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What Is Screen Printing and How Does It Work?

If you’re new to the sublimation industry, you’ve probably heard about the term “screen printing” at least once.

Screen printing technology allows you to create printed products by printing graphics on items using thick layers of ink. The design is transferred through a mesh screen onto a substrate.

This method is a classic, and it’s been used in the apparel industry along with other industries for decades. It was actually the only method to make graphic clothes for a few decades.

In this guide, we’ll let you in on everything about screen printing and how it works. So, let’s get started!

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, also known as silk screen printing, serigraph printing, and serigraphy), is a technique used to print designs on products. Ink is transferred onto the substrate, where certain parts are blocked by a stencil, resulting in imprinted designs.

Some of the products that can be created using screen printing include:

  • T-shirts
  • Bags
  • Binders
  • Flags
  • Backpacks
  • Glassware
  • Ceramics
  • Aprons
  • Snowboards
  • Signs

How Does Screen Printing Work?

Here’s a quick step-by-step walkthrough of how a typical screen printing process goes:

1. Creating the Design

The first thing you need to do before screen printing is to come up with the actual design you’re going to print. You can use graphics editing software like Adobe Photoshop to create it.

Once the final design is realized, it’s now ready for printing. The design is printed onto a transparent acetate film. The same film will be used to create the stencil, but more on that later.

2. Preparing the Screen

After the design is printed on an acetate film, you need to choose the mesh screen according to the project’s complexity. You should also take the texture of the item’s fabric into consideration.

Once you’ve chosen a suitable mesh screen, coat it with a light-reactive emulsion layer. This type of layer hardens when exposed to bright light.

3. Exposing the Emulsion

After applying the emulsion layer, expose the mesh screen to a source of bright light. The light source must be stronger than just an average light bulb.

Within hours of exposure, the emulsion will harden, and the design-covered parts of the screen will maintain a liquid state.

On a side note, if your design encompasses multiple colors, you must use a dedicated screen for every layer of ink. However, it’s important to line up the stencils well for the best results.

4. Creating the Stencil

Now you should have a mesh screen with hardened and unhardened areas. The next step is to rinse away the unhardened parts that are covered by the design, leaving just the hardened parts that’ll make up your final design when the ink passes through the imprint.

Then, you should dry the screen and inspect your imprint carefully so that there are no major imperfections.

5. Preparing the Item for Printing

By now, you should have a ready-to-use stencil. Put the screen on the printing press and lay the item flat down on the plate right under the screen.

Generally speaking, there are 2 types of presses: manual and automatic. We’d recommend using an automatic one as it lets you apply multiple color layers consequently. You can also work with more than one screen simultaneously.

6. Pressing the Ink

Once the item is ready for pressing, add ink to the top of the screen, and use a squeegee to spread the ink properly all over the screen. This step is crucial to be done perfectly since the ink must go through the open areas of the stencil.

If you’re making multiple items with separate designs, you just need to raise the screen and lay the next item flat on the printing board every time.

After you’re done printing all the items, remove the emulsion with a washing solution if you want to reuse the mesh for your upcoming projects.

7. The Final Touches

Dry the item using a dryer to cure the ink and ensure a smooth end product. Inspect the item one last time and make sure that there isn’t any residue.

Is Screen Printing Cheaper Than Digital Printing?

Screen printing is more cost-friendly than digital printing, especially when it comes to bulk orders. However, for small quantities, digital printing would be cheaper.

This is because the majority of the costs of screen printing lie in the process of developing the setup that includes the mesh and the stencil. Once it’s created, the following costs will only be the price of the ink.

So, it doesn’t make sense to go this route if you only need a few items.

Final Words

By now, you should be more familiar with screen printing and its technique.

If you’re planning to use screen printing for your business, this guide should be your starting point once you’ve prepared all the necessary tools.

Enjoy your prints!

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