What is screen printing? And how does it work?
What is screen printing? And how this ancient technique works exactly? We know screen printing primarily originated from China over 10 centuries ago, however, the art form did not reach the western world until the 18th century with its first appearance in Europe. We also know this graphic art has had many adaptations, advancements, and varied applications throughout its history (click here to read more about its evolution). So what exactly is screen printing and how does this ancient technique work? Let’s explore the processes of screen printing, both past and present.
What is screen printing?
Put simply, screen printing is the process of pushing ink through a screen of a fine material so as to transfer an image or pattern on to a surface. The process was originally created as a method of transferring pattern onto fabric and has since been used to apply designs to various mediums. The most primitive form of screen printing would be classified as stencilling. Think back to when you were a young age, colouring in the negative space in your plastic stencil, making a circle or tracing the little empty gaps to create letters. While the process is more involved and developed, screen printing is fundamentally the same- there are negative and positive spaces where ink is allowed to permeate through and create an image.
How is a screen print created?
In the process of screen printing, a design is transferred onto any flat surface (wood, paper, fabric, glass) by pushing ink through a mesh screen with a squeegee. While the fundamental process remains the same, the methods for making the stencilled screen varies. In all methods, you begin with mesh stretched tightly over a frame which is then blocked out in certain areas to create an image. There are two overall methods of creating a screen print: Non-Photographic and Photographic. With any printing method, the first thing that must be done is to design the image or pattern. The next steps vary depending on the method of screen printing.
For non- photographic methods the stencils can be made by simply cutting or tearing the design out of paper or cardboard, (an elementary method which produces bold contrast but, can only be printed a limited times), or the design can be cut out of a plastic film which is then taped it to the screen (similar to previous method however the durability of stencil allows for continued use and more prints). Or the creator can paint the screen using a block-out medium such as screen filler, lacquer, or wax crayons. This produces a painterly, hand-drawn style of image, much more organic than other methods. Photographic methods are more involved but can produce a more accurate and precise image.
Photographic methods involve a light-sensitive emulsion. The design is printed onto film. The screen is covered in the emulsion, once dry the printed film Is placed on the screen then exposed to uv light. The emulsion exposed to the light will harden and adhere to the mesh, while the areas blocked out by the printed film will remain soft and can be washed off with pressurised water. The result will be a negative image of your design on the mesh screen, ink can then be applied through the screen and will only pass through the area that has emulsion. The result will be a positive print of the original design on the substrate of choice.
Designs made using the screen printing technique may use just one shade of ink, or several. To produce images with multiple layers of colour, multiple screens must be used and lined up, registered, accurately.
Screen printing is a fun and popular technique utilised in an array of different industries. Whether we realise it or not, we all have seen, worn or owned a screen printed product. Screen printing is also an excellent method for creating custom products posters and artworks with bold and graphic imagery and designs. So why not give it a try!