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What is Screen printing | The Ultimate Guide

Screen printing is a method of applying ink onto a surface by means of a roll or squeegee. The image is transferred to paper by pressure applied by the lamination process. Screen printing can be used in many ways and has been used for many years. Before we enter into the topic of what is screen printing, let’s take a look at where it originated from.

Screen Printing Nottingham
A Screen Printer cleaning his tools

History of Screen Printing

The origin of screen printing can be traced back to the Chinese Han dynasty. It has evolved a lot over the years, but its origins can be traced back to 28 AD in China. It has been used to print on fabrics and paper. In fact, it was one of the first forms of printing. The Chinese used this technique to create their silk banners which were an important part of their culture. The Chinese used a silk screen to paint images on paper, which was called a “Chu Pa”. The silk screen was made out of silk fabric and rice paste. The rice paste was used to create a stencil, which was placed over the silk. Then ink would be applied from behind the screen onto paper. This process created an image on paper.

Screen printing showed up in Europe in the 18th century, however it was slow to capture on as a material printing method owing to the high expense of silk mesh at the time. When the Silk Road made imported silk more budget-friendly, screen printing slowly became a popular-- and successful-- method to print material. By the early 20th century, printers had actually developed photo-sensitised emulsions, permitting craftsmen to create complex stencil styles a lot more quickly.

Nowadays, screen printing is utilised both as an artistic medium and as a business printing process. One stencil can be utilised to reproduce the exact same design hundreds-- or perhaps thousands-- of times, so it's a brilliant strategy for producing big orders of custom-made clothes. It can be coupled with multiple decorating methods such as embroidery and vinyl printing.

History of Screen printing in China
Chinese man using Screen prints

Why is screen printing used?

Screen Printing is used for making many different items.This method is especially popular when it comes to clothing, decoration, posters and other promotional items such as university hoodies. Screen printing is perfect for custom t-shirts because it's easy to customise the design and the edges of each individual piece. If you're an artist or designer, then you must have come across the harsh reality that getting your own work printed is expensive and time-consuming. But if you've ever considered screen printing as an alternative to traditional techniques like screen printing and stencilling, then you will know that it's no longer only affordable but also much less risky than other options. It is often used for large order prints such as leavers hoodies due to it's incredible efficiency.

Step By Step Guide

Screen printing is a method used in many different fields. The creative process and the result are similar for all industries, but you need an expert hand on how to screen print right. Let's break down the steps of screen printing step by step.

Step 1: Designing the Image

The first step in this process is to design your image. You can use any type of software you want, but it's recommended that you use something that allows you to zoom in on small details and make sure they're clear and easy to see. The printer takes the style they wish to create on the ended up item, and prints it out onto a transparent acetate film

Screen printing design
A graphic designer getting a screen print design ready.

Step 2: Screen Preparation

Next, the printer will pick a mesh screen to fit the intricacy of the design, and the texture of the material being printed. The mesh screen is then coated with a layer of light-reactive emulsion, which will harden when developed under bright light. Step 3: Exposing time!

The acetate sheet featuring the style is then laid onto the emulsion-coated screen, and the entire thing is exposed to a really intense light. The light hardens the emulsion, so the parts of the screen which are covered by the design stay in liquid form. If the last design is going to include more than one colour, then a separate screen should be used to apply each layer of ink. To produce multi-coloured items, the printer needs to utilise his ability to develop each stencil, and line them up perfectly to make sure the last design is smooth.

Screen printing
Cleaning a screen before applying ink

Step 4: Emulsion Washing

The emulsion is washed off, developing the stencil. After the screen has been exposed for a set time, the areas of the screen not covered by the style will have turned hard. Any unhardened emulsion is then carefully rinsed away. This leaves a clear imprint of the style on the screen for the ink to travel through.

The screen is then dried, and the printer will make any needed touch-ups or corrections to make the imprint as accurate as possible to the initial design. The stencil is now prepared to be used. Step 5: Press Attachment

The screen is then placed on the printing press. The item or garment being printed is put down flat onto the printing board, underneath the screen. There are a variety of various presses, consisting of handbook and automatic designs, however many modern-day business printers will utilise an automated rotary carousel printer, as this enables numerous various screens to work at when. For multicoloured prints, this sort of printer can also be used to use the separate colour layers in fast succession.

Screen printing a T-shirt
T-shirt loading into the screen printing machine

Step 6: Printing Time

The ink is pushed through the screen onto the item. The screen is reduced down onto the printing board. Ink is added to the leading end of the screen, and a squeegee is used to pull the ink along the full length of the screen. This presses the ink through the open locations of the stencil, imprinting the design on the product underneath. The screen is raised and a new garment is put onto the printing board if the printer is developing numerous products. The procedure is then repeated. Once all the items have actually been printed and the stencil has served its purpose, the emulsion is eliminated using a unique cleaning fluid so the mesh can be reused to create new stencils. Step 7: Last Checks

The item is dried, checked and finished. The printed product then travels through a clothes dryer, which 'treatments' the ink and produces a smooth, colourfast finish. The end product will be inspected and washed completely to get rid of any residue, prior to being passed on to its new owner. If you are utilising a hybrid design coupled with embroidery, now is the time to add your embroidery!

Society wearing screen printed merchandise
Friends of Palestine society with their screen printed merchandise

The Advantages of Screen Printing

Screen printing has many advantages and some disadvantages to go with it. The great thing about it is it can cater for super intricate designs and bring out the detail and colour almost flawlessly. It can also be coupled with embroidery designs to bring different levels of texture to the final product. Other Advantages include it's efficiency when printing large orders as each press only takes a few seconds. This becomes super ideal when printing larger orders such as leavers hoodies or even university society hoodies.

The finish of screen printing is also of retail quality. The finish is very soft and does not surface much of the item so it almost feels like the print is embedded within the shirt. When washing screen printed items they keep their colour for a long time however they will eventually start to fade depending on your washing conditions

Disadvantages of Screen printing

Screen printing does have a few disadvantages as a printing method and these mainly include it's setup time. Due to the setup time it is usually no good for orders between 1-24 pieces as the profit margins become a little tight. Another problem comes when the design contains many colours and this setup cost and time suddenly is multiplied. This becomes very inefficient for orders such as a personalised one off piece however if you are printing year 6 leavers hoodies for example, it's a great method to use.

Screen printing Inks

The beauty of screen printing is you can use different inks to achieve a different effect for each print. Let's discuss a few viable options

Plastisol based screen printing inks

These inks have been used most often over time. They are very easy to use and require heat to cure the ink. Usually the ink cures at a specific temperature and the resin carrier absorbs the plasticiser to form a continuous sealed film of plastic. If you are looking for a simple robust ink to use - this will be it. Water based screen inks

These inks give a different finish however similarly carry the same qualities when it comes to drying. The drying happens in two stages where the water is evaporated first followed by the binder permanently adhering to the substrate. This requires a longer drying time and therefore consumes more energy to achieve the same finish, something that people always miss out

Screen printing inks
Screen printing inks

How we use Screen Printing at Print Kahf

Here at Print Kahf, our printers are all professionally trained to deliver the very best results, so you can be sure our service is the very best on the market. We use top-of-the-range equipment to develop customised styles on a huge series of clothing, including Hoodies, sweatshirts, and t-shirts, so be sure to see and take an appearance what personalised products you could create today. Contact us today to start your quote!


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