevent this issue:

Adjust Ink Thickness

Thinner inks dry faster. If your ink is drying out quickly, add a thickening agent or retarder to slow down drying time. Use a rheometer to measure and adjust the ink's thickness.

Control Temperature

High temperatures speed up ink drying. Keep your workspace at a stable, moderate temperature. If working in a hot environment, consider using a retarder additive.

Flood the Screen Regularly

Flooding the screen with fresh ink after each print stroke helps prevent the ink from drying out and clogging the mesh. Establish a consistent flooding routine.

Use a Mist Spray Bottle

Keep a spray bottle filled with a fine mist of water or retarder solution nearby. Lightly mist the ink on the screen when it starts to thicken or dry out, without oversaturating the ink.

Rotate the Screen Away from Heat Sources

If using a flash cure unit, rotate the screen away from the heat source between print strokes to avoid premature drying or curing of the ink on the screen.

Maintain Proper Humidity Levels

Low humidity can cause inks to dry out faster. Use a humidifier in your print area to maintain optimal humidity levels and slow down ink drying.

Problem Cause Solution
Ink Drying on Screen Thin ink, high temperature, low humidity Add thickening agent or retarder, control temperature, flood screen, use mist spray, rotate screen, maintain humidity

6. Ink Spreading

Ink spreading happens when the ink is too thin or the squeegee edge is rounded, causing the printed image to bleed or expand beyond the intended stencil area. This can lead to poor print quality and registration problems in multi-color jobs. Here are some solutions:

Use Thicker Ink

Thicker inks are less likely to spread or bleed. Adjust the ink's viscosity by adding a thickening agent or using a higher solid content ink.

Ink Property Ideal Range
Viscosity 18-25 Pa·s
Solid Content 65-75%

Regularly measure and adjust the ink's viscosity and solids content to maintain optimal printing characteristics.

Sharpen Squeegee

A dull or rounded squeegee edge can cause the ink to smear or spread. Ensure your squeegee has a sharp, clean edge by regularly sharpening or replacing it.

1. Inspect the Squeegee Edge

Examine the squeegee edge under good lighting. A dull or nicked edge will cause spreading.

2. Sharpen or Replace the Squeegee

Use a squeegee sharpener or replace the squeegee blade if the edge is excessively worn or damaged.

3. Maintain Squeegee Angle

Maintain the recommended squeegee angle (around 60-75 degrees) for optimal ink transfer and minimal spreading.

7. Leaks, Pinholes, and Bleeds

Leaks, pinholes, and bleeds can ruin your prints. These issues often come from problems with the screen, off-contact distance, or mesh maintenance.

Remake Stencil

An improperly made stencil can cause leaks and pinholes. Ensure the emulsion is evenly applied and properly exposed.

1. Proper Emulsion Application

Use a scoop coater to apply the emulsion evenly on both sides of the screen.

2. Accurate Exposure

Follow the manufacturer's exposure times. Ensure your exposure unit works correctly.

3. Degreasing and Dehazing

Clean the screen thoroughly before applying the emulsion to remove any residue.

Adjust Off-Contact Distance

The gap between the screen and the substrate is crucial. An improper distance can cause ink to seep or create pinholes.

1. Optimal Off-Contact Distance

Set the off-contact distance between 1/16" and 1/8" (1.5 mm to 3 mm).

2. Consistent Pressure

Ensure the screen maintains even pressure across the print area.

3. Substrate Thickness

Adjust the gap based on the thickness of your substrate.

Screen Maintenance

Regular screen maintenance helps prevent leaks, pinholes, and bleeds.

1. Mesh Tension

Keep the mesh properly tensioned to avoid sagging or loose areas.

2. Cleaning and Degreasing

Clean your screens regularly to remove any residual ink or contaminants.

3. Mesh Inspection

Check the mesh for damage or pinholes before printing. Replace damaged screens.

Problem Cause Solution
Leaks, Pinholes, and Bleeds Improper stencil, off-contact distance, poor mesh maintenance Remake stencil, adjust off-contact distance, maintain screen

8. Mottling

Mottling is when your print looks uneven or blotchy. This can happen because of issues with the ink or the surface you're printing on.

Monitor Ink Pigment

  1. Ink Viscosity: If the ink is too thick or too thin, it won't flow evenly. Check and adjust the ink thickness regularly.
  2. Pigment Dispersion: Make sure the ink is well-mixed so the color spreads evenly.
  3. Ink Contamination: Keep the ink clean. Filter it and clean the delivery system to avoid any particles that can cause mottling.

Use Better Substrates

  1. Surface Smoothness: A rough or uneven surface can cause blotchy prints. Use smooth substrates for better results.
  2. Substrate Porosity: If the material absorbs ink unevenly, it can lead to mottling. Choose materials with consistent porosity or apply a primer.
  3. Substrate Cleanliness: Make sure the surface is clean and free of dust or oils before printing.
Problem Cause Solution
Mottling Incorrect ink viscosity, poor pigment dispersion, contaminated ink Adjust ink thickness, mix ink well, filter and clean ink
Mottling Rough or porous substrate, dirty substrate Use smooth and consistent materials, clean the substrate

9. Streaks

Streaks on your screen prints are usually caused by dull or damaged squeegees or flood bars. To fix streaking issues, address these two key components:

Sharpen Squeegee

A dull squeegee edge can leave streaks and uneven ink deposits. Regularly inspect and sharpen your squeegee blades to maintain a crisp, clean edge.

1. Inspect the Squeegee Blade

Check for nicks, dents, or a rounded edge that can cause streaking. Replace severely damaged blades.

2. Sharpen the Squeegee

Use a squeegee sharpener or sharpening stone to carefully grind the squeegee edge to a clean, sharp angle. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for your specific squeegee type.

3. Maintain Squeegee Sharpness

Establish a regular sharpening schedule based on your print volume and ink types. Sharper squeegees provide better ink deposits and reduce streaking.

Inspect Flood Bar

A damaged or uneven flood bar can also cause streaks by improperly distributing the ink across the screen.

1. Check for Nicks or Dents

Examine the flood bar for any nicks, dents, or rough spots that could disrupt the smooth flow of ink.

2. Replace or Smooth Out Imperfections

If the flood bar is severely damaged, replace it. For minor imperfections, use fine-grit sandpaper or a file to carefully smooth out any rough spots.

3. Ensure Proper Flood Bar Height

Adjust the flood bar height to the manufacturer's recommended settings for your specific screen printing setup. An improper height can cause streaking or uneven ink distribution.

Problem Cause Solution
Streaks Dull or damaged squeegee Inspect and sharpen squeegee regularly
Streaks Damaged or uneven flood bar Check for nicks, replace or smooth out imperfections, adjust height

10. Dye Migration

Dye migration happens when printing light-colored inks on darker synthetic fabrics like polyester. The heat from curing can cause the dye in the fabric to bleed into the printed ink, resulting in unwanted color changes. Here are two main solutions:

Use Low-Cure Ink

Low-cure inks are designed to prevent dye migration at lower curing temperatures. These inks cure at around 280°F (137°C) or lower, which is below the temperature where most fabric dyes start to bleed.

  1. Research Ink Brands: Look for inks made for polyester or synthetic fabrics.
  2. Test and Evaluate: Get samples and test them on your fabrics. Check for any dye migration.
  3. Adjust Curing Parameters: Follow the ink manufacturer's guidelines for curing temperatures and times.

Extended Curing

If low-cure inks are not an option, you can cure standard plastisol ink at a lower temperature for a longer time.

  1. Lower Curing Temperature: Reduce the curing temperature to around 280°F (137°C) or lower.
  2. Increase Dwell Time: Extend the time the garments spend in the curing oven.
  3. Monitor and Adjust: Watch the curing process and make adjustments as needed.
Problem Cause Solution
Dye Migration Heat causes dye to bleed into ink Use low-cure ink, extend curing time at lower temperature


Screen printing is a widely-used technique, but it comes with its own set of challenges. By understanding common problems and their solutions, you can improve print quality and achieve consistent results.

Key Points

Key Points
Mesh Selection: Choose the right mesh count for your project.
Ink Viscosity: Adjust ink thickness to prevent issues like blurry edges and ink spreading.
Curing Parameters: Follow recommended curing temperatures and times to avoid dye migration.
Clean Work Environment: Keep your workspace and equipment clean to prevent contamination.
Regular Maintenance: Inspect and maintain your equipment regularly.
Best Practices: Follow best practices throughout the prepress, printing, and post-printing processes.
Stay Updated: Keep up with industry advancements and best practices.
Continuous Learning: Be open to learning and improving your skills.

Tips for Success

  • Mesh Selection: Use the right mesh count for your specific project to ensure proper ink flow and detail.
  • Ink Viscosity: Regularly check and adjust the ink thickness to match the requirements of your print job.
  • Curing Parameters: Follow the ink manufacturer's guidelines for curing temperatures and times to prevent issues like dye migration.
  • Clean Work Environment: Maintain a clean workspace to avoid contamination that can affect print quality.
  • Regular Maintenance: Inspect and maintain your screens, squeegees, and other equipment to ensure they are in good condition.
  • Best Practices: Adhere to best practices throughout the entire screen printing process, from prepress to post-printing.
  • Stay Updated: Keep yourself informed about the latest industry trends and techniques by attending workshops and collaborating with experienced professionals.
  • Continuous Learning: Embrace a mindset of continuous learning and improvement to enhance your screen printing skills.


Why is my screen printing patchy?

Patchy screen printing can happen due to:

Cause Solution
Uneven Screen Tension Ensure consistent tension across the mesh screen.
Squeegee Pressure Variation Apply even pressure with the squeegee.
Worn Screens or Stencils Replace damaged or worn screens and stencils.
Improper Ink Viscosity Adjust ink thickness to ensure smooth flow.

Why is screen printing not working?

Screen printing may fail due to:

Cause Solution
Screen Tension Issues Maintain proper screen tension.
Stencil or Emulsion Problems Ensure correct exposure and application of emulsion.
Incorrect Off-Contact Distance Set the right off-contact distance.
Ink Viscosity Issues Adjust ink thickness for smooth flow.
Contamination or Debris Keep screens and substrates clean.

What causes bleeding in screen printing?

Bleeding can be caused by:

Cause Solution
Emulsion Breakdown Ensure proper curing and compatible ink.
Excessive Ink Use the right amount of ink.
Improper Off-Contact Distance Set the correct off-contact distance.
Low Screen Tension Maintain proper screen tension.

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