What Is Screen Printing & How Does It Work?

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Nowadays, there are many different options when printing text and images, regardless of the ink and materials you plan on using. One of the most popular is screen printing, a technique that leaves durable, long-lasting results and provides more vibrant colors than what regular digital printing can do. But what is screen printing, exactly, and how does it work? Let’s find out.

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    Screen printing, a technique also known under several other names, such as silk screen printing, serigraphy, and serigraph printing, is based on using a mesh screen to transfer ink to a substrate. It allows transferring detailed photographic designs by blocking certain areas of the substrate with something impermissible to the ink.

    This printing technique is pretty simple, works with just a mesh screen and some ink, and can be done at home without the need to learn a complicated printing process.

    Traditionally, you would use silkscreen for the process, but nowadays, people use all kinds of materials, mostly made of polyester fabrics. The density of the mesh screen is also variable, allowing you to influence the result of each printing significantly.

    What Is Screen Printing Used For?

    The screen printing process has multiple uses, making it one of the most versatile printing techniques available to an amateur.

    Aside from printing on fabric, many other materials, such as textiles, wood, ceramics, glass, and even metal, can be printed.

    The process of printing garments through a mesh screen is called screen printing

    Perhaps most importantly, printed board circuitry is almost exclusively made using screen printing.

    History Of Screen Printing

    The screen printing technique has a very long and rich history and was first developed in Asia over a millennia ago, under the rule of the Song Dynasty (10-13th century AD). The original screen material was silk, leading to silk screen printing.

    It was primarily used for printing delicate patterns on expensive silk garments and curtains and was subsequently adopted and further refined in other parts of Asia.

    During the 18th century, Dutch East India Company traders brought the technique to Europe, where it was quickly adopted, though it was sparsely used at first due to the lack of available silk mesh.

    As silk became more available, silkscreen printing became a much more widespread process, with garment printing becoming a trendy way of creating vibrantly colored clothing.

    Other screen-printed products followed soon after, with Andy Warhol popularising the process as a form of art, making a portrait of Marylin Monroe using this technique.

    Nowadays, screen printing has been combined with digital printing to create a new technique, digital screen printing, allowing for an unlimited number of tweaks and edits of a single design in a digital format.

    What Do You Need For Screen Printing?

    Like all other printing techniques, screen printing requires various equipment and materials to complete. The materials and equipment differ based on the desired image and can give vastly different results. Here we will outline some essential tools and materials you can choose from.

    Types of mesh screen

    Whereas traditionally, silk was the most common mesh screen material, nowadays, people mostly use polyester, which is entirely impervious to most colors. This transition has also made it much easier to turn screen printing into a commercial process.

    Mesh screen can also be combined with digital printing to transfer detailed photographic designs onto your surface of choice.

    Likewise, the use of polymer allowed for variations in the density of the mesh screen, allowing for a much more refined printed design, not just on t-shirts but on just about any flat surface.

    The result is that nowadays, custom clothing is just one of many uses for a screen printer, with the technology being used for everything from light garments to medical equipment.

    Mesh count

    Imagine the number of holes a screen has. These holes is what lets the ink to pass through and print on your fabric. Similarly to dots per square inch (dpi) on a printer, screens for screen printing have different mesh counts depending on what it is you are trying to achieve.

    Mesh count is determined by the number of mesh threads per inch of the screen.

    To find out more, you can read this guide on screen printing mesh count and discover which count to use depending on the ink and material type being used and the design effects you are trying to achieve.

    Types Of Ink

    As with mesh screens, the once simple silk screening process has advanced to the point where it can use a dozen different types of ink based on the desired outcome.

    The ink variations give much more options when planning the printed product and sometimes even allow for multiple layers of print on the same object, transferred one after another.

    Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used ink types for garment printing:

    Cracking ink

    Named after its ability to crack upon drying and create compelling images on clothing, it is often used for things such as band shirts and other unique designs. Digital techniques made it possible to develop very complicated 3D plans, further increasing the versatility of this type of ink.

    Caviar beads

    Caviar beads are tiny, multicolored plastic beads that can be used to transfer ink to clothing, creating an attractive, tactile surface. Furthermore, this technique can be used even on low-quality materials and still make a great final product.

    Discharge inks

    Discharge inks use a zinc-based analog of Rongalite to remove ink from parts of the fabric that it is applied. While they provide incredible images, they are only usable on pure cotton, and dark-colored fabrics, limiting their versatility.

    However, when used on sufficiently high-quality material, these inks can be combined with plastisol inks to create intricate designs that are impossible by any other method.

    Four color process

    You first need to create a digital design to perform the four-color process. Then, you separate the image into four base colors, which you can combine to create the physical appearance, applying one screen at a time.

    This way, you need no more than four screens to print virtually anything, greatly simplifying the screen printing process and allowing for automatic presses and mass production.

    Plastisol

    The most common ink used for all kinds of garments, this heat reactive adhesive can be used for both light and dark surfaces. Unfortunately, you will need a high heat transfer printing machine as plastisol inks require at least 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Water-based inks

    Water-based inks connect to the surface more effectively and give a softer feel to it. They are also excellent for printing dark images on the text on a light base. Similar to traditional textile printing, it doesn’t require as complicated equipment as plastisol inks.

    How Does Screen Printing Work?

    Screen printing is a relatively simple process that doesn’t require much setup. You need a mesh screen, a metal or wooden frame to stretch it over, a piece of clothing or a similar item, and some screen print ink.

    That being said, there are still steps you will need to follow in order to achieve the best possible results. Here are the basic steps of the screen printing technique:

    Make your design

    Before you start with screen printing, you will need to make a design. You can do this by hand or in a digital format. Once you are satisfied with your text or image, you can proceed to the next step.

    Print out your design

    Once you have decided on a design, the next screen printing process step is to print it out on a transparent acetate film that you will transfer it from. The best way to do this is with an inkjet printer.

    Coat your screen

    Before you start screen printing, you will need to cover your mesh screen with an emulsion that is as photosensitive as possible.

    Burn your image

    Place your screen over the image you want to print, then place it to be exposed for 10 to 15 minutes. You will need bright light for this, such a high power light bulb. The brighter the light, the less time is necessary.

    Rinse and wash out the image

    Once you are done burning the screen that you will use for printing, you will need to wash it with cold water by spraying it. This will allow the the image to solidify and become more stable.

    Tape the edges of your screen

    Once it is complete, you will need to use adhesive tape to cover the edges of the screen to stop the ink from flowing where it isn’t supposed to be. Doing this will make your final product much cleaner.

    Prepare for printing

    To start printing, you will have to connect the screen to the image and then press and screw it into place, as doing this will ensure that the image is properly centered.

    Print your image

    During this step the image is actually transferred via a squeegee. This can be done manually, but nowadays it is more often done by a machine in an automated process.

    Cure the ink from the printing

    Once the image has been transferred, the ink needs to be cured at a high temperature so it sticks. This temperature can vary depending on the type and the manufacturer of the ink, so you should always heed the instructions on the bottle.

    Watch this video: The Basics Of Screen Printing [02 mins 20 secs]

    To save time, skip to timeline 00:14!

    Conclusion

    Screen printing is an ancient, yet very effective technique that is used to this day, mostly in automated heat transfer printing presses, and is an optimal choice for creating bright, mass-produced clothing. It is also an excellent choice for amateurs and DIY enthusiasts, as you don’t need much preparation on equipment.

    FAQ

    What is screen printing on shirts?

    Screen printing is a method that allows transferring detailed photographic designs to a garment of your choice with minimal hassle. The process is simple and beginner-friendly, though it can also be replicated on an industrial scale using automatic presses.

    How is screen print done?

    Screen printing uses a set of mesh screens, transferrable ink, and stencils to select where you want the ink to go and which areas to keep it from, creating a custom clothing item of your choice.

    What is the advantage of screen printing?

    The main advantage of screen printing over other printing methods is that it is easy to accomplish and can be reproduced on a mass scale, making it an excellent choice for industrial use. In addition, the variety of mesh types and inks available make the technique incredibly versatile, to the point, it is used for al,l kinds of products nowadays, not just clothing.

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