Screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil to receive a desired image. The stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink which can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing ink into the mesh openings for transfer during the squeegee stroke. Basically, it is the process of using a stencil to apply ink onto a substrate, whether it be t-shirts, posters, stickers, vinyl, wood, or other material.
Screen printing is also a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings by the squeegee and onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. It is also known as silkscreen, serigraphy, and serigraph printing. One colour is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design.
There are various terms used for what is essentially the same technique. Traditionally the process was called screen printing or silkscreen printing because silk was used in the process prior to the invention of polyester mesh. Currently, synthetic threads are commonly used in the screen printing process. The most popular mesh in general use is made of polyester. There are special-use mesh materials of nylon and stainless steel available to the screen printer. There are also different types of mesh size which will determine the outcome and look of the finished design on the material.
Credit is generally given to the artist Andy Warhol for popularising screen printing identified as serigraphy, in the United States. Warhol is particularly identified with his 1962 depiction of actress Marilyn Monroe screen printed in garish colours.
American entrepreneur, artist and inventor Michael Vasilantone started to use, develop, and sell a rotary multicolour garment screen printing machine in 1960. Vasilantone later filed for patent on his invention in 1967 granted number 3,427,964 on February 18, 1969. The original rotary machine was manufactured to print logos and team information on bowling garments but soon directed to the new fad of printing on t-shirts. The Vasilantone patent was licensed by multiple manufacturers, the resulting production and boom in printed t-shirts made the rotary garment screen printing machine the most popular device for screen printing in the industry. Screen printing on garments currently accounts for over half of the screen printing activity in the United States.
In June 1986, Marc Tartaglia, Marc Tartaglia Jr. and Michael Tartaglia created a silk screening device which is defined in its US Patent Document as, “Multi-coloured designs are applied on a plurality of textile fabric or sheet materials with a silk screen printer having seven platens arranged in two horizontal rows below a longitudinal heater which is movable across either row.” This invention received the patent number 4,671,174 on June 9, 1987, however the patent no longer exists.
Graphic screenprinting is widely used today to create many mass or large batch produced graphics, such as posters or display stands. Full colour prints can be created by printing in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black (‘key’)).
Screen printing lends itself well to printing on canvas. Andy Warhol, Rob Ryan, Blexbolex, Arthur Okamura, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Harry Gottlieb, and many other artists have used screen printing as an expression of creativity and artistic vision.
Caviar beads: A caviar bead is a glue that is printed in the shape of the design, to which small plastic beads are then applied – works well with solid block areas creating an interesting tactile surface.
Cracking ink: Cracking ink effect is when the ink produces an intentional cracked surface after drying.
Discharge inks: Discharge ink is used to print lighter colours onto dark background fabrics, they work by removing the dye of the garment – this means they leave a much softer texture. The cons with this process is that they are less graphic in nature than plastisol inks, and exact colours are difficult to control. One of the pros of using this process is they are especially good for distressed prints and under-basing on dark garments that are to be printed with additional layers of plastisol. It adds variety to the design or gives it that natural soft feel.
Expanding ink (puff): Expanding ink, or puff, is an additive to plastisol inks which raises the print off the garment, creating a 3D feel and look to the design. Mostly used when printing on apparel.
Flocking: Flocking consists of a glue printed onto the fabric and then flock material is applied for a velvet touch.
Foil: Foil is much like flock, but instead of a velvet touch and look it has a reflective/mirror look to it. Although foil is finished with a heat press process it needs the screen printing process in order to add the adhesive glue onto the material for the desired logo or design.
Four colour process or the CMYK colour model: Four colour process is when the artwork is created and then separated into four colours (CMYK) which combine to create the full spectrum of colours needed for photographic prints. This means a large number of colours can be simulated using only 4 screens, reducing costs, time, and set-up. The inks are required to blend and are more translucent, meaning a compromise with vibrancy of colour.
Glitter/Shimmer: Glitter or Shimmer ink is when metallic flakes become an additive in the ink base to create this sparkle effect. Usually available in gold or silver but can be mixed to make most colours.
Gloss: Gloss ink is when a clear base laid over previously printed inks to create a shiny finish.
Metallic: Metallic ink is similar to glitter, but smaller particles suspended in the ink. A glue is printed onto the fabric, then nano-scale fibers applied on it. This is often purchased already made.
Mirrored silver: Mirrored silver is a highly reflective, solvent based ink.
Nylobond: Nylobond is a special ink additive for printing onto technical or waterproof fabrics.
Plastisol: Plastisol is the most common ink used in commercial garment decoration. Good colour opacity onto dark garments and clear graphic detail with, as the name suggests, a more plasticized texture. This print can be made softer with special additives or heavier by adding extra layers of ink. Plastisol inks require heat (approx. 150°C (300°F) for many inks) to cure the print.
PVC and Phthalate Free: PVC and Phthalate Free is relatively new breed of ink and printing with the benefits of plastisol but without the two main toxic components. It also has a soft texture.
Suede Ink: Suede ink is a milky coloured additive that is added to plastisol. With suede additive you can make any color of plastisol have a suede feel. It is actually a puff blowing agent that does not bubble as much as regular puff ink. The directions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but generally up to 50% suede can be added to normal plastisol.
Water-Based Inks: Water-Based inks penetrate the fabric more than the plastisol inks and create a much softer feel. Ideal for printing darker inks onto lighter coloured garments. Also useful for larger area prints where texture is important. Some inks require heat or an added catalyst to make the print permanent.
A screen is made of a piece of mesh stretched over a frame. A stencil is formed by blocking off parts of the screen in the negative image of the design to be printed; that is, the open spaces are where the ink will appear on the substrate.
Before printing occurs, the frame and screen must undergo the pre-press process, in which an emulsion is ‘scooped’ across the mesh and the ‘exposure unit’ burns away the unnecessary emulsion leaving behind a clean area in the mesh with the identical shape as the desired image. The surface (commonly referred to as a pallet) ensures that the substrate will be printed against is coated with a wide ‘pallet tape’. This serves to protect the ‘pallet’ from any unwanted ink leaking through the substrate and potentially staining the ‘pallet’ or transferring unwanted ink onto the next substrate. Next, the screen and frame are lined with a tape. The type of tape used in for this purpose often depends upon the ink that is to be printed onto the substrate. These aggressive tapes are generally used for UV and water-based inks due to the inks’ lower viscosities. The last process in the ‘pre-press’ is blocking out any unwanted ‘pin-holes’ in the emulsion. If these holes are left in the emulsion, the ink will continue through and leave unwanted marks. To block out these holes, materials such as tapes, speciality emulsions and ‘block-out pens’ may be used effectively.
The screen is placed atop a substrate. Ink is placed on top of the screen, and a floodbar is used to push the ink through the holes in the mesh. The operator begins with the fill bar at the rear of the screen and behind a reservoir of ink. The operator lifts the screen to prevent contact with the substrate and then using a slight amount of downward force pulls the fill bar to the front of the screen. This effectively fills the mesh openings with ink and moves the ink reservoir to the front of the screen. The operator then uses a squeegee (rubber blade) to move the mesh down to the substrate and pushes the squeegee to the rear of the screen. The ink that is in the mesh opening is pumped or squeezed by capillary action to the substrate in a controlled and prescribed amount, i.e. the wet ink deposit is proportional to the thickness of the mesh and or stencil. As the squeegee moves toward the rear of the screen the tension of the mesh pulls the mesh up away from the substrate (called snap-off) leaving the ink upon the substrate surface.
There are three common types of screen printing presses. The ‘flat-bed’, ‘cylinder’, and the most widely used type, the ‘rotary’.
Textile items printed with multicoloured designs often use a wet on wet technique, or colours dried while on the press, while graphic items are allowed to dry between colours that are then printed with another screen and often in a different colour after the product is re-aligned on the press.
Most screens are ready for re-coating at this stage, but sometimes screens will have to undergo a further step in the reclaiming process called dehazing. This additional step removes haze or “ghost images” left behind in the screen once the emulsion has been removed. Ghost images tend to faintly outline the open areas of previous stencils, hence the name. They are the result of ink residue trapped in the mesh, often in the knuckles of the mesh (the points where threads cross).
While the public thinks of garments in conjunction with screen printing, the technique is used on tens of thousands of items, including decals, clock and watch faces, balloons, and many other products. The technique has even been adapted for more advanced uses, such as laying down conductors and resistors in multi-layer circuits using thin ceramic layers as the substrate.
A method of stencilling that has increased in popularity over the past years is the photo emulsion technique:
- The original image is created on a transparent overlay, and the image may be drawn or painted directly on the overlay, photocopied, or printed with a computer printer, but making so that the areas to be inked are not transparent. A black-and-white positive may also be used (projected onto the screen). However, unlike traditional plate-making, these screens are normally exposed by using film positives.
- A screen must then be selected. There are several different mesh counts that can be used depending on the detail of the design being printed. Once a screen is selected, the screen must be coated with emulsion and put to dry in a dark room. Once dry, it is then possible to burn/expose the print.
- The overlay is placed over the screen, and then exposed with a light source containing ultraviolet light in the 350-420 nano meter spectrum.
- The screen is washed off thoroughly. The areas of emulsion that were not exposed to light dissolve and wash away, leaving a negative stencil of the image on the mesh.
Another advantage of screen printing is that large quantities can be produced rapidly with new automatic presses, up to 1800 shirts in 1 hour. The current speed loading record is 1805 shirts printed in one hour, documented on 18 February 2005. Maddie Sikorski of the New Buffalo Shirt Factory in Clarence, New York set this record at the Image Wear Expo in Orlando, Florida, using a 12-colour M&R Formula Press and an M&R Passport Automatic Textile Unloader. The world speed record represents a speed that is over four times the typical average speed for manual loading of shirts for automated screen printing.
Use Our Online T-Shirt Design Template for Your Custom Tees!
Have you always wished you could design your own t-shirt? Do you think you lack the creative skills needed to create the perfect look? Then you’ll be glad to learn about TeamLine’s shirt design generator! You can create a one-of-a-kind shirt from home – exactly the way you want it!
The Online Generator Lets You Design Your Own T-Shirt in Style
At TeamLine, we’re always happy to help with any and all design elements, but we know our customers want more control over their own designs. That’s why we created the shirt design generator online. This tool does more than just upload a logo to a shirt; it actually allows you to create a logo yourself, even if you have zero design experience.
How does it work? You start by looking at our stock designs. Do you see something you like? We have a variety of design styles and color combinations. You then choose the one that works for you and change the text. This is an easy, cost-effective way to get your athletic screen printing done, but it’s also great for companies, organizations, or just a family who wants t-shirts for their annual reunion.
Design Every Element of Your Shirt
Once you have the logo you want, you can design your shirt at our online store. Choose from 28 different t-shirt colors, add your logo, decide where you want it placed and then add any writing you want. For example, a sports team would include a jersey number, while shirts made for a family reunion would likely have each family member’s name on them.
Do you have additional questions about how to design your own t-shirts? TeamLine is proud to serve the Irving, Texas area and is here to answer all your questions. Feel free to contact us today by giving us a call or just stopping by. You have the creativity in you and we have the tools to help you find it.