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Screen Printing Resource Guide

Ancient civilizations used stenciling to create negative images on cave surfaces thousands of years ago. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used pigment forced through or over an object to decorate dwellings and other items. Screen printing (a form of stenciling) originated in 10th century China. The screen printing technique has evolved over hundreds of years, lending itself to social change in the 1960s and modern creative expression. Today, artists and printing professionals use the technique to create a range of colorful and creative artwork and commercial products.

What is screen printing?

Essentially, screen printing is a stenciling technique. The technique is also called serigraphy, serigraph and silkscreen. The method requires the use of woven mesh or a screen stretched across a frame. A stencil that bears the desired image determines what will appear on the printing medium. People who use the technique use a range of printing media, including paper, T-shirts, watch dials or an otherwise flat surface.

The history of screen printing

The earliest recorded form of screen printing appeared in at least 960 AD in China. The Chinese initially used the method to produce images of Buddha. Ultimately, Chinese artists began transferring images to fabrics and other items. Later, the Japanese perfected screen printing and used human hair and brushes to create the desired image. By 1870, screen printing made its way to Europe and the French began using the technique to create printed cloth. In the early 20th century, a group of screen printers (Charles Peter, Roy Beck and Edward Owens) successfully created the first photographic screens. In an effort to distinguish artistic screen printing from its commercial use, a group of artists, which included F. Wynn Graham, established the National Serigraph Society in the mid-20th century.

Screen printing: 1960s to present

The 1960s were a time of social unrest in many parts of the world. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, Ivy League strikes and a host of other global problems fueled rebellion. The ability to quickly create publicity posters for a range of causes brought screen printing to the forefront of social movements. Andy Warhol created one of the most iconic images during the 1960s; his silkscreen print titled “Marilyn Diptych” — an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe — was created immediately after her death and artists interpret the piece as a contrast of her life and death. In the 1980s, the Tartaglia family, including Marco (who passed away in 2010), Marc Jr. and Michael Tartaglia, filed a United States patent for a screen printing device, which no longer exists.

Screen printing techniques

The screen-printing technique requires ink, a screen, squeegee and a stencil, at minimum. Printers place the stencil over the screen, which creates a block that allows ink to flow around the stencil and create the image. The printer then places ink on the screen and presses it through the mesh onto the printing medium.

Stenciling

Stenciling is the foundation of the screen-printing process. The photo emulsion stenciling technique has become more popular over the years. The photo emulsion technique uses an overlay that is transparent. People create the overlay using a number of methods, including painting or photocopying. The portions excluded from the stencil are usually left a dark color to prevent that portion of the overlay from transferring to the printing medium. The screen receives a layer of emulsion and the printer allows it to dry. Once dry, the artist or printer exposes the overlay and screen to an ultraviolet light source, which creates a negative image of the stencil.

Screen printing materials, uses and presses

In order to create powerful, colorful images, printers use a range of materials. For example, expanding ink is used to create three dimensional images or words on garments and other items. People also use cracking, discharge, suede, water-based and plastisol inks to form screen-printed images. The cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or CMYK, color process is used in graphic screen printing to impart color. Some of the materials used for the technique require that artists and printers consider environmental regulations.

People use screen printing to create a range of products in addition to fine art. Manufacturers and printers employ screen printing to make the faces of clocks, decals, uniformed services signs, balloons and clothing. The technique is used to create images on glass, plastic, metal and poster-grade paper. Today, advances in technology make graphic screen printing possible, which incorporates a range of colors.

No matter the desired result, printers need a method to create multiple copies of screen-printed images. Consequently, the screen-printing press delivers accuracy and efficiency. The screen-printing press is available in a manual or automated format; manufacturers generally use automated presses in industrial settings. The use of the press increases production dramatically, especially if the system is automated.

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