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The Art of Screen Printing

11 June on T-Shirts  

Have you ever wondered or been curious as to how the design on your Custom T-shirt ended up there? The other day I was admiring one of my favorite shirts and truly appreciating the work that goes intoit’s creation. Then I started thinking about how most people probably don’t understand the process or know much about it. That’s when I got my idea to share with you the methods involved.

The Technique of Screen Printing
It’s the process of getting an image onto a material such as cotton, canvas, or paper. There are two methods.

1. This involves a woven mesh material, an ink blocking stencil and of course ink. The open areas of the stencil allow the ink to be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a coating, known as substrate. Then a squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing the ink into the mesh openings for transfer.

2. The other method uses a stencil method, where the design is imposed on a fine mesh screen, the blank areas are coated with a resistant substance and the ink is forced into the mesh openings with a squeegee and onto the printing surface.

Now I know this may sound a bit technical, and it is, but before I try to explain it a bit more, I want to tell you a little about the history behind it.

How it started and Where it’s been
The very first images of screen printing appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). So in other words a long, long time ago. Screen printing then made its way to Japan and other Asian countries where it was adapted and new techniques evolved. Let’s move forward several hundred years. In the late 18th Century, the process became popular in Western Europe, but only when silk was easily obtained from the East, which they used in the mesh.

Now let’s fast forward to the early 1910’s. This is when a few people began experimenting with the process. They started using various chemicals and light, to create the images on the canvas. By the 1930’s, a group of artist coined the word Serigraphy, which differentiated the artistic method from the industrial form.

Speaking of artist. Andy Warhol was one of the most iconic artists in history to popularize screen printingaka serigraphy. His use of color & popular images became the rage. There were other artists who used this technique as well, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Blexbolex, Rob Ryan, Arthur Okamura as well as many more who also used screen printing as a medium to express their artistic vision.

Now that you know a little bit more about the history, let’s talk about the method to the madness.

The Steps& Process

Here’s what you’ll need.
1. A frame with a piece of mesh stretched across it.
2. A stencil.
3. Ink
4. Squeegee
5. Canvas or Paper

Once you have your frame and your stencil formed to block the negative space of the design, so that the ink only passes through the open spaces, you’re almost ready to begin.
Now I realize that most of you won’t actually try to create this process, but for those who are still curios, keep reading.

First your frame and screen must undergo the pre-press process, which involves emulsion and tape. This is when the design is created on the mesh. Next the screen is placed atop a substrate and ink on top of the screen and behind a reservoir of ink.

The screen is then lifted so that it doesn’t come into contact with the substrate, and then using a slight amount of downward force, pull the fill bar to the front of the screen. This causes the ink to fill the mesh openings and moves the ink reservoir to the front of the screen.

Now the squeegee is used to move the mesh down to the substrate by pushing the squeegee to the rear of the screen. The ink that is in the mesh opening is squeezed by capillary action to the substrate in a prescribed and controlled amount. As the squeegee moves toward the rear of the screen, a tension is created which pulls the mesh away from the substrate leaving the ink upon the substrate surface. If you want to learn even more about the screen printing process, take a look at this video.

Squeegees and substrates, it sounds like a whole other world, unless you’re already familiar with the process. A friend of mine in college was an Artist who used Serigraphy to create beautiful designs on paper. I could watch her for hours. Up until that point, I had never had any exposure to screen printing.

It was a very interesting and creative process with a hypnotic effect. If everything wasn’t just right with the mesh or the positioning of the design or there were little holes that the tape had missed, she would have to start the entire process over from scratch. It was tedious, but the end results were beautiful. Eventually I had one of her pieces hanging on my wall.

When I was in art school, I had another friend who was a textile major. She also used screen printing, but she used it to create textiles on fabrics. It was pretty much the same process, but just a different medium. Both processes were equally fascinating to watch.

One last bit of information. There are three common types of screen printing presses. There is the ‘flat-bed’, ‘cylinder’, and the ‘rotary’, which is the most commonly used. There are also numerous methods of stenciling techniques and materials, which are used during the process, but far to many for me to mention in this article.

Hopefully, this has given you a basic idea of what the screen printing process involves. So the next time you see a really cool T-shirt online or an amazing work of serigraphy art in a museum, you’ll know a little bit more about what it took for it to be made. F2UBTM4PGBGJ





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