Circuitry Layer Printing | Screen Printing Guide

This simple How to Screen Printing Guide will show you the best way to reliably screen print the circuitry layer for a conventional membrane touch switch or printed sensor application.

Objective- To predictably screen print functional inks onto MacDermid Autotype Autostat heat stabilised polyester film, using CPS - Chemical Products & Services screen making products.

Recommendations:

Substrates - Autostat is a range of heat stabilised polyesters that have low residual shrinkage at elevated temperatures. To help you select the best Autostat film for your application visit macdermid.com/autotype and enter Autostat into the search field.

Frames - It is critical that the mesh releases from the ink film immediately after the squeegee passes, so high tension mesh stretching (> 25 N/cm) onto a rigid metal frame is required. CPS Screen Adhesive MF will hold the high mesh tensions that are required and will not slip when exposed to CPS ink cleanning solvents.

Mesh - Always choose the highest quality polyester or stainless steel mesh for printing conductive or dielectric inks. The required ink film thickness will ultimately dictate which mesh count to select, however, the table below gives some guidelines on where to start:

Application
MeshMesh AngleDry ink film
Silver conductive 68.64 to 110.34/cm polyester or 230.36 to 325.28 stainless steel 22.5° 8 to 12µm
Carbon 61.64 to 90.40/cm polyester 22.5° 6 to 10µm
UV Dielectric 77.55/cm polyester 10 to 15µm
It is essential that the mesh is totally clean and free from all ghost images before the stencil is made. Contamination in the mesh will lead to poor ink flow and may even affect the functionality of the ink. Always use CPS Mesh Prep or CPS Degreaser Concentrate to ensure the best mesh preparation possible or use CPS Haze Remover HV or CPS Fast Acting Haze Remover to remove any mesh staining from polyester screens if they have been used before.

Printing - To improve the image quality always select a sharp, undamaged polyurethane squeegee blade and to maintain overall dimensional accuracy, use the lowest squeegee pressure possible. Dual durometer squeegees provide an excellent choice, e.g. 90/70 with the 90° the leading edge.

Stencil selection for conductive inks – Controlled profile capillary stencil films are always recommended over emulsion stencils. CPS Ultra Cap HD has been specifically formulated to give a low EOM and low Rz stencil for optimum print reproduction and control with conductive inks. There is a lot more information on the benefits that Controlled profile capillary films offer functional printing on our website.

Top tip:- controlling the EOM (stencil profile) is critical for control, as even a 1µ difference in EOM can give up to a 1µ difference in wet ink film thickness.

If a conventional CPS Ultra Cap film is preferred, then either CPS Ultra Cap 2, CPS Ultra Cap EZ or CPS Ultra Cap 3 are recommended.

For best edge quality and surface levelling, a slow print speed is advisable for both Silver and Carbon conductive inks as this helps to optimise the flow. Even small print defects that reduce the cross sectional area of the conductive track can have a large impact on their resistance. Good track edge definition also helps to reduce the potential propagation points for Silver migration.


Drying conductive inks

It is imperative that all the solvents are removed from the conductive inks during drying to give the lowest resistance possible, efficient drying is also critical for interlayer adhesion and flex life. Autostat is heat stabilised in our factory to give minimum shrinkage at the high temperatures required to dry conductive inks. Consult the Autostat Technical Data Sheet for more details, this is downloadable from macdermid.com/autotype

Dielectric inks – printing a complete, uninterrupted film for the Dielectric layer is critical. As these layers are typically large negative images, the final ink film thickness will be controlled primarily by the mesh. It is best to avoid high EOM stencils as these can lead to thick edges on the image. If the print speed is too fast this can generate air bubbles in the dielectric layer which will lead to pinholes. Often a double print pass is used for the Dielectric layer to mask any pinholes and provide the desired thickness and performance requirements.

When printing the Dielectric or Carbon tabs, a quality dual-cure direct emulsion such as CPS Ultra Coat 535 or CPS Ultra Coat 550 is ideal, or if a one-pot emulsion is preferred, then CPS Ultra Coat 900 can be used.

Curing Dielectric inks

Complete curing of the Dielectric is critical for good interlayer adhesion and flex life.  Follow the ink manufacturer’s guidelines for their curing recommendations.

How to minimise dust contamination

Dust is impossible to remove from the dried print, therefore prevention is always better than contamination!

- Remove any contamination from the dry screen prior to printing with a low tack roller
- If the print room is not a ‘clean room’, then create a cleaner environment around the press by curtaining. This will also enable you to increase the relative humidity  (RH) to reduce static build up during printing. An extractor hood will be required for local exhaust
- The operators should wear clean room clothing
- Always clean the substrate prior to printing using a low tack roller or machine
- Fit antistatic bars/static dissipaters to the press
- Try to restrict personnel movement in the area during printing
- Place tack mats around the press
- Cover the screen during stoppages or remove the ink
- Never return unused ink to the pot

Ink cleaning On Press: If the screen needs to be cleaned during printing use CPS Screen Opener 511 or CPS Screen Cleaner K3x and allow the mesh to dry out completely before recommencing printing.

 

Ink cleaning Archiving: If the screen is to be archived for reuse, it can be cleaned with CPS Screen Opener 511 (Flash point 44°C), CPS Screen Cleaner K3x (Flash point 43°C) or CPS Screen Cleaner Vx (Flash point 63°C), paying particular attention not to damage the stencil.


Ink Cleaning recirculation and cleaning machine: If using a recirculation unit or a cleaning machine, then CPS Screen Wash V3, CPS Screen Wash A6, CPS Aquawash 829, CPS Bio Plus Screen Wash G or CPS Screen Wash A7 shoudl be used.

Please feel free to share this 'How To Screen Print' guide with your friends, on blogs and via social media.

If you have any excellent screen printing hints and tips, please share them in the 'Screen Printers Of The World Unite Community' on Google+ or contact us via technical@cps.eu and maybe we can feature them in a new guide.

For more screen printing guides visit our 'How To Guide' page.

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