How to Remove Ink From Silkscreen

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Designing original artwork and transferring the concept onto T-shirts or other silhouettes are rewarding experiences for any artist. Keeping materials free from silkscreen ink after use and cleaning the screening tools extend the life of the silkscreen frame, ink, mixing sticks and squeegee. The ink type dictates the method required to remove the ink from the tools. Water-based inks, frequently used for textiles, generally dry faster than other ink types during the screening process. Cleaning screens with mild detergents, soft brushes and water frees the tools from ink, allowing you to reuse the items for the next project.

Things You'll Need

  • Squeegee
  • Ink container
  • Old newspapers
  • Drop cloth (optional)
  • Water
  • Latex or rubber gloves
  • Mild dishwashing detergent
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Mineral spirits
  • Old rags
  • Paint thinner

Water-Based Ink Removal

  • Remove excess ink from the screen with the squeegee by tilting the screen at a 45-degree angle. Tilting forces the excess ink to roll to the angled end, referred to as the ink well.

  • Pour the excess ink from one corner of the ink well into the ink container. Reuse the ink for your next project. Keep the table covered with old newspapers or drop cloth used during screening to prevent any ink spills from damaging the workspace.

  • Repeat the process of passing the squeegee from one end of the screen to the opposite end. Gently push any leftover ink into the ink well once again and pour the excess into the ink container.

  • Run warm water over the screen in a side-to-side motion. Wear latex or rubber gloves to protect your hands from any ink running off from the frame.

  • Flip the screen over and repeat the rinsing with warm water. Flip the screen over again. Lightly coat the screen with mild dishwashing detergent.

  • Brush the detergent into the screen by applying light pressure in a side-to-side motion. Use a soft bristle brush. Avoid applying heavy pressure in areas where the ink has caked or dried to prevent the brush from piercing the screen. Continue to repeat steps 6 and 7 until the detergent loosens the ink.

  • Allow the screen to dry a minimum of 24 hours. Hold the screen in front of a bright light, referred to as the light test, to view any leftover caked ink within the mesh holes. The finer the mesh fabric within the screen the harder it is to detect dried ink. Bear in mind, if you leave ink in the silkscreen, the ink will not pass through the screen for your next project.

Oil-Based and Plastisol Ink Removal

  • Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 from the previous section.

  • Pour mineral spirits into an old rag. Rub the rag on the screen gently in a circular as well as side-to-side motion. If paint continues to lodge in between the mesh, pour a small amount of paint thinner into the rag and rub gently into the screen.

  • Repeat steps 4 through 8 from the previous section. Oil- or plastisol-based inks are often challenging to remove. It is best to perform this process immediately after screen printing to avoid paint drying or caking into the fine mesh.

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