Screen printing, also called serigraphy or silk screening, is a technique of applying ink onto material (like paper, fabric, or canvas) using a woven mesh and a stencil. The stencil is attached to the mesh or is created on the mesh with photo-reactive chemical emulsions, and the ink is pressed through the mesh onto the material with a squeegee or a rubber blade. The stencil allows the ink to pass through only where the artwork is located, leaving the design on the material.
Because this process is relatively simple and the materials needed are fairly inexpensive and easy to obtain, screen printing is a popular craft for hobbyists and individual artists, as well as for commercial production. Those who are interested in successful screen printing can benefit from a brief history of screen printing and from an explanation of the eight steps for creating a screen print using photosensitive emulsions, including several tips for doing each step successfully. They can also search for and purchase screen printing materials and equipment at brick and mortar craft stores and at online marketplaces like eBay..
A Brief History of Screen Printing
Screen printing first appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE) and migrated to Western Europe in the late 18th century. The art was called "silk screen printing" because silk was used in the process prior to the invention of polyester mesh. Because silk was costly and hard to come by, the art did not gain popularity in Europe until silk became more widely available as trade between Europe and Asia increased.
Andy Warhol popularized screen printing with his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe in the early 1960s. Because of this pop influence (and because screen printing materials are readily available), the technique has been popular in underground movements and subcultures ever since. In 1969, American entrepreneur, artist, and inventor Michael Vasilantone patented a rotary multi-color garment screen printing machine. Originally manufactured to print logos and team information on bowling shirts, the technology was soon directed to printing on T-shirts. Today, more than half of the screen printing in the United States is done on garments.
8 Steps for Successful Screen Printing
The process of screen printing using mesh stencils made with photosensitive chemical emulsions are explained below, with helpful tips for each step to enable any artist (whether novice or expert) to achieve success in screen printing.
1. Choose or Create the Artwork to Be Screen Printed
The best way to prepare artwork to be screen printed is to have it copied onto a transparency. Most copy shops do this for a very small fee. Original artwork can be painted directly onto a transparency or onto any piece of sturdy, clear plastic. Beginners should create simple designs with fairly clear, thick lines since screen printing delicate, fine-lined artwork can be tricky.
The objective is to create what artists call a "film positive" of the artwork, which is 100 percent black on a clear background. Whether it is printed or hand-drawn, the artwork blocks the emulsion on the screen and the emulsion is washed off the design, allowing the ink to pass through the screen and transfer the design onto the T-shirt or other object that is imprinted.
2. Gather the Materials Needed for Screen Printing
Once the artwork to be screen printed has been selected and prepared, it is time to gather the rest of the necessary materials and equipment.
Object to Be Printed
The screen printing can be done on paper, on canvas, or on just about anything made from fabric, like a T-shirt, a tablecloth and napkins, a scarf, a tote bag, or simply a piece of fabric that is framed and hung as art. The object should be clean and ready to absorb the ink.
The screen frame is usually made of wood and is very tightly covered with a fine mesh material. This is the screen through which the ink is transferred onto the object to be printed. Metal screens are the most durable and stand up to many washings and printings.