How the Screen Printing Process Works

The origins of screen printing can be traced back to China from the Song Dynasty period. This art was then adapted by the Japanese in the form of stenciling. The screen printing process we know of today was first patented by Samuel Simon of England in 1907. Simon stretched cloths like linen or silk on a frame where it could support hand painted stencils to print something on the fabric.

So how does modern the screen printing process work? Here's the materials you'll need and how to get started:

  • Screen. This is an aluminum or wooden frame with a finely woven fabric, usually nylon, silk or polyester, stretched across the frame with correct mesh count. The mesh count is the tightness or looseness of your screen’s fabric weave.
  • Ink. There are many types of inks used when screen printing, but the commonly used inks are water-based inks, which can create a soft texture, especially if used on clothing.
  • Squeegee. This is a flat and smooth rubber blade tool used to curb the stream of ink on the screen.
  • Image or Artwork. This is probably the most important thing you should always take into consideration. You have to get a copy of your desired illustration to transfer into a fabric.
  • Acetate/Transparency Film. This is a sheet of plastic film where the original image is printed.
  • Liquid Photo Emulsion. This is a photosensitive coating used to burn the image on the screen.

Once you have the materials needed, proceed to do the following:

  1. Prepare the screen for use. Wash the screen in cold water and degreasing agent to remove any lubricant or grease in the screen.
  2. Create stencil of the image you’ll be using. The image you’ll be using should be printed on acetate/transparency film where areas that are supposed to be colored should be in opaque to create the stencil. Prepare a different stencil for each color that needs to be inked.
  3. Burn the stencil into the screen. Coat the screen with the liquid photo emulsion coating and allow it to dry. Once dry, place the patterned acetate over the screen and expose it to an ultraviolet light. The coating will harden and will not let the ink pass through except the parts that are covered by your opaque image.
  4. Wash the screen. Make sure to spray water lightly so that parts of the stencil that were not exposed to light, the opaque artwork, will not be washed out. The soft parts of the emulsion will be washed away, leaving only the pattern for your opaque artwork.
  5. Screen print your stencil. You can now burn the image on to a paper or fabric of your choice. You can use the pattern to screen print a t-shit or maybe screen print an envelope or catalog print. Use the squeegee to control the flow of the ink on the screen.

With modern technology, most people prefer digital printing over screen printing, but it still remains the most widely used way of making attractive t-shirt prints.


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