Screen printing is an age old technique that not only endures but thrives in the modern era. Even so there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the process and its many merits. To plug any knowledge gaps we have collated some of the most commonly asked questions and sought to provide clarification on them.
For more information of screen printing as a whole take a look here.
What is screen printing?
A means of creating prints using a mesh stencil (referred to as a screen) for each colour intended to appear within a design. Ink is pushed through said screens, one colour at a time.
When and where did screen printing originate?
2000 years ago, in China. During the song dynasty era the Chinese stretched human hair across a wooden frame in order to create makeshift screens.
The Japanese developed the concept further when utilising woven silk for mesh and lacquers for stencils. This variation would later be christened ‘silk screening’.
Is Screen Printing referred to as anything else?
Yes. Serigraphy and Silk Printing are slight variations of the same practice.
What are the advantages of screen printing?
Screen printing is considered the industry standard for high quality and its output being a reliable one. Unique prints can be created as a result of ink being absorbed deeper and thicker. Large quantities can be produced in a relatively short space of time, something reflected in most commercial prices.
The sheer variety of products created from screen prints appeals to many companies. Screen printing lends itself to glass, fabric, vinyl, foam, wood, metal and more – broadening the appeal yet further.
Anything from shirts to hard wearing industrial graphics can be produced using this technique, which appeals to everyone from the textile to the electronics industry.
Adhesives, lacquers and conductive silver may be used in place of ink, while creativity is encouraged.
What are the disadvantages of screen printing?
Shorter runs are not always feasible when it comes to screen printing, which can be very involved. Costs would also multiply whenever additional colours are added to a design.
What can you screen print onto?
A wide variety of materials and surfaces. Screen Printing is synonymous with clothing given its compatibility with fabric.
Elsewhere screen printing can be applied to rigid board, papers, PVC’s, polyesters, polycarbonates and metal types, the list is almost endless!
So versatile is screen printing that it is even associated with electrode strips for the healthcare sector. Devices used to monitor blood sugar levels are created in this way.
How long does screen printing take?
The printing itself is a fairly quick process but the before and after is far more involved. Setting screen printing presses up can prove time consuming, as can the resulting clean-up operation. Screen printing lends itself to bulk orders as opposed to short runs which are better delivered digitally.
Can you mix screen print with other print processes?
You can indeed… for instance modern digital processes whilst are ideal for short runs with multi- colour images cannot yield some colours or opaqueness of colour. It is possible to marry digital and screen print to gain the best results from both methods.
What are the differences between manual and automatic screen printing?
Manual screen printing involves the operator manually pressing a squeegee down whilst pushing the ink through the mesh onto the substrate.
By contrast automatic screen printing involves machinery. Commercial printers are likely to house large mesh stencils, drying systems and rotary screens facilitating a bigger output.
Is screen printing messy?
It can certainly be so. A concerted effort to clean as you work helps and is a good practice to work with. Good housekeeping is a good practice when it comes to the application itself, the more detailed you are the less probable smudges and misprints.
How does ink dry?
Commercial screen printers use a variety of drying processes as different inks require different forms of curing. Warm air and UV tunnel dryers plus for metal panels heated ovens are required.
How much space is required for screen printing?
This is largely dependent on the equipment at your disposal. A small hand press needs little space however professional machinery is likely to necessitate a much bigger floor space.
What IT skills do I need to screen print?
The actual process of screen printing requires no IT skills however the studio department that prepares the artworks and film for making the actual screen would require suitable MAC facilities and software. Being able to manage vector files is important as you would need to work out colour separations for print onto transparent film.
What type of paint is used?
None. Screen printing is based around ink. The type of ink may differ according to the product being created while the thickness is dictated by the mesh size.
Can screen printing reproduce photographs?
Yes, through a process known as the four colours. Between them Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black are mixed using separate screens to form a full colour image.
How long do screens last for?
A lifetime, if looked after. It is important to clean screens after each print job and store them in the right environment – an air-tight container is best served for those boasting wood or aluminium
frames. What are known as ‘retensionable’ screens can even be tightened between applications, all but resetting them.
Unexposed, coated screens should in effect remain ‘exposure ready’ for around six months but this is dependent on storage. Placing them within an aforementioned air tight dark container is advisable.
What mesh count should I use?
Detailed mesh counts are available across the internet but as a general rule of thumb the higher the mesh count, the finer the threads and holes you have to work with.
A lower mesh is unlikely to facilitate detailed images given fine lines will fall through its enlarged holes – likely soaking a surface.
90 and 160 are considered standard. The latter involves thick ink but high detail. The former is best deployed when creating larger spot colour designs.
40-90 is appropriate for shimmer and glitter ink prints, while 200-230 is ideal for finer detailed images and thicker ink types.
305 is the mesh choice for those creating products of extreme detail, while the next rung on the ladder is typically associated with graphic printing and UV inks – the like that lead to road signs, banners, CDs etc.