I am curious to know if any screen printers have tried using a CNC laser engraving machine to fuse the screen mesh together with heat in areas where it should be blocked out, instead of the typical methods involving photo-emulsion? My understanding is that the majority of screen printing mesh is made from woven nylon, and nylon is easily heat-welded. A laser engraver should be able to handle this task, with the right adjustment of output power etc.
Is this idea worth pursuing?
I’ve actually tried this.
I worked from 2008-2010 as one of the primary Laser Technicians at the Gulfstream Center at Savannah College of Art and Design. I would operate and maintain the Laser for student work requests. I was asked on a few occasions to try this out on some pre-stretched screen.
We ruined a few screens getting the technique down to something that would work. Ultimately, the student decided that the process was too labor intensive to work for their purposes.
There are two primary modes for the laser I worked with:
One was a vector mode that would follow a path from a vector file.
Since the laser would follow each path in the design (Engraving or
cutting), this method could take a very long time to recreate
The other mode was a raster mode where the laser would track left
to right etching the design from the top down in rows about one
millimeter at a time. This was the setting that ultimately worked for
Additionally, I had found that the actual engraving surface gets hot enough to warp thin and fragile materials – so I masked it (you could use Frisket, contact paper or even blue painter’s tape) and avoided the issue of heat warping.
To answer the question – yes, it’s possible (depending on how well acquainted you are with the machine’s settings) but It might not be worth pursuing based on your individual needs.
Edit Trying to recall, I seem to remember now that what wound up working best was a hybrid of the two – a simple vector outline around the edge of the shapes before rastering made a very smooth, clean edge to constrain the material when heated by the laser raster process. IIRC, rastering alone left a “pixellated” edge as a result of the characteristics of the material.
I’d like to reiterate that this could only have been done during the quiet season (not midterms or finals) and likely took 24+ hours of work and testing to determine with my solid knowledge base and experience.