When you take up screen printing, you realize just how many factors go into creating great prints press run after press run. If you feel like you’re doing everything right but still end up with frequent misprints, smudges and other problems, it might help to take a look at some of the most common mistakes rookie screen printers make. It’s worth asking yourself: Are some of these mistakes interfering with your prints?

1. Not taking the time to fine-tune your skills

The basic screen printing process is simple: Fill a stenciled screen with ink, pull a squeegee over the screen to lay down a print and cure the ink. But there’s a lot of detail that goes into creating quality prints. While you might have mastered the basics, how much time have you put in to fine-tuning your screen printing skills? Fine tune your screen printing skills by taking classes or workshops, apprenticing with a more experienced screen printer, watching how-to videos, reading up on techniques and practicing your craft. And don’t just focus on the printing itself. Learning how to produce better artwork and better stencils will improve your final prints.

2. Following the manufacturer’s instructions without further testing

Of course you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for exposing emulsion, mixing ink, curing ink, right? You would think that you can’t go wrong by following the manufacturer’s instructions, but the curing times, exposing times and ink thinning recommendations are only general guidelines. When you introduce a new product, or a new piece of equipment, into your shop, you need to test it out. Due to your shop’s environmental conditions, the age and strength of bulbs in your exposure unit, the temperature distribution in your conveyor dryer and many other factors, it’s not enough to follow instructions to the letter. You’ll need some trial and error to figure out what methods and settings work best for your print jobs.

3. Always using the same equipment and tools

In screen printing, there are go-to tools and equipment. You can do quite a bit with the same mesh count screens, the same ink and the same squeegees. Where rookies often tend to go wrong is that they rely solely on these basics, rather than branching out to find the best tools, equipment and inks for a particular job. In particular, it helps to know which mesh counts, types of squeegees and ink types are best suited to each type of print and each type of substrate.

4. Ignoring screen printing best practices

It’s surprising how big of an impact small practices in your shop can have on your prints. Loose pallets or print heads can blur prints or lead to faulty registration. A dusty press can create pinholes and ruin your prints. Not regulating the air flow or humidity levels in your shop can affect how inks and emulsions cure. Ignoring shop best practices, even when they seem relatively minor, can lead to major misprints and even frustration over prints that just don’t every turn out quite right. Keep your shop clean. Have weekly maintenance procedures in place for your press, and make sure pallets and screen heads are tight before every press run. Remember to perform regular equipment checks to make sure screen tension is at the right level and that squeegees are free from nicks. Always perform a test run of every project before you roll into production. These simple measures can help you prevent major problems with your screen prints.

5. Not networking with other screen printers

There is a strong screen printing community there to help you out if you need it. Equipment and ink suppliers, screen printing veterans and even shops you may see as competition generally all want to support you and see you become a successful screen printer. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t make a point of networking within the screen printing community. Fellow screen printers can help you troubleshoot problems, make recommendations about equipment and supplies and provide help with a job, whether you need to borrow a gallon of ink or you need to outsource a job because you’re beyond capacity. Becoming part of the screen printing community can help you succeed in your craft and in your business.

While these common screen printing mistakes can hold rookies back from producing top-notch screen prints, the good news about mistakes is that you can learn from them. When you know better, you can print better. Eliminating these rookie mistakescan help you move beyond “rookie” status in your screen printing.