Proper care and maintenance for all of your screen printing equipment and tools is crucial. This is especially true of squeegees, as they are perhaps the most essential tool for screen printers. The squeegee is what actually puts ink onto your T-shirt. Whether you print manually or with an automatic, keeping your squeegee in good condition does not take a stroke of genius. Following is some basic, common sense advice that will help ensure that your prints look good and your squeegee lasts.
1. Clean the ink off your squeegee when done printing. Ink can damage squeegee rubber. You do not want one color left on your squeegee blade mixing with the color you are about to print. Even if you are like most shops and dedicate a squeegee to a particular color, it is still important to clean off the ink. Not only does dried ink prevent you from printing properly, but it can also do long term damage. Over time, the chemicals in your plastisol (or water-based) ink get absorbed by the squeegee material. This can cause swelling of the squeegee blade and degradation of the squeegee, preventing you from being able to push ink through the stencil and onto the shirt.
2. When cleaning off ink, do not make the mistake of soaking your squeegee blade in chemicals or leave wet rags on the squeegee. The squeegee material will start to absorb the chemical liquid. As it does, the squeegee will swell and get soft. You will have a hard time getting ink through your screen and find your squeegee blade way too soft to use. This means either replacing the entire squeegee or changing out the blade.
3. Once clean, put your squeegee away in a safe spot. Keep it out of direct sunlight and do not store and stack it on the squeegee blade. Some printers make the mistake of standing their squeegees up on the rubber, which can prematurely degrade the rubber.
4. Finally, keep your squeegee blade sharp. Over time, the edge of your squeegee blade will wear down, and a sharp edge will become more rounded. The result is a degradation of your print quality. Options for sharpening your squeegee vary. If you own a squeegee sharpener, you can sharpen your own squeegee blade. Since most shops do not have a sharpener, any reliable screen-printing supply manufacturer can sharpen manual or automatic squeegees.
After a while, you will not be able to keep sharpening the squeegee material. At this point, you will need to either replace the squeegee material or get a new squeegee. If you, like most printers, have standard hand squeegees, it typically makes the most economic sense to get a new squeegee. If you have a hand squeegee with telescoping bolts, you can replace the squeegee material. Automatic squeegees are more expensive than hand squeegees. If you have an automatic squeegee, you will probably choose to change the rubber. Rather than install the squeegee rubber yourself, it is often easier to have the manufacturer install the squeegee rubber in an automatic squeegee.
Following this recommended squeegee care routine will keep your manual and automatic squeegees printing well for a long time. A well cared for squeegee makes for a smoother, better print, which keeps your customers happy.