Everything You Need To Know About Screen Printing & Its Uses

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Nowadays, people have different options for printing text and images. One of the oldest and most popular methods is screen printing. 

70% of screen printing businesses are small companies with fewer than 10 employees. With this industry predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 4% between 2019 and 2025, it’s not hard to see the growing popularity in the industry.

Key Takeaways

Can this form of printing be a successful business?

In the United States, this printing industry is estimated to be worth over $2 billion, with 70% of businesses being small and having fewer than 10 employees.

The evolution of screen printing

There are currently 6 screen printing methods today. These include spot color, grayscale, halftone, CMYK, doutone and simulated printing. The one you choose will depend on the complexity of the design and its desired effect.

Did you know?

Screen printing is also known as silk screening, serigraphy, and serigraph printing!

One of the reasons clients love this method of printing is because of its durable, long-lasting results due to its layer thickness. It provides more detail and vibrant colors than regular digital printing and allows for reproduction of designs multiple times. This makes it a perfect option for marketing materials at low cost.

But what is screen printing, and how does it work? Let’s find out.

Post Content

    Screen printing is a technique also known as silk screen printing, serigraphy, and serigraph printing.

    It is based on forcing through ink on the top side of the mesh using a rubber blade onto a substrate. It allows transferring detailed designs by blocking areas (the stencil) of the substrate. Other areas of the mesh allow ink through the openings which imprints details onto the substrate.

    There are several ways for stencilling, these include:

    • Cut paper stencil method (for basic designs).
    • Drawing directly on the screen with drawing fluid and screen filler (such as glue).
    • Light sensitive emulsion to create the stencil.

    This printing technique is simple and can be done at home.

    Traditionally, silkscreen was used for this process. Artists now use different materials, mostly made of polyester. The density of the mesh screen can also vary. This allows printers to influence the result of each print.

    What Is Screen Printing Used For?

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

    The process of printing garments through a mesh area is called screen-printing.

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

    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 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, you must make a design. This can be done by hand or in a digital format. Once satisfied with your text, image or photograph you can proceed past step 1.

    Print out your 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 is to use an inkjet printer.

    Coat your screen

    Before you start screen printing, cover your mesh screen with an emulsion that is photosensitive.

    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 a bright light for this, such a high-powered light bulb. The brighter the light, the less time is necessary.

    Rinse and wash out the image

    Once you burn the screen that you will use for printing, wash it with cold water. This allows the image to solidify and become more stable.

    Tape the edges of your screen

    Once it is complete, use adhesive tape to cover the edges of the screen to stop the ink from flowing where it isn’t supposed to. You don’t want a lot of thousands of orders stained in succession.

    Prepare for printing

    To start printing, you will have to connect the screen to the image and then press and screw it into place. This ensures the image is properly centered.

    Print your image

    You imprint the graphic by pulling the ink along the full length of the screen using a rubber squeegee. The ink passes through the spaces of the mesh and onto the fabric. This can be done manually, but in larger industries it is more often done by a machine in an automated process.

    Cure the ink from the printing

    Once the printing press is completed, the ink that’s now on the fabric needs to be cured. Ideally, this should be done at a high temperature to bond well. The temperature varies depending on the type and manufacturer of the ink, so you should always read the instructions on the bottle.

    Usually the items are passed through a dryer which cures the ink. The heat does two things; it smooths the ink and creates a colorfast finish. 

    Clean your screen thoroughly

    If you are going to continue using the same print for the next day, it is essential to clean your screen.

    However, there is another level of cleaning your screen printing screens for reuse, and that’s know as reclaiming a screen.

    This step involves removing the burnt image using washing fluid (or emulsions). This removes the stencil and makes your screen a clean slate. You are now able to introduce a new design for the next job without investing in a new screen mesh.

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

    To save time, skip to timeline 00:14!

    History Of Screen Printing

    This artform has a long and rich history. 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, hence the term “silk screen printing”.

    It was primarily used for printing delicate patterns on expensive silk garments and curtains. Subsequently, it was adopted and refined in other parts of Asia, where human hair was even used as a mesh.

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

    As silk became more readily available, silkscreen printing became a widespread process.

    As a result, this fabric printer technology became 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.

    With modernization, screen printing has become something that’s been combined with digital printing. This created a new technique called digital screen printing. The purpose of this is to allow for an unlimited number of tweaks and edits to a single design in a digital format.

    What Do You Need For This Printing Process?

    Like all other printing techniques, screen printing requires various equipment, materials and chemicals. In fact, there are 6 main types of screen printing methods and the materials and equipment differ based on the required results. Here we will outline essential tools and materials to choose from.

    Types of mesh screen

    Traditionally, silk was the common mesh screen material, but today polyester is more common. This material is entirely impervious to most ink and paint 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. This allows the transfer of detailed photographic designs onto the surface of choice.

    Likewise, the use of polymer allowed for variations in the density of the mesh screen. This allows 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 are what lets the ink pass through the medium and print on your fabric. Similarly to dots per square inch (dpi) on a printer, screen printing screens have different mesh counts depending on the end results being achieved. 

    The size of these holes is what determines the mesh count.

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

    For more information, you can read this guide on screen printing mesh count and discover which count set-up to use. This will depend on the ink, material type being used and the design effects you are trying to acquire.

    Types of ink

    The once simple silk screening process has advanced to the point where dozens of different ink types can be used.

    The ink intensity and variations provide more options for the print job. For example, sometimes it allows for multiple layers of print over the same area of artwork.

    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 have made it possible to develop very complicated 3D plans, further increasing the versatility of this ink type.

    Caviar beads

    Caviar beads are tiny, multicolored plastic beads that may be used to transfer on the ink to clothing, creating an attractive tactile surface.

    Caviar beads can be used on mugs, books, hoodies and other surfaces.

    Furthermore, this technique can be used on low-quality materials and still make a great final product.

    Discharge inks

    Discharge inks use a zinc-based analog of Rongalite to remove dye from parts of the fabric it’s being applied. While they provide incredible images, they are only usable on pure cotton and dark-colored fabrics.

    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. This greatly simplifies the process and allows 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 bind to the surface more effectively and give a softer feel to the fabric. They are excellent for printing dark images on the text on a light base. Similar to traditional textile printing, the difference is, it doesn’t require complicated equipment like plastisol inks do.

    Conclusion

    Screen printing is an ancient, yet effective technique that is used by artists to this day. It doesn’t have to be done on t-shirts only. Prints can be transferred on a range of materials such as posters, wood, glass, plastic and other fabrics.

    It takes having a genuine interest in the art form, some patience which leads to know-how and a sprinkle of creativity.

    FAQ

    What materials can be screen printed?

    Screen printing can be used on a variety of substrate materials. These include, fabric, wood, paper, metal, plastic and even glass.

    What are the advantages of screen printing?

    The main advantage of screen printing over other printing methods is it capability of reproducing on 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 all kinds of products, not just clothing.

    What is the downside of screen printing?

    Screen printing can at times be time-consuming and labor intensive as it needs separate stencils for different colors in the same design. It is neither the best printing method for detailed design jobs.

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