Getting to know the right kind of emulsion specifically for your purpose is the key to finding the best emulsion for screen printing. There is no guesswork or shortcut here. And that’s why we’re here providing you a bird’s eye view of the options you’re going to face on the market.
A bit of introductory info, there are at least three kinds of emulsions for screen printing. In case you know what they are, then you’re halfway there. If you don’t, then keep on reading. This article will give you short and concise know-how about emulsions and their features.
What Is Screen Printing Emulsion?
Screen printing emulsion is a kind of liquid that’s sensitive to light or capillary-direct films that you coat on the screen fabric. It works much like plastisol inks. It’s a photographic emulsion consisting of a liquid in another liquid in a colloidal form. You’ll feel a gel-like substance when you touch it.
There are three types of emulsions, and they are Diazo emulsion, SBQ-based emulsion, and Dual-cure emulsion. Each of them comes in different forms and densities, and they also have different uses.
How do emulsions work? It’s simple. You just lay out the emulsion liquid on the mesh screen. Then you make the design you desire on it with either UV-blocking ink or clear acetate.
Then it goes under a UV light, and there the Emulsion substance gets activated by UV light. All of the emulsion hardens except the part where you used a UV blocker to create the design.
Now, take your target object you’re going to print the design on and press the design on the object, and it’s done.
Our 6 Best Screen Printing Emulsion Reviews
To make your screen printing journey smoother here’s listed some of the best emulsions out there. Have a look and choose the one that suits you.
1. Ecotex WR-Blue Water Resistant Textile Diazo Screen Printing Emulsion (Gallon)
It’s the product of Screen Print Direct, a well-known face in the screen printing industry. For smaller projects, this could be the best screen printing emulsion for the price one’s paying for it. It could come in handy for the beginners, too with the proper and easy instructions to be followed.
This has a Diazo sensitizer included in the pack. It comes ready to use just by following simple instructions given with it.
To have a better working experience after the emulsion is sensitized distilled water is required while mixing the diazo. This gallon-sized emulsion can be used repeatedly too. It can be sensitized as small batches to work with the small requirement at a given time.
It has a shelf life of 10-12 months if stored as instructed in a cold place along with the lid on tight to preserve light and air leaks. However, it is to be kept in mind that any emulsion which reaches the point of freezing cannot be used properly. With heat, the emulsion breaks down much faster.
It is an industrial-grade emulsion which is highly resistant to water and plastisol based inks. This is also suitable for a long print run. In that case, an emulsion hardener is suggested to extend the life of your stencil. Make sure to use appropriate application techniques for better results.
This emulsion can be reclaimed by using emulsion remover. To expose this emulsion with a 500-watt bulb, it takes between 3-5 minutes. But an exposure calculator is needed for an accurate time for ones set up to obtain the ultimate results. More water is required to develop an image.
- Exposure time is 3-5 minutes with a 500-watt bulb
- Shelf life is about 10 months
- Easy instructions and perfect for beginners
- Industrial grade emulsion
2. Speedball Art Products 4559 Diazo Photo Emulsion Kit
For creating detailed or photographic stencils for screen printing, this is one of the best photo emulsion for screen printing out there. This pack contains 6.6oz Diazo photo emulsion, 2.12gm Diazo sensitizer, 8oz Diazo photo emulsion remover, and instructions to go with.
Furthermore, the emulsion needs to be activated by using the given sensitizer with the kit. The sensitizer needs to be brought in the right consistency by adding water (distilled water is recommended) before mixing with the emulsion, as this is a very thick oil.
Moreover, the emulsion is bright blue. After mixing the sensitizer properly with it, the finished color will be grassy green. That indicates it is activated and good to go for use.
The rest of the emulsion can be stored after using a small portion of it. If it is stored properly in a cool space and the lid on tight according to the manufacturer’s instructions, this product may last for approximately 4 months to come.
It can be used for different screen printing methods and is quite handy for computer-generated images, fine line working, detailed lettering works for any artists with great expectations.
This product ‘conforms to ASTM D-4236’. Which means all the potentially hazardous components (if any) in this product is labeled clearly on the packaging. A board-certified toxicologist has evaluated this product. So before using its instructions must be read.
This product also allows users to work with any water-soluble or solved based ink. Dark rooms or light safe environment is not mandatory while working with this emulsion. As working under normal light will keep it from permanent exposure.
- Product conforms to the rules of ASTM-4236
- Shelf life about 4 months
- Comes with emulsion remover and sensitizer
- A great option for computer-generated images
3. Jacquard Photo Emulsion & Diazo 8oz
The photo emulsion is a light-sensitive one. This emulsion burns the stencils directly for good quality photo imaging. It shows great potential in halftones and high detailed works for photos, lettering, and logos to work with.
Furthermore, it is durable enough for beginners and in long run for the professionals too. This spreads nicely and dries easily. It is easy enough to reclaim from the screen by just using diluted bleach. Fancy emulsion removers are not required for this one. It is highly water-resistant.
A diazo sensitizer comes along with the pack. The sensitizer bottle needs to be filled half with (distilled) water first like others. After applying the sensitizer with the emulsion, it needs to be stirred enough so that the color becomes a single saturated one. That is an indicator of activation.
It’s recommended that it should be kept at rest for 1-2 hours with the lid on before using it.
Furthermore, it does not require any fancy dark room or light-controlled environment. Coat the screen with the emulsion and let it dry away from the light before exposing it. Removing the extra emulsion off the screen is easy too.
Moreover, this emulsion also ‘conforms to ASTM D-4236’. It should be kept away from the children. Work with proper ventilation. Always try to be aware of getting any contact with this emulsion to your eyes and skin while working with it.
Keep it stored in a cool dark place for longer shelf life. After activating with the sensitizer, it can be used later on, too, if followed the instructions from the manufacturers. It comes in two handy size packs. Select the right amount to work with according to your requirements.
- ASTMD-4236 certified
- Diazo sensitizer is included
- Light-sensitive emulsion
- Good choice for beginners
4. Ecotex LED Textile Pure Photopolymer Screen Printing Emulsion Quart
This photopolymer is specially formulated with a special photoinitiator that works great with LED exposure units. It does not require any special sensitizer as it comes pre-sensitized and ready to work from the very beginning.
It is perfect for all-purpose solvent-based and plastisol based inks. Works great as it is water-resistant too.
Moreover, it is clean, degreased that’s why easy to coat and gives freedom while working with it as a newbie in this screen printing world. An appropriate application for screen printing is suggested.
It has an excellent print definition on any mesh. Durable enough for long runs, and it’s practically pinhole-free while providing a wide exposure window and very quick exposure time for LED units.
Great chemical resistance is claimed by the manufacturers. Approximate exposure time for different mesh and color is provided in the package, but performing an exposure test with an exposure calculator can result in better for individual setups.
This product is recommended to handle under yellow safelight or low wattage tungsten lights. Direct exposure to day-light or quarts/halogen lamps will not result in good for this type of emulsions.
While applying the emulsion, one or two coats on the substrate side and another one or two coats on the squeegee side of the screen are prescribed. A temperature of a maximum of 400 C or 1040 F is good for dying the screen in a dust-free light safe area.
It has a 12 months-long shelf life and should be kept in a cooled dark place away from direct day-light exposure. But not that cold enough so that it reaches the freezing point. Before handling it, instructions given in the product should be read.
- Perfect for solvent-based and plastisol based inks
- Clean and degreased
- Very quick exposure even under LED light
5. Ecotex DC Pink Textile Dual Cure Screen Printing Emulsion Quart
This one is specially designed for graphic water-based, UV, and plastisol based ink systems. It is an all-purpose dual-core textile emulsion that requires additional diazo sensitizer to make it active. The package comes with a quart-size emulsion.
Diazo should be mixed with distilled water and then apply to the emulsion. Proper mixing should be done for a better result after activation. The emulsion should be left for rest for hours so that the bubbles can settle down, which has formed during the mixing.
It has a shelf life of 12 months, and after activation with the diazo, it can be used for a month or more depending on the follow up of proper storage instructions.
This emulsion practically has no pinhole. Can be used for the long run, but emulsion hardener is recommended in that case like other products of this same manufacturer.
It has a great print definition on any mesh. Provides heavy coating and holds the image resulting in a finer output. It has a quick exposure time, especially in LED units like about 2 minutes. Under a tungsten lamp, it can be exposed at a quick rate.
Handling of this emulsion should be done under yellow safelight or low wattage tungsten lights. Direct contact with day-light or any UV light is strictly prohibited.
For coating and dying the screen, it results better if treated in a dark dart-free place having a temperature of a maximum of 400 C or 1040 F. After exposure, it changes color.
Inexperienced printers can also try their journey with this emulsion. Reclaiming the emulsion can easily be done by the emulsion remover. Proper ventilation and careens are required while handling it.
- Long shelf-life of 12 months
- Quick exposure time
- Good choice for inexperienced users
- Especially for water-based, UV, and plastisol based ink
6. Ecotex PWR Pre-Sensitized Water Resistant Screen Printing Emulsion (1 Pint)
This particular pink emulsion is a pure photopolymer emulsion that comes pre-sensitized and powerful for many reasons than others. It leaves behind the complexity of mixing the diazo sensitizer to activate it and is deemed suitable for any type of user.
Additionally, it comes in an economical size 1 pint, which means one-eighth of a gallon, which is handy for small projects and don’t come with the additional responsibilities for storage in a particular way to keep the extra emulsion for further use. It still has a long shelf life of about 12 months.
It is a water-resistant formula that can be used with both water-based and plastisol based ink systems. With an ultra-fast exposing time, it offers high durability. In the long run, it can be used too.
Furthermore, it also has an excellent print definition on any type of mesh. It is always better to follow appropriate techniques to apply the emulsion.
Under LED units it can be exposed in just 12 seconds while having a fast exposing time under tungsten light too. A chart of exposing time for different mesh and color is given along with it.
It should be kept in mind that working with this emulsion requires a yellow light environment where no direct day-light or UV lights is not expected. Like many other emulsions, the coating and drying of the screen also demand a cold dust-free environment.
A properly exposed and developed screen using this emulsion will not leave any residue on the squeegee side of the screen. Reclaiming the emulsion requires emulsion remover that makes the job easier. Like every other emulsion, this should be handled carefully as written on the product.
- Comes pre-sensitized
- Includes water-resistant formula
- Needs only 12 seconds of exposure
- High durability
- Long shelf-life of 12 months
Factors to Consider While Buying Emulsion for Screen Printing
To understand which emulsion is the best for your screen printing job, you need to know the properties of them. When you know which does what, it becomes easy to find out the one you’re looking for. There are some criteria for this process to be successful and it’s been laid out before you below.
Understand the Science Behind It
In simple terms, an emulsion for screen printing is a thick liquid substance that is used to print designs on any object of your preference. It’s almost jelly-like in touch.
Moreover, it contains usually two polymers: Polyvinyl acetate, also known as PVAC, and Polyvinyl Alcohol or PVOH. The first one is water-resistant, and the second one is solvent-resistant. Some emulsions can have features of both the polymers.
Every emulsion will dry when it shrinks, and it does so according to the threads of the screen, and it wraps around the threads. One caveat is that if the emulsion is too thin, it will break apart and create perforations all over the screen.
A low solid percentage in an emulsion is very prone to this phenomenon. So look for emulsions with 35%-40% solid content.
Some lower quality emulsions are made to look like high solid emulsion by using inert fillers, which is simply contamination. Beware of these kinds of emulsions.
There are mostly three types of screen printing emulsions.
- Diazo Aka Benzene Diazonium, it’s light-reactive
- Styryl Basolium Quaternary Salt (SBQ)
- Dual Cure
We’ve included each type in our review category as each of them has some advantages in terms of exposure time, shelf life, and durability.
Knowing the exposure time of emulsions is paramount, as it will directly affect the quality of your printing. The lowest time needed for exposure among the three is the photo-sensitive SBQ emulsion.
It comes pre-sensitized, which helps greatly. The slowest to reach the correct exposure is the diazo-only emulsion, and Dual cure comes right in between the two.
If you didn’t know, then know that emulsions can differ greatly in terms of shelf life depending on what type of emulsion it is. According to the manufacturers, Dual Cure Diazo emulsion lasts only for a month, whereas any SBQ photopolymer emulsions can last as long as 12 months.
Diazo-only emulsions have a much higher shelf life of 3 years. The duration gets highly reduced when you activate them. But you can increase the shelf life by keeping them at a very low temperature.
In terms of costing, Diazo emulsions are the cheapest of them, and SBQ-based emulsions noticeably cost much higher. You can see the price mostly depends on the quality and the amount of solid content, as well as on the fact that it comes pre-sensitized or not.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How long should emulsion need to dry?
It depends on the ambient temperature and relative humidity. The main thing is to dry out the water in the emulsion coating. You can use a dehumidifier or heat to do it. In a setting where you have 21C and 50% humidity, you’ll need around one hour for it to dry.
2. Do you use emulsion on both sides of the screen?
Yes, it’s better to use emulsion on both sides of the screen to get the best results. First, do the substrate side and then do the inkwell side. What it does is that it makes sure that enough emulsion is present on the substrate side.
3. Should I dry emulsion with hairdryers?
That’s a very bad idea. And there are reasons for that. You can’t focus on the whole surface area with a hairdryer, which will hinder an even drying process. You’ll have some areas drier than others. Another reason is that uncured emulsions don’t like heat above 85 degrees.
4. Do I need a darkroom to do this?
You don’t necessarily need an isolated darkroom for this purpose, although it does share some similarities with photography.
5. What will happen if I overexpose the screen?
If you overexpose the screen, then your object won’t receive enough ink through the screen. The result is poor detail, and the design will be less durable.
Finally, we’re at the end of our review and buying guide. We hope you got everything you wished for and found the best emulsion for screen printing that suits your purpose. If you have fixated your eyes on one, then don’t hesitate and click on it. You won’t look back at the decision you made.