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How and When to Use Capillary Film

Some in the industry will recommend the use of capillary film for all your garment printing needs. As with all the tools available to us today in the world of screen printing, this emulsion product is not the one and only cure-all product, but it has its place in our bag of screen prep tricks.

Dry emulsion on a clear acetate carrier sheet is known as capillary film. This product comes in either cut sheets or on a roll. Capillary film is extremely easy to use to apply and can save you time when your in a real crunch to turn around a screen.

To apply, cut your capillary film to the size needed. Wet a screen with water and press the capillary film (dull side toward the screen) onto the bottom or print side of the screen. The smart step here is to first degrease the screen, rinse, and then immediately apply the capillary film to the mesh.

During the degeasing step prepping for capillary film application, you should use an abrader as opposed to just a detergent degreaser. An abrader will rough-up the mesh (like sandpaper) so that the capillary film with adhere better to a single side of the mesh. Abraders are not necessary when using a traditional wet emulsion, because the coating of both sides of the screen will cause the emulsion to hold to itself through the mesh.

Take the screen with the capillary film applied and lay it onto a few sheets of newsprint on a flat surface – newsprint first, capillary film, and then the screen mesh. Take a clean squeegee and pull it across the inside or ink side of the screen, pressing firmly so that the capillary film adheres to the mesh. If the screen does not appear wet enough or the capillary film is not adhering evenly, spray water on the inside of the screen and capillary film with a pump spray bottle. You can tell if you have uneven adhesion if you see white or light colored areas where the capillary film has not attached to the screen mesh.

As mentioned, many instructors in this industry recommend new printers always use this product because of its ease of use. The real advantage of this product is in sharp edged graphics on decals, bumper stickers, glassware, etc. (Yes, you can print all these things in a screen printing shop!) Some printers will also use capillary film for small left chest images, etc. where only a small area of emulsion is needed. If you’re crunched for time, capillary film can be dried and ready to be exposed very quickly. And if you opt to print with a high density ink, a thick capillary film is required.

The great disadvantage of capillary film is losing parts of letters like the centers of “O’s” and “E’s” during printing. You may also see edges of graphics starting to peel away during a print run. Capillary film works well for short runs, but long runs (100 or more garments) can easily be held up while you try to fix or re-burn a screen.

So for short runs or for printing on hard surface substrates, capillary film may be your answer. But for longer garment runs, stick with direct coating your screens with a wet emulsion.


Terry Combs is a 30+ year veteran of the screen printing industry. He is an industry teacher and consultant through the website TerryCombs.com, offering hands on and online classes. And, he is the owner of the screen printing supply company, GarmentDecoratingSupply.com.​
 

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Thank you for this information. I have been using wet emulsion and struggling with all the time it takes to dry, burn and dry for short runs. Wasn't sure if capillary film was worth it, but I am going to give it a go!

Can you double up the film like you can double coat wet emulsion?

Thanks.
 

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im new to capillary film, do you expose it the same was as an emulsion screen?. so after its exposed you would normal wash the emulsion screen to remove the un-exposed emulsion, im guessing you dont do that with cap film...if not how do you go from a solid film coverd screen to a negative ready for printing?
 
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