Push vs Pull – Which Method Should You Adopt?

There has been a long standing debate between screen printers about pushing ink vs pulling ink. Throughout my many years of screen printing I’ve used various ink types, printed onto different substrates, and have thoroughly tried both methods. Along the way, I met printers that swear by either method and I’ve been criticized by both sides while incorporating one or the other. The point of the matter is, which is better?

When I first learned screen printing I was taught to pull the ink through the screen. At that time, almost everyone I knew was doing it. Screen printing first appeared in a recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). At that time, the originators found it easier to pull with the tools they had at their disposal and the tradition carried on from there.

Pulling might seem easier to do for a novice as the movement might seem more natural. But, the truth is, pushing is a more natural movement for our wrists. The joints that make up our wrists are designed to flex both ways but are less prone to carpal tunnel syndrome when flexed backward as opposed to forward for long periods of time. The ideal position for your wrists while laboring is straight as possible, and pushing allows you to keep them in a semi-straight position.

Pulling also is more strenuous on our fingers. Applying pressure to the squeegee in a pulling motion puts direct tension on our fingers. Pushing allows you to defer most of that tension to your palms as you use the inertia generated by your forward body motion.

Push vs Pull - Which Method Should You Adopt?             Push vs Pull - Which Method Should You Adopt?

  • Notice the more natural positioning of the fingers and wrists in pushing the squeegee (bottom) vs. pulling the squeegee (top). Pushing allows more freedom to your fingers as you can control the squeegee with your palms. 

Your back is another topic of concern when screen printing. Some of us can spend a whole day neglecting our backs, knocking out projects with minimal rest in between. Pushing allows us to utilize our body weight to create a forward momentum that is less stressful on our backs. All you have to do is rock back a little, step into the push and your squeegee will glide as smooth as butter across the screen.

Push vs Pull - Which Method Should You Adopt?             Push vs Pull - Which Method Should You Adopt?

  • Notice how pushing (bottom) allows for better posture compared to the more strenuous pulling (top) position.

At the end of the day, we all do things in a manner that’s most comfortable for us and that’s why some professionals still utilize the pull method. They’ve been doing it so long their muscle memory won’t allow them to make the switch. But if you’re just getting started or you haven’t been printing long enough to have invested all of your conviction to pulling, then I suggest you start pushing. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.