Term

Screen Printing

noun

Screen printing is when a printer uses a mesh screen, ink, and squeegee to transfer a stenciled design onto a flat surface.

Heat transfer printing is a name given to any printing style that involves heat to attach the design to a surface. The heat-reactive adhesive is transferred to a material called sublimation paper. It is easy and cost-effective to do heat-transfer printing and create personalized batches of print. You can also transfer detailed photographic designs with heat transfer printing, which is something screen printing cannot do. Screen printing uses a different printing technique because a stencil is involved. 

You can also combine heat transfer with digital techniques to get the best of both worlds. The finished transfer is placed on the required spot of the fabric and heat-treated to bind the ink to the fabric. The downside of heat transfer is that the quality can drastically depend on the materials used. Some printers use low-quality materials that affect the design outlook.

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is when a printer uses a mesh screen, ink, and squeegee to transfer a stenciled design onto a flat surface. The printer first creates a stencil on a fine mesh screen, then pushes the ink through it to achieve the desired outcome (aka. imprint the design on a chosen surface. 

The most commonly printed surfaces are fabric and paper, but specialized inks now enable you to print on wood, metal, plastics, and more.

Screen printing is also known as silk screening or silk-screen printing because the material of the stencil may vary. Different stencil options in screen printing include:

You can make a design with either one shade of ink or several. If you are creating multicolored designs, the ink has to go in several layers, with a different stencil for each ink.

Why Do We Use Screen Printing?

One of the main reasons to use screen printing is that it helps give vivid colors to a design, even on darker surfaces. Each ink lies separately on the surface like a new layer, which gives the design a tactile quality. You can also reprint a design multiple times with the help of screen printing. The same stencil can be used to replicate the design as many times as you need. It’s a great way to make copies to meet the increasing demand for a product. For example, retailers selling sportswear and work uniforms often use screen printing to bulk orders and give each piece the same look. 

Under the eye of a professional printer with specialized equipment, it is possible to create intricate multicolored designs with screen printing. Inserting additional colors gets a little more complex, so you are limited to the number of colors a printer can use, but screen printing still allows more room to be creative and have more colorful designs.

The History of Screen Printing

Screen printing is an ancient art technique. The first recounts of this technique came from AD 950 China when people printed patterns on fabric. Some centuries later, Japanese artists started transferring art to fabric with the help of a stiff brush using a mesh screen made from human hair. Europe saw the rise of screen printing in the 18th century, but it was a slow process due to the non-availability and high cost of silk. When the Silk Road made fabric affordable, the process became quick and wide-known. 

In the 1930s, artists used screen printing as an artistic medium, calling it serigraphy. By the 1960s, renowned artists like Andy Warhol started using screen printing in their work. Warhol’s Marilyn Diptich is one of the best-known examples of screen printing in art. Nowadays, screen printing is both an art form and a commercial process. One stencil can be good enough to print hundreds of prints, sometimes even thousands! It is also a great way of creating custom clothing.

The Step-By-Step Process of Screen Printing

There are a couple of screen printing methods, but all of them involve the same printing technique. The method we will discuss requires a special emulsion to create a stencil. It is also the most popular type of screen printing and is used to make intricate stencil designs. Let us look at the steps in detail:

Step 1: The printer takes the design to be printed on the surface and prints it out to a transparent acetate film. This film plays a crucial part in creating the stencil. 

Step 2: Next, the printer chooses a mesh screen that suits the job the most and matches the texture of the printing surface. Next, the printer uses a light-reactive emulsion to coat the mesh screen. This is done to ensure the screen hardens when placed in bright light.

Step 3: The acetate screen with the printed design is now laid onto the mesh screen and put under a bright light. The light hardens the emulsion, and only the screen parts covered by design remain liquid. If the final design has more than one color, then a separate screen is required to apply every layer of ink. The skill of a printer is of immense importance here because they have to create each stencil and line it perfectly to ensure that the final design is as expected. 

Step 4: After the screen spends a set time under the light, the areas not covered by design also become hard. At this point, any unhardened emulsion is carefully washed away. Now, a clear imprint of the design is visible on the mesh screen. The screen is then sent to dry, and any necessary touch-ups or fixes are done at this point.

Step 5: The screen goes onto the printing press, and the item to be printed is placed right under the screen. There are different presses, including manual and auto presses, but commercial printers mostly go with a rotary carousel printer. This printer is ideal for multicolored prints as well as it can apply different layers in quick succession. 

Step 6: The screen lowers on the printing board, and ink goes on top of the mesh screen. A squeegee is used to pull ink along the length of the stencil. The squeegee helps disperse ink to the open areas of the stencil to imprint the design. If the printer has to create multiple items, the screen is raised, and a new garment goes under it. Once all items have been printed, the mesh is washed off the emulsion for another project. 

Step 7: The printed product will now pass through the dryer, which cures the ink and makes the design look smooth. The final product is checked and washed to remove any residue before going to packaging and shipment. 

Screen printing

What Equipment Is Required for Screen Printing

The printer needs the right tools to make the screen printing job a success. We will discuss each piece of equipment and its functions during the printing process. 

Printing Press

It is possible to print with just a mesh screen and a squeegee, but most printers prefer to use a printing press, making the process more efficient. The press holds the screen in place between two prints and makes it easier to swap the items. 

There are three common types of the press: manual, automatic, and semi-automatic. Manual presses are labor-intensive and operate by hand. Automatic presses, meanwhile, are completely independent and require little to no intervention. Semi-automatic, meanwhile, is partially manual and partially mechanized, so you do need some intervention. 

Businesses printing out bulk orders or large surfaces usually prefer auto or semi-automatic presses. Smaller companies, including home-based businesses, use manual or semi-auto presses because of the order volume and complexity of designs.

Inks

The ink or paint goes through the mesh screen to pass onto the printed item, transferring a colored version of the stencil. There is so much more to choosing ink than colors. There are so many specialized inks available for each material. For example, printers use glittery inks or puff inks for designs that need a 3D look. The printer looks for inks that do not come off during washes and withstand heat when printing clothes. 

Silk Screen

The screen in screen printing is a wooden or metal frame covered with a fine mesh fabric. In old times, this mesh was created with the help of a silk thread. Today, polyester fabrics have taken over this job. The thickness and texture of the mesh fabric can be varied according to the end design. Once the screen is covered in emulsion, it is ready to be used as a stencil. After the printing, the screen is washed for reuse. 

Squeegee

The printer will attach a squeegee that is the same size as the stencil to give better coverage. The squeegee is a rubber blade connected to a long wooden or metal handle. It pushes the ink to the mesh screen and gives more vividness to the design. A firmer squeegee is ideal for intricate designs, and a softer rubber is ideal for printing less detailed designs. 

Washing Station

The screens are washed after each use to remove any emulsion from the last job. Larger printing companies typically use tubs with a specific washing fluid or acid to remove the emulsion. Other printers might use a water trough or power hose to clean their screens. 

The design will not come off if a professional has printed the fabric with heat-treated washable ink. To ensure a durable finish, the printer must ensure that the ink matches the material of the fabric and follows the manufacturer’s guidelines. The drying temperature also depends on the fabric and the type of ink being used. So, the printer needs to follow this process carefully to avoid any mishaps at the customer’s end. 

Difference Between Screen Printing and DTG

Direct to garment (DTG) printers require a specialized fabric printer like an inkjet printer. DTG differs from screen printing because there is no stencil, and multiple layers go in simultaneously and become a part of the garment. Unlike screen printing, there is very little setup time required in DTG printing. However, as the colors are printed with CMYK dots of color, the intensity of the color is not quite as vivid as in screen printing. You cannot create a textured print effect with DTG printers, either.  

Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing is a name given to any printing style that involves heat to attach the design to a surface. The heat-reactive adhesive is transferred to a material called sublimation paper. It is easy and cost-effective to do heat-transfer printing and create personalized batches of print. You can also transfer detailed photographic designs with heat transfer printing, which is something screen printing cannot do. Screen printing uses a different printing technique because a stencil is involved. 

You can also combine heat transfer with digital techniques to get the best of both worlds. The finished transfer is placed on the required spot of the fabric and heat-treated to bind the ink to the fabric. The downside of heat transfer is that the quality can drastically depend on the materials used. Some printers use low-quality materials that affect the design outlook.

How Much Does a Screen Printing Machine Cost?

High-quality screen printing machines sell for $25,000 to $100,000 per unit. This price range includes everything a person needs to print their own custom garments. Unfortunately, not many entrepreneurs can afford to shell out the big bucks in the beginning. That’s why the demand for print providers has skyrocketed in recent times. If you’re looking to take advantage of screen printing, look for a provider who offers this option. 

 Screen printing delivers excellent results, and the process is a lot smoother than with other forms of printing. Use the tips and advice mentioned above to create your own custom products and have peace of mind knowing that you’ll have a high-quality stock of products when the print cycle finishes.