Is the Yudu Any Good Anyway?
A review of the Yudu Personal Screen Printing Machine
by Gary Jurman
If you’ve seen the commercials and advertisements for the Yudu Personal Screen Printing Machine you may be asking yourself the very question that is the title of this article, Is the Yudu any good, or is it just a bunch of hype. To get an accurate answer, you actually need to ask the question more specifically. Just about anything is good for some things and not so good for others.
To illustrate the point, and to illuminate the answer, I am going to compare 2 solutions to small scale startup screen printing, both of which we sell on diyTeeShirts.com: 1) The Yudu Personal Screen Printing Machine and 2) The diyTeeShirts Screen Printing Walkthrough. Both products try to solve essentially the same problem, how to get your designs on Tee shirts.
In both cases you’ll spend between $200 and $400 to get your first Tee shirt printed. From that point forward, there will be a world of difference. Below I have listed a chart of some of the differences between the two systems.
Can the Yudu Do Larger Prints?
No. The reason why the Yudu can’t do larger prints is because to do so you need bigger screens, bigger squeegees, a bigger burning unit, and a bigger print area. The Yudu simply can’t accommodate larger screens in it’s lock-in system. In fact, its screens are proprietary, and only come in one size. The only way to do larger prints, given the limitations of the unit, is to print the fabric in sections and hope you can line them up properly. Some designs lend themselves to that, and others do not. The maximum print area on the Yudu is approximately 10” wide by 13” tall.
The Walkthough, on the other hand, has plans for building your own press that takes standard screen printing screens. While if you build the press to specifications your maximum print area is approximately 11.5” wide by 15” tall, the plans can be modified. Commercial screen printing screens come in a multitude of sizes to accommodate a variety of needs.
Are There Alternatives to the Yudu’s Expensive Consumables?
The costs of standard screen printing consumables is pretty low because screen printing is generally suited for mass production. When you are trying to do the exact same thing one thousand times in a row, you save money buying your chemicals and inks in bulk. While you can save very little money buying Provocraft’s Yudu brand consumables, alternatives are available if you know what to get, and how to use it. As an example, diyTeeShirts.com sells a Hack the Yudu Screen kit that gets rid of the expensive capillary films that go with the Yudu system, and replaces them with a system for coating your screens with liquid emulsion.
Can the Yudu Do Multiple Colors?
Yes. If you know how to do color separations, you can do multi-color designs with the Yudu. The Yudu has a registration system that allows for correctly separated art and properly burned screens to register quickly and easily. There is virtually no limit to the number of colors you could do in a design if you have the screens, the films, and the patience. One drawback is that with each screen you print, you have to not only load the garment between prints, you have to load each screen into the machine between colors. That makes for slow production. Another is that tight registration is difficult to pull off.
The EZ Press (plans) that come with the Screen Printing Walkthrough does not boast of such versatility. Like the commercial screen printing machines it is designed after, it has a maximum number of colors it is capable of printing (1 without an upgrade, and 3 with an upgrade). Registering the press takes a bit of time. Unlike the Yudu Machine, though, once the press is registered, you can print a lot of garments quickly.
Can You Do Large Print Runs with the Yudu?
Yes, but it takes a long time. For one thing, Provocraft recommends you let the tee shirt dry on the platen before removing it. That is because the way the platen loads, you have to fiddle with getting the neck of the garment over the T-shape on the platen. It’s not easy to get the shirt off the platen without making a mess if the ink on the shirt is still wet. For that reason, if you have a lot of prints to do, it behooves you to get a whole bunch of platens.
The EZ Press (plans) that come with the Screen Printing Walkthrough has a platen designed to be loaded just like commercial screen printing presses do. With a little practice, many people can load the Tee shirt on the platen in under 5 seconds. Unloading the tee shirt is even easier and faster, and it is not necessary for the T-shirt inks to be dried while the shirt is on the platen. For that reason, shirts can be printed very quickly on the press.
Is the Yudu’s Instructional Manual Good?
As someone who has taught a lot of artists and novice screen printers to screen print, I have to say “No.” I feel the Yudu manual has a lot of room for improvement. There are a lot of areas that can be illustrated, illuminated, and expanded, and for that reason diyTeeShirts.com is working on a manual for the Yudu that includes both written and video tutorials. Get on our mailing list (on diyTeeShirts.com) if you would like updates about it, as well as to get information in general about screen printing, and also to learn more about other ways we plan to supe up the Yudu and improve the Screen Printing Walkthrough.
The Screen Printing Walkthrough includes detailed information and videos that walk you through every step of the screen printing process. It holds your hand all the way through your first screen printing project. It includes plans for building the EZ Press (a one color screen printing press), and tutorials on creating the art, making the screens, printing and drying the ink, and clean up. It includes tricks for getting things done without expensive equipment, and even how to get bright white ink on dark garments.
How Much Does it Really Cost to Get Started?
With the Yudu, the startup package includes everything you need to do your first few T-shirts. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to start buying consumables pretty quickly. And that presupposes that you don’t flub up your first two screens trying to get the emulsion sheets to work right. The starter package also does not include emulsion remover, which you’ll wish you had very soon. The average startup cost for a Yudu system is between $200 and $400 depending on what you get and where you buy it.
The Screen Printing Walkthrough is $67. To build the EZ Press you need screen clamps for about $20 and about another $30 for supplies from the hardware store. After that you need standard screen printing supplies that will run another $100 – $200. In the end, you’ll spend between $200 and $400 to get started. The difference between the Walkthrough and the Yudu is that with the Walkthrough you should have enough supplies to print 300 – 500 tee shirts, where with the Yudu it’s more like 10 – 25 prints depending on the coverage.
In either case, less than $400 is incredibly cheap to get started screen printing. Commercial screen printing equipment is inexpensive by many other industry standards, but is still thousands of dollars for the equipment that professionals consider good.
What Kinds of Inks Can You Use?
The Yudu system is designed for use with waterbased inks. Actually, it is designed for use with inks that don’t require heat to get them dry enough to remove the garment from the platen. That’s because the platens are made of plastic, and it’s pretty costly to ruin them with too much heat. There is no reason why any kind of ink designed for use with standard screen printing screens can’t be used with the Yudu, as long as you can get the shirts off the platens without messing up the prints. That usually requires getting the ink at least dry to the touch first. While Provocraft will tell you that their own blend of waterbased ink is the very best, many professional screen printers would beg to differ.
The Screen Printing Walkthrough has more flexibility in ink choices than the Yudu. That is primarily because the platen is made out of wood, and will not warp during normal use. For that reason you may wish to explore the possibility of using plastisol ink instead of waterbased. Some of the advantages of plastisol are it doesn’t dry in your screen, it is much easier to get bright colors on dark fabrics, and it is much easier to use in general.
Can You Use It To Bootstrap a Company?
If your business model is to create high-dollar, short run pieces, then the Yudu would be just fine. If your idea is to use it to make prototypes for a design line, then once again, the Yudu is a fine choice. If you need mass production capability to make your business plan work, where you need to quickly and efficiently produce 10s or 100s of garments, the Yudu is not your best choice.
The Screen Printing Walkthrough can be used for anything the Yudu can, unless you need more than one color in the design. In that case you can upgrade the press to a 3 color version, or buy a commercially available multi-color press. You can print the garments quickly enough to make a large run feasible, but the bottle neck will be in drying the ink. In that case you can purchase a conveyor dryer to solve the problem. The Screen Printing Walkthough is a good choice if you want to get your feet wet screen printing, and then start upgrading if you think it makes sense.
Burning / Exposing the Screens
One pretty nifty thing about the Yudu is that it burns your screens using it’s built-in burning unit. While it’s not as big as commercial grade exposure units, it does burn your screens about as well as the lower end units. Even lower-end exposure units run over $300 to start, and they don’t include any other pieces of the screen printing equation. The Yudu’s exposure unit even has a built-in timer, which is a nice feature.
The Screen Printing Walkthrough does not come with plans for a burning unit. Instead, it shows you how to effectively burn your screen using a good setup and the sun. One problem with it is that you may not get consistent results. The intensity of the sun depends on a number of factors including time of day, location, and how overcast it is. Optionally, you can upgrade to a burning unit to get more control. On nice aspect of burning your screens in the sun, however, is that there is no limit to the size of the screen you can burn. In theory, you could burn screens large enough to print a tent wall if need be.
Click here to learn more about the Yudu Screen Printing Machine.
Click here to learn more about the Screen Printing Walkthrough.
Here are 3 of the biggest factors making it difficult to get fine details with Yudu screens:
1. The mesh of the screen itself is simply too low resolution to hold the image.
2. The squeegee used to pull the ink is poor quality.
3. The frame of the screen is too flimsy to hold adequate screen tension.
Screen mesh comes in a variety of resolutions (known in the industry as “mesh count”) from 33 or less all the way to 300 and higher. Commonly, among screenprinters who don’t do a lot of specialty work, three mesh counts are used: a low resolution, a medium, and a high. We have a blog post here that shows a little more about screen resolution.
Low resolution (around 110 mesh) screens are used for thick inks, light colored inks (like white and athletic gold), and for low detail prints. They are generally easier to get the ink to flow through and less expensive than their higher resolution counterparts. It may be worth nothing that if you have a good burning unit you can get better detail on all your meshes, but there is an upper limit.
Medium resolution (around 160 mesh) is used for smaller type (down to about 12 point) and thinner lines (down to about 1 point). The medium resolution can serve as a sort of most-purpose screen unless you are using a lot of specialty inks.
Higher resolution screens range from around 190 and go up from there. They are able to capture very thin lines and small dots, and when used in conjunction with automatic screen printing presses can even achieve photographic quality images.
So what kind of screen comes with the Yudu? Not a medium resolution, but a low resolution mesh count, a 110. Even if the screen was perfect in every other way, a 110 mesh simply does not hold thin lines and small type. If you don’t mind burning a bunch of screens doing trial and error, you can push the envelope to see how small you can get. Recently Yudu has released a 220 mesh screen that will be a much better choice for high detail. Here’s one way to save money making screens if you decide to go for it. But there are other factors as well.
Like screen meshes, squeegee blades also come in a variety of types. While there are many aspects of squeegees, including handle characteristics, blade structure, and composition, our main point here has to do with flexibility. Since the Yudu is designed for manual screenprinting, and it is for general purpose use, let’s examine what makes a decently flexible most-purpose manual squeegee.
The flexibility of a squeegee is known as durometer within the screen printing industry. Most suppliers carry three durometers of blade, a soft (60 durometer), a medium (70), and a hard (80-90). While the softer is used for laying down a larger volume of ink, the harder varieties are used to achieve more detail and also for depositing a thinner layer of ink.
If a screenprinter were to choose a most-purpose squeegee blade for the kinds of screenprinting you are likely to do with the Yudu, he most likely would choose the medium or 70 durometer. If you want to be able to pull the widest range of general purpose inks through a screen holding the broadest range of images, the medium is your best choice. Provocraft doesn’t specify the durometer of their Yudu squeegee, but whatever it is, it’s less than 60 for sure. To recap, that means it’s way too soft.
But, even if you re-stretched the screen with 160 mesh (or got the new 220 mesh screen) and bought a professional grade squeegee of medium durometer, there is still yet another problem that hinders quality screenprinting with the Yudu screen: screen tension.
The Yudu screen is very loose. Lower tension screens can make for smeary imprints and poor quality images. They lead to a variety of screenprinting issues because, if the mesh is loose enough, it snags and drags along with the squeegee when you’re printing. Even if the screen has a good stencil with thin lines in it, the lines smear and drag along the print when the squeegee passes, causing a blurry image. That said, even fresh out of the box, the Yudu screen is under-tensioned and may be a little tricky to use for a novice.
Given the limitations with the Yudu screens, one may wish to stick to thick lines (3 points or more) and large typefaces (20 point and up) in their designs. It also may be helpful to upgrade the squeegee to one using a professional grade squeegee blade (preferably one with a cut edge). While your results will vary according to your skill level, it certainly will be easier to get more crisp images. If you find the aforementioned limits unacceptable, however, you may wish to abandon the Yudu as a screen printing press altogether. But don’t toss it off the peer just yet. It is an excellent solution for burning your screens.
For more indepth tutorials about screenprinting visit diyTeeShirts.com.