The Process of Screen Printing
Screen printing is used to make a variety of different art forms. Everything from carefully composed walls of texts in art museums to edgy T-shirts are made using the process. Screen printing is done by large businesses that churn out thousands of products a day, by art students in campus studios, and by DIY enthusiasts making shirts that reflect their individual interests. It's also a recognized art form that's been used by many influential artists since it was first used back in the Song Dynasty in China around 1000 A.D.
What Is Screen Printing/Silk Process?
Screen printing is also called silk screening. It applies thick inks that rest on top of a textile instead of sinking down into the material. Once, it was the only way to create large amounts of T-shirts. Vintage band or sports T-shirts are examples of screen printing. Different thicknesses of inks are used for various results. Thicker inks work well with graphic designs that only use one or two colors. Thick inks are very vibrant and also are very soft to the touch. The more colors used, the more expensive a screen printing project will become.
How Does i t Work?
Screen printing uses thin mesh. Silk was used historically, but now it's more likely to be polyester. The design is turned into a negative and printed, or painted, onto the screen. The screen is then set against the textile. Once it is set, ink is rolled across the screen, setting it onto the textiles. Although it might sound easy, screen printing is a complicated process that requires trial and error, practice, and experience.
The Process of Screen Printing
The process for screen printing involves several steps. The screen is prepared by being covered in an emulsion that keeps ink from seeping through. Then the inks are mixed to match the colors needed for the project. The textiles and screen are now set into a press. The textile is stretched over something that resembles an ironing board. Then the screen is set on top of it and inks are poured over the screen. Rubber squeegees rub the inks all over the screen quickly. The textile soaks up the ink. Projects with lots of colors go through this process several times, once for each color. The textile now has to dry to set the ink and make sure the colors stay in place and don't bleed out.
Screen Print Manuals (PDF)
Screen Printing (PDF)
Tools Used in Screen Printing
Screen printing requires some specialized tools. The basics include a screen, inks, a rubber squeegee, and the emulsion needed to keep the ink from seeping through the wrong parts of the screen. Additionally, most screen printers use transparent paper to help them transfer their desired image onto the screen. An aluminum scoop coater is very helpful for applying the emulsion to the screen. Screen printing also requires some kind of press. People have made DIY presses at home, but professional quality presses are also available.
Many artists have used screen printing in their work. The best known from recent history is probably Andy Warhol. Warhol used the technique during the 1960s. He would use well-known images of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley and print them onto textiles using a variety of bright colors. He also gave everyday objects, like the Campbell's Soup Can, this same treatment. Other artists, like Roy Lichtenstein and Corita Kent, also used the process as a way of making their own individual statements about culture and art.