What is Screen Printing

By:
T-shirt Timmy
A Step-By-Step Guide To Screen Printing Screen printing

Screen printing is usually the process of pressing ink via a stenciled mesh screen to come up with a printed design. This is a popular technique that is widely used in an array of industries, so even if you have not heard about it before, the chances are that you have used or worn a screen-printed product at one point in time. This process is at times referred to as “silk screen printing” or serigraphy, buteach term refers to a similar method.

Screen printing is an effective method for creating posters, artwork, and bold canvases, but the technique could also be used in printing textiles and fabric. Therefore, it is an excellent technique for creating all sorts of custom products and clothing. In this guide, we will explore some of the most common questions concerning silk screen printing,including:

•        What’s screen printing?

•        A history of screen printing.

•        Why is silk screen printing used?

•        The step-by-step process of screen printing.

•        Will silk screen printing wash away?

•        The difference between digital and screen printing?

•        The difference between screen printing and heat transfer printing.

What Exactly is Screen Printing?

Also referred to as silk screen printing, this is a method of transferring any stenciled design onto a flat surface with the help of a mesh screen, squeegee, and ink. Paper and fabric are the most popular screen-printed surfaces. With specialized inks, however, it is possible to print onto metal, plastic, wood, and glass. This method involves the creation of a stencil on a mesh screen and then pushing paint or ink through the mesh to create an imprint of your specific design on the surface below.

This process is sometimes referred to as silkscreening, and while the actual printing process is almost similar, the way thestencil is created varies, based on the materials used. Some of the various stenciling techniques include:

•        Painting a pattern onto the mesh using a screen blocker like lacquer or glue.

•        Utilizing a light-sensitive coating onfilm to come up with a pattern, which is later developed in a way similar to a photograph.

Designs that are made with the silk-screen technique could rely on a single shade of ink or several shades. In instances where multi-colored items are to be designed, the individual colors should be applied in separate layers, using individual stencils for every ink shade.

A History of Screen Printing

Screen printing is considered an ancient type of art. An early version of this technique was first developed in China at around 950 AD and was used to print patterns onto fabric. Some centuries later, Japanese artists embraced the practice to transfer designs on cloth and paper, using a stiff brush to push the ink through a mesh screen that was woven from human hair.

Screen printing was introduced in Europe in the late 18th century, but people did not quickly embrace it since silk mesh was expensive at that time. Once imported silk became more affordable, (all thanks to the Silk Road) screen printing slowly became a popular yet profitable way of printing fabric. In the early 20th century, printers had already invented photo-sensitized emulsions which allowed artisans to create complex stencil designs with ease.

Currently, screen printing is used as a commercial printing process and as an artistic medium. A single stencil could be used to reproduce similar designs "thousands of times" so it is an excellent technique for producing large orders of custom clothing.

Why Is Screen Printing Used?

One reason why the silk screen printing technique is largely used is that it aids in the production of vivid colors even where the fabric is darker. The paint or ink also lies in layers on the upper surface of the paper or fabric, and this gives your prints a pleasingly tactile quality.

This technique is also widely embraced since it lets a printer quickly reproduce a single design in multiple ways. And since the same stencil could be used to replicate a model over and over, it comes in handy when you want to create multiple copies of the same accessory or garment. It is for this reason that silk screening is an effective technique in the creation of huge batches of custom clothing for work uniforms or sports teams.  Additionally, screen printed t-shirts and apparel are extremely durable and typically last for hundreds of washes.  It’s not uncommon for the print to out last the shirt- that’s why t-shirt quilts have become a commemorative item.

When it is done by an experienced printer using professional equipment, it is also possible for one to create intricate multi-colored designs. Although the complexity of this process could limit the number of colors a printer could use, it still permits for more intensecoloring than what one would achieve with digital printing.

Screen Printing: Step-By-Step Process

Although there are multiple methods of silk screen printing, they all involve a standard technique. The form of printing we will explore below utilizes unique light-reactive emulsion in order to create a custom stencil, and this is arguably the most common type of commercial printing since it could be used to create intricate stencils.

Here, we will take you through the silk screening process, one step after the other so that you can understand how we create high-quality, custom, screen-printed garments.

Step 1: Creating the Design

To start the process, the printer will take the design they intend to have on the final material and print it out onto an acetate film that is transparent. This is what is used to create a stencil.

Step 2: Preparing the Screen

After the design is created, the printer chooses a mesh screen that will suit the designs complexity as well as the texture of the fabric to be printed. The mesh then undergoes a coating process with a layer of light-reactive emulsion which hardens when exposed to bright light.

Step 3: Exposing the Emulsion

The acetate sheet onto which the design has been created is laid onto an emulsion-coated screen, and it is then exposed to bright light. On exposure, the emulsion hardens so the sections of the screen that are covered by the design will be in liquid form.

If the final design should include more than a single color, a separate screen should be used to apply the subsequent layers of ink.For the creation of multi-colored products, the printer needs to use his/herskill when designing each stencil and line them up seamlessly to make sure the final design is perfect.

Step 4: Washing Off the Emulsion to Create the Stencil

After the screen is exposed for a period, the sections of the screen which are not covered by the design will have hardened. The unhardened emulsion is then rinsed away carefully leaving a clear imprint of your design on the screen so that the ink can pass through. The screen on to which the design is imprinted is dried, and a printer could make any necessary corrections or touch-ups to produce an imprint that is as close to the initial design as possible. The stencil is now ready for use.

Step 5: Preparing the Item for Print

Now, the screen is placed on the printing press. The garment or item being printed should be laid flat onto the pallet below the screen. There are different types of presses, including automatic and manual styles, but a majority of commercial printers utilize an automatic rotary carousel printer which allows multiple screens to work at once. With multi-colored prints, the kind of printer could also be used in the application of different color layers in quick succession.

Step 6: Pressing the Ink onto the Item

The screen is now lowered onto the pallet. Ink is then added on the screen’s top end, and it is pulled along the screen’s full length using a squeegee. This presses ink through the open section of the stencil, imprinting the desired design on the product below. If multiple items are to be created, the screen is raised, and a new product placed on the printing board,and the process repeated.

After all items have been printed, and the stencil served its purpose, the emulsion is taken off with a special washing fluid so that the mesh could be used to create new stencils in future. Everything is reused and recycled to prevent waste.

Step 7: Product is Dried, Inspected, and Finished

The printed product is passed through a dryer which “cures” the ink, creating a smooth, colorfast finish. The final product is then inspected and washed thoroughly to eliminate any residues before being delivered to the owner.

Will the Screen Printing Ink Wash Away?

If a product has been adequately screen printed by a trained printing professional using plastisol ink, the design will not washaway. To ascertain a colorfast finish, the printer should ensure the ink has been set in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines. The appropriate drying time and temperature vary based on the fabric used and ink type, so the printer should follow all instructions to the letter if they intend to create a durable, washable product.

Screen Printing and Digital Printing: What is the Difference?

Direct-to-garment or digital printing utilizes a specialized fabric printer "similar to an inkjet computer printer" to print images directly onto textile. Digital printing is different from screen printing because a digital printer is usually used to transfer the design onto the fabric. Since there is no stencil, multiple colors could be applied simultaneously instead of in separate layers. This means that this technique is mostly used in printing colorful or very intricate designs.

Contrary to screen printing, minimal setup is needed,and this means that digital printing could be a more cost-effective option forprinting single items or small batches of garments. In addition, digital printing utilizes a digital image instead of a stencil, and this makes itexcellent for producing highly detailed or photographic designs. However, sincethe colors are usually printed using the CMYK-style dots of color, instead of solid blocks of ink, it does not offer the same intensity of color which youwould achieve with screen printing. Besides, with digital printing, it isdifficult to create texturized effects.

Screen Printing Vs. Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing is a name that is given to any type of printing which used heat to bind designs onto a fabric. The design is usually printed out onto a material that has been coated with a heat-reactive adhesive, known as sublimation or transfer paper. On applying the heat press to the paper, the resin reacts to this heat, and it sticks to the surface of the fabric below, creating an impressively printed textile.

Heat transfer printing is quite straightforward and cost-effective, so it is an excellent option for small batches of personalized printing. It could also be used to transfer some detailed photographic designs, which could be difficult to achieve with screen printing. With heat transfer printing, it is possible to reap excellent results on items such as footwear, hats or bags, which could be difficult to screen print because of the awkward shape.

It is possible to combine digital printing techniques with the heat transfer printing process to get the best of both printing methods. In digital heat transfer printing, a computer program is used to create a design, and it is then printed on a white transfer paper. Using a plotter to follow a digital outline for accurate results, the design is then cut out with incredible precision. The finished transfer paper is then placed on the desired spot on the accessory or garment, and it is heat-treated so that it binds to the fabric.

If there is a disadvantage to heat transfer printing, it is the fact that the quality could vary tremendously based on the type of material used. In addition, some printers using shoddy techniques and low-quality materials have given heat transfer printing a poor reputation in the past few years. However, provided a good transfer material is used as well as the design applied carefully, the resulting product will be of a high-quality, durable piece. All our screen printing garments have been created with premium, soft-feeling transfer materials, and applied with the help of modern plotters and printers, so we believe we offer the best screen printing solutions on the market.

There you have it: a comprehensive guide to all aspects of screen printing. Here at AMPRO, our printers are professionally trained to guarantee excellent results, so you are assured that we offer the best service in the market. We utilize top-of-the-range printing equipment to create custom designs on a vast range of clothing, including sweatshirts, hoodies, and T-shirts, so make sure you take a look to see the types of personalized items you could create today.

Have a quick question? Ready to place an order?

How can we assist you?
All information is strictly confidential.
We look forward to speaking with you!
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
For most orders we require a 12 piece minimum, and we do not generally decorate customer provided goods.