The type of platen used in screen printing is often overlooked. While the standard wood sixteen-inch platen is usually sufficient, you can upgrade to aluminum or honeycomb platens based on your specific needs. Here’s a guide to explain the variations in platen types.
A platen is a board or surface used for printing garments of various types (e.g., pockets, t-shirts, legs, youth, koozies, etc.). Screen printers should have a selection of platens in stock to accommodate different garments. Wood platens are cost-effective, customizable, and practical for less frequently printed items such as koozies, pockets, and legs.
Wood platens are cost-effective, customizable, and practical for infrequently printed garments like koozies, pockets, and legs.
However, wood platens have long-term drawbacks. With repeated use, they warp, resulting in a bumpy, rippled, or sloped surface. Moisture and heat cause the wood to contract and expand. If you plan to use the same platens year after year, consider aluminum platens for their durability.
Aluminum platens are pricier but offer a thinner profile and superior durability compared to wood platens. The machined aluminum results in an exceptionally smooth surface and edges, making them "snagless" in contrast to wood platens.
Smooth edges on a platen provide two advantages. Firstly, they enhance efficiency by preventing fibers from getting snagged or caught, which can slow down loading speeds. Secondly, the flat, smooth surface plus a rubber top layer enables higher design detail compared to wood platens. The best part is that aluminum platens remain warp-free over time, allowing worry-free printing of intricate designs.
Aluminum platens are more cost-effective in the long run, but proper care is crucial. Avoid leaning on or mistreating them to maintain their durability.
Consider the honeycomb platen before rushing to buy aluminum platens. Honeycomb platens feature aluminum plates on top and bottom with a waffle pattern in-between. This design allows for faster heating and cooling, and it is lighter due to air particles moving between the plates. Honeycomb platens offer similar stability to aluminum platens but with increased efficiency.
Note that honeycomb platens are currently limited to the Riley Hopkins 350 Press and automatic presses.
WHEN IS IT TIME TO UPGRADE?
Wood platens have been widely used in screen printing for years. Whether to upgrade or not depends on your specific needs for flexibility and precision.
If you frequently use flash colors, engage in print-flash-print processes, or subject your platens to prolonged and frequent heat exposure, the lifespan of wood platens decreases rapidly. Replace a platen if it shows signs of corner dipping, raising, or surface ripples. Wood platens can degrade within six months to a year with heavy flashing. If you value your hard work, consider treating yourself to a set of aluminum platens.
If you don't heavily utilize flashing and your wood platens are performing well, there's no need to strain your budget by investing in aluminum platens.
While wood platens may not warp immediately, it's inevitable that you'll need to replace or upgrade them eventually. Many printers regret not investing in aluminum platens earlier in their careers. Assess your process and determine if switching to aluminum platens is right for you and your shop.