The Complete Guide On Silk Screen Printing
Silkscreen printing, also called screen printing is an ancient method of using ink through a stenciled mesh to create printed designs. It is often known by the name; Serigraph, which is a blend of two Greek words. Seicos, which means silk, and graphos, meaning writing.
Silk screen printing is a famous technique, used in almost all industries today. The shirt you are wearing or the mug you drink your coffee in might have a print created by this method.
Silk screen printing is most commonly used for fabrics, canvases, and posters but with special inks, it has been used for printing all sorts of things like wood, glass, and ceramic, etc. Silk screen printing may use just one or multiple colors of ink for printing.
For multicolored prints, a separate stencil is used for each ink in an individual layer. The silk screen process can be distinguished by the way stencils are created for prints. Different materials used for making stencils include vinyl, polish and light-sensitive emulsions.
Silk Screen Printing Process
The silk screen process can be explained in detail using the following steps:
Step 1: The first thing needed in the silk screen process is an original image from where the printer copies the design. The design or pattern selected is then printed onto a transparent acetate film by the printer.
Step 2: Next, the mesh screen is chosen, according to the difficulty of the design and the type of fabric or other material used for printing. The suitable mesh screen is then covered with a layer of light-sensitive emulsion.
Step 3: The acetate sheet with the design is placed on the mesh screen and both are exposed to a bright light, which makes the emulsion hard. If the design has different colors, a separate mesh screen is used for each color ink.
Step 4: After a certain time, the portions on the screen not covered by the design turn hard. Any area of the emulsion that was not hardened by the light is washed away. That creates a perfect imprint of the required design on the mesh screen which is later used for silk printing. The screen is completely dried after the wash-up and the stencil is prepared to be used.
Step 5: The mesh screen with the design is set up on the printing press with screws. In the modern process, there are many different types of printing presses used, some are automatic, some manual. For multicolor printing, an automatic printing press works best as it can apply individual color coats quickly. The fabric or the paper which is to be printed is placed on a printing board, below the screen.
Step 6: The screen is lowered to come in contact with the fabric and ink is poured on the screen. A squeegee is then used to press the ink from the screen onto the item. When the ink is pushed from the screen, it creates the imprints of the design onto the fabric. For printing multiple items, a new item is placed underneath the screen and the process is repeated.
Step 7: After transferring the ink onto the item, it is completely dried up using a dryer. The final product is washed and checked for residue before sending out into the market. The mesh screen is washed off with special chemicals before the next use.
Silk Screen Printing Materials
For complete silk screen production, there are several different tools ad materials needed. Here is a list of all the materials used in silk screen printing:
Printer and Films
The first thing that you need in custom silk screen printing is a printer that can be used to create designs on the stencils. The required design is taken out onto a transparent film called acetate film. For each color, different acetate films are used and they are later on used for creating stencils.
The most important material in silkscreen printing is a mesh screen. The transplant film is placed on the mesh screen to imprint the stencil. Originally the mesh screens were made from silk thread, hence the name. But nowadays, there are many options; commonly crafted from polyester fabric. The thickness, texture, and thread count of the mesh screen determine the quality of the final print.
Ink is poured onto the mesh and pressed down on the item being printed. The pigments or the inks used for silkscreening play an important role as there are so many options to choose from. For fine screen printing, there are specialized inks that create excellent effects on the final product. Printing companies may use glittery inks, puff inks, or texturized inks to give their silk screen production a unique look.
The printing press is a useful tool, it holds the mesh screen firmly between prints. It lets you change the item being printed easily underneath the mesh screen.
Squeegees are rubber blades attached with a handle, made of wood or plastic. They are used to press ink through the mesh screen onto the item being printed. There are plenty of different designs of squeegees used in the silkscreen technique. Usually, a squeegee is picked according to the frame of the mesh screen.
The belt dryer is used to heat the ink to a temperature that will make the print last longer and prevent it from cracking or fading.
Cost of Screen Printing
The cost of screen printing depends mostly on the number of colors used and the quantity of the items to be printed. Almost all printing companies provide a basic screen-printing price list. On average, most companies/shops charge around $10 to $30 for one color silkscreening.
However, there are often some additional charges apart from the original cost of the silkscreening. So, it’s best to compare different printing companies` rates before choosing the one that suits you best.
Silk Screen Machines
Silk screen machines come in different sizes, durability, color stations, prices, and weight, depending on the need of the printing companies. Based on functioning, they are categorized into three major types; automatic, semi-automatic, and manual.
- An Automatic machine completely operates on its own and requires no labor.
- A Semi-automatic machine is somewhat mechanized, which means it involves some human labor to change the items being printed.
- A Manual machine is totally functioned by hand, meaning it needs proper labor for its operation.
Silk screen vs Heat Press
The heat press is a printmaking technique where the desired design or logo is printed on paper. Then the design from the paper is transferred onto the item to be printed. The item is placed in a heat transfer machine and the paper is pressed using heat to achieve the final product. In the case of silk screen printing, ink is absorbed into the fabric, but in heat-press, the ink just sits on top of the item which is why they fade away quickly.
The major difference between the silkscreen process and the heat press is of durability and resolution. The heat-pressed products have better resolution of the image but their print won`t last longer, compared to silkscreened products. At the time of the printing, the graphic quality of the heat pressed fabric is always better but it declines over time. Whereas, in silk screen printing, the quality of the graphics stays the same.
Difference between Screen Printing and Pad Printing
When choosing between which printing process to opt for your promotional products, you might be confused between pad printing and screen-printing processes. Here are some major differences between the two process to help you make your decision:
- Screen printing uses a mesh screen and ink to deliver the design onto any medium, whereas, pad printing involves pushing ink from a silicone pad onto the item.
- In silkscreening, the item to be printed is placed under the mesh screen and the ink is pushed onto it with a rubber blade. In the case of pad printing, the machine holds the pad and the item firmly and the ink is pressed with the help of the pad.
- In silk screening, the medium that needs to be printed has to be even and regular but in pad printing, irregular items can also be printed easily.
- The silkscreen technique dates back to 900 ADs, in China when it was used as an art form. Whereas the pad printing process was introduced around the 1960s, so it’s a comparatively modern technique.
Advantages of silk screen printing
Silk screen printing has grown to have several benefits over other printmaking techniques. Some of the significant advantages of silk screen printing include:
Unique visual effects
The silk screen process can create special and vivid effects on the final products. Many of the designs and the color combinations achieved from silk screening are unique only to this method.
In silk screening, there is no limitation of the nature of the item and the thickness of the medium. Screen printing can be done on all kinds of materials and it is suitable for cotton, polyester, wood, plastic, and glass, etc.
When items are to be printed in bulk quantity, the silk screen technique is the most efficient and cheap. One stencil and mesh screen can be used to print out thousands of items, such as t-shirts and logos, etc.
Silk screen printing gives the fabric a vibrant and neat look, making it long-lasting and durable. As the ink becomes a part of the fabric, it doesn’t fade away or cracks easily, even after washing.
Silks screen process produces high standard designs, which is why companies choose this method for logo printing and promotional products.
- The silk screen process is rather expensive when more than two colors are chosen for printing or printing items in smaller quantities.
- The process is difficult to be conducted and requires specialized persons and knowledge.
- Cost efficiency reduces when a separate design is selected for each item.
- Takes a lot of time for the first screens to be made for each specific ink color.
- The setup cost for the system is too high.
Uses of silk screen printing
Silk screen printing has been used commercially and in artistic sectors for more than 100 years. Some of the typical applications of this process are:
Companies prefer silk screening for printing images on promotional stuff like mugs, tote bags, bottles, and notebooks.
Silk screen process is recommended for printing logos, graphic designs, printouts, and simple phrases, because of the four spot color options.
The well-known use of the silk screen process is t-shirt printing. The textile industry has made great use of this method for designing different images. Custom silk screen prints are also available in many printing setups.
Ceramics and glass
Silk screen printing has a vital role in the production of decorations made from glass and ceramics. This process reduces the limitations faced by the glass and ceramic industries for printing designs and patterns.