Screen printing expert Tony Palmer tells you everything you need to know about squeegees
It’s easy to overlook squeegees, even though these fundamental tools of our trade are arguably one of the most important weapons in any screen printer’s arsenal. Used to push ink cleanly through the mesh, they have two basic variables which both have dramatic results on print quality – from the amount of ink deposited to the clarity of the detail, and also the amount of ‘pick-up’ from the previous ink deposits in a multi-colour print run…
Squeegees are often overlooked, even though they have a direct effect on print quality
A composite squeegee blade, made from three blades sandwiched together

Blade profile

A blade profile isn’t something we find on social media, nor is it something that old blades post online in a vain attempt to be swiped right by an admiring stencil looking for love! The profile is the edge and shape of a blade — and these can range from traditional square to v-shaped and even the old favourite ‘bull nose’, which is fully rounded.

Square profile A square profile is the garment decorator’s preferred shape as it provides a small and precise edge to give controllable deposits of ink. It’s great for an even coverage and high detail reproduction.

V profile The V profile will give a very precise edge, but lacks the ability to create solid coverage without bending too flat. It’s great for high-detail work on light colour shirts. However, it’s not a personal favourite of mine as it doesn’t give enough coverage for the average garment decoration.

Half-rounded profile A half-rounded blade is not used as much now, but was a great tool for water-based inks to achieve that perfect soft feel and depth of colour. These were used as a flood bar in the early days, but I don’t find many printers still using this practice – it may have been forgotten with the influx of plastisol, or the combinations of different squeegee and flood blades may have proven too much to document for repeat jobs.

Rounded profile The rounded edge of the bull nose will give great coverage, but lacks the finesse of a sharp edge and won’t create sharp-edged detail. This is a great blade when used in the correct circumstances. Whites, glitters and some foil adhesives can achieve fantastic coverage with this rubber but, as always, the trade-off between coverage and detail comes into play here – the coverage is greatly increased, but the ability to keep clean, crisp detail is reduced.

Changing blades

The edge of the blade is the only part of the squeegee that comes into contact with the stencil, in the same way that the edge of a windscreen wiper touches the glass.

If the wiper blade on your car isn’t sharp, has nicks in or is degraded, it no longer performs its primary task – you’re left with a streaky windscreen until you replace the blade.

Nothing last forever: changing a damaged blade can deliver an instant improvement in print quality

But when the blade in your squeegee displays the same tendencies and no longer cleans the screen of ink, do you immediately replace the rubber? Probably not. I’ve heard many reasons for not doing this, including “it’s too expensive”, “it’s too difficult” and, my absolute favourite, “this is my favourite squeegee, I’ve had it for 10 years I’m not changing it now”! Blades aren’t indestructible, and they aren’t meant to last forever. Changing a blade is really a lot simpler than you imagine and the results are instant.

Shore

The shore of a blade describes its hardness or stiffness, and how much it bends. Blades are manufactured in a variety of grades; most garment printers use a mixture of three from 65 to 85. These numbers relate to the amount of force required to bend the blade across two measured points; the higher the number, the more force is needed, so the higher the number, the harder the blade.

65 shore is often coloured red and comes as standard with a new machine purchase unless you state otherwise. This is a great, flexible blade giving a good deposit, and ideal for whites through low mesh counts.

A red 65 shore blade often comes as standard with a new machine purchase

75 shore is usually green and referred to as a medium. This is my go-to blade – as the name suggests, it’s middle of the road and can be used on everything from white to high-detail CMYK work.

85 shore is usually blue and referred to as hard. This blade isn’t found often, but can be the solution to a problem job when too much ink is applied using a medium blade and reducing the usual parameters doesn’t help. The hard blade gives minimum ink deposit, but comes with other problems. In multi-colour jobs it will ‘rip off’ previously printed colours when used late in the sequence, so it needs to be used only early on in the sequence or after a flashed colour.

Composite blades are made from three blades sandwiched together. These can give fantastic results on high-tension, high-mesh counts as they utilise the soft edge of a 65 blade with the rigidity of a 90 running through the middle to prevent the blade bending too much and losing the all-important edge.

Sharp-edge blades have been re-sharpened to achieve the new-blade feel of a squeegee. This practice, was very popular on the long, expensive blades of the graphics industry, where a pristine blade was absolutely necessary. I must admit to a strange satisfaction in working a nicked or rounded blade back to its new ‘fresh out of the box’ feeling, but the danger with reworking a blade is that you can end up with a significantly shorter blade which limits the amount of pressure and travel you can apply to a print. I recently explained to a print shop owner that the economics of paying someone to shave his blades, taking into account the possibilities of ruining the blade compared to the relatively inexpensive cost of a new blade, didn’t quite work out. Little did I know the salesman who asked me to speak to him had just sold him a blade sharpener! So, here is my back-pedal disclaimer: as in all screen printing, personal preference is key. There is no wrong and no right, just the informed decision and personal choice.

Squeegees made from recycled skateboards. How cool!

When George Rocha, owner of Iris Skateboards in San Francisco, first started screen printing his recycled skateboards, he used a conventional squeegee to produce his designs. George, whose colourful, one-of-a-kind boards contain the wood from over 20 skateboards, says: “It got the job done, but I knew a squeegee made from recycled skateboards would not only look better, but I could also tweak the shape a little to make it more ergonomically functional.” 
Iris squeegees are made from recycled skateboards [credit: Rachael Rothstein]

Seven years on, George now sells about a dozen of his recycled skateboard squeegees each week. “I like to think they are pretty popular,” he says. “People really love working with them. I take pride in making each one by hand, so I consider everyone who buys one part of the Iris family.” George makes the squeegees in the same way that he makes all of his other recycled skateboard products. “I collect used skateboard decks from local shops, strip them down and glue them up,” he explains. “I’m a printer myself, and I originally made them for my own, and my friends’, personal use. They have an authentic, beautiful look, and they are slimmed down for a comfortable ergonomic feel. They are also sealed for easy clean up when the job is done.” Iris squeegees are available in 6”, 9”, 12”, 14”, 16”, with 60 and 70 durometer blades. “Custom sizes are available to order with any durometer blade that you like,” says George. “No size is too big or too small.” Iris squeegees cost around $8- $9 (approximately £6.50-£7.30) per inch, and are available to order online from the Iris website.

www.irisskateboards.com

Tony Palmer has been in the garment decoration industry for over 30 years and is now an independent print consultant working closely with print shops to get the most from existing processes and techniques. Tony is passionate about keeping and enhancing production skill levels within the industry. He is the owner and consultant at Palmprint Consultants, offering practical help and assistance to garment decorators all over the globe.

www.palmprintuk.com