What is screen printing and how does it work?

What is screen printing and how does it work?

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, also known as serigraphy or silk-screening by some, is a method of creating an image on paper, fabric or other material by pressing ink onto the sufrace through a screen with areas blocked off by a stencil. The screen printing technique is used both for making fine art prints and for commercial applications, such as printing a company's logo on coffee mugs or t-shirts.

A Brief History of Screen Printing

Screen printing first appeared as a recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty nearly 2000 years ago around the time of 960–1279 AD. These original methods consisted of weaving human hair across a wooden frame to create the screen, with stencils made from leaves being attached to them. Other Asian countries adopted and furthered these techniques, replacing the hair with silk (this is where the term silk screening comes from) to create the mesh, before the process began making it's way into Western Europe sometime in the late 18th century but did not gain large acceptance or use in Europe as silk mesh was not readily available at the time.

In the early 1910s, several printers had began experimenting with photo-reactive chemicals, using the well-known light–activated hardening traits of potassium, sodium or ammonium chromate and dichromate chemicals with glues and gelatin compounds. Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens studied and experimented with chromic acid salt sensitized emulsions for photo-reactive stencils. This trio of developers would prove to revolutionize the screen printing industry by introducing photo-imaged stencils to the industry, though the adoption of these methods would take many years.

In the 1930's a group of artists who later formed the National Serigraphic Society, coined the term Serigraphy to differentiate the artistic application of screen printing from the industria and commerciall use of the process. By the 40's and 50's screen printing had become widely popular and accepted, even being used by artists to create original work, such as Andy Worhol's Campbell Soup and Marilyn Monroe pieces. 

How Screen Printing Works

Once a design has been created, the fun begins. From this point, we take your design, and separate it into layers based on color. These layers are then transferred to mesh screens for the actual printing process. The best way to understand screen printing is to think of each screen as a stencil or template, only letting ink through designated areas on the screen. When transfering your design on the screen, we first cover it in a layer of liquid material called emulsion that then dries. Emulsion is going to be the solid part of your stencil that doesn’t let any ink through the screen.

Once the emulsion is dry and ready, your image is burned into each screen using UV Light to solidify the area of the emulsion that should remain on the screen, allowing the designed areas to be sprayed out, leaving a reverse stencil of your image.

From this point, the screens are taken to the press, where they are setup and aligned for printing. Ink is spread on the screen, and then pressed through the non-emulsioned area of the screen by a squeegee moving across the screen. Each layer/color is printed individually from the rest, until the process is completed, leaving you with a nice, clean print.

The last step of the screen printing process is curing the ink. After being pressed, products are placed on a conveyor belt that runs through our oven. The heat sets the ink into the material, and prevents any smearing or smudging.