Learn about screen printing and all it entails using this screen printing process step by step guide. Here, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about screen printing, from its meaning, uses, and more.
We’ll also walk you through the main products you’ll need for screen printing, the function of each, and a comprehensive comparison between screen printing and digital printing.
What you require
If you are starting completely from scratch you will require the below.
Tools and Supplies: Degreaser, Emulsion remover, Photo Emulsion, Transparency Paper,
Screens, Squeegee, Speedball Fabric Ink, Dual Edge Aluminum Emulsion Scoop
What is Screen Printing?
Screen printing is also known as serigraphy or silk screen printing and is one of the most popular types of commercial printing in graphic designs. Although the process may seem complicated at a glance, the steps involved are pretty easy and straightforward.
Screen Printing is the process of transferring/printing stenciled graphics onto a textile or paper surface using a woven mesh screen, squeegee, and ink. There are special inks available if you want to screen print a design onto wood, plastic, glass, or even metal.
Benefits of Screen Printing
Business owners prefer to use screen printing for three main reasons:
- Effective in producing bold prints, especially on dark-colored fabrics
- You can reproduce one design more than once. This is not only efficient but also saves a lot of time
- Screen printing is super-accurate in printing complex color patterns.
What Does Screen Printing Entail?
Screen printing involves creating a unique graphic design on a stencil, pushing paint/ink through the stencil to transfer the design to your preferred surface (or surfaces). After you understand the process below are the equipment’s and best place to get them.
In a nutshell,
- Coat the screen with a light-reactive emulsion
- Put the screen in a dark room
- Select or create a design
- Print the design on a transparent acetate film
- Place the acetate film on the screen right side down, holding it in place with a clear tape
- Expose emulsion to bright light. The emulsion will dry
- Rinse out the emulsion
- Set up screen and printing surface for printing
- Press ink to transfer the image on to your paper/fabric
1. Create a Design
Begin by choosing the design you’d want to transfer to the finished textile or paper surface. Print it onto a clear acetate paper, which you’ll use when creating your stencil. You will need to hire a Graphic Designer for this.
Get one here.
2. Prepare the Screen
The printer now selects a suitable mesh screen. The screen is selected depending on the texture and surface you’re printing on and the design’s complexity. Next, apply a light-sensitive emulsion on the screen.
3. Expose the Emulsion
Lay the acetate film, selected in step 1, onto the screen already coated with a light-reactive emulsion. Expose the two to super bright light. This light hardens the emulsion, while the parts with the design aren’t affected. They’ll stay in their original liquid state.
However, note that you’ll need to create separate screens for each color if you are printing a multicolored design. The trick lies in ensuring that all the screens fit well to transfer your image as seamless as possible.
4. Wash Off the Emulsion to Create your Stencil
The emulsion on your screen hardens on all areas, except those with the design. You’ll need to wash off the liquid emulsion. Rinsing off the emulsion will expose a clear outline of the design, through which ink (or paint) will pass through, in the steps that follow.
Allow the screen to dry off any excess water and check the design to ensure it is flawless. Make the necessary adjustments. Your stencil is now ready.
5. Prepare your Fabric or Paper for Final Printing
Place the screen on the printing press, with your fabric or paper below it. A printing press can either be manual, automatic, or semi-automatic.
If you run a busy commercial printer, an automatic printing press is most ideal. That’s because it allows you to operate more than one screen simultaneously. The automatic printers also come in handy in case your design has more than one color. You’ll easily and quickly transfer the different colors back to back.
On the other hand, manual printing presses are more time-consuming and are best for the DIY enthusiast who engages in screen printing as a hobby.
6. Press the Ink through the Screen on to your Paper or Fabric
Next, lower the screen down on to your printing board. Then add ink on the top end of the screen and use a squeegee to pull the ink (or paint) down the screen’s entire length. By doing so, you’re pressing the ink (or paint) through the exposed areas of the stencil. This transfers the image onto the fabric or paper underneath.
If you’re creating several products with a similar design, simply raise the screen, remove your garment and place a new one. Repeat the process for all items.
Once the process is complete, you’ll need to wash away the emulsion using a fluid that is specially made for the purpose. You can as well wash the emulsion using plenty of clean water. The clean mesh can be reused during future tasks.
7. Wash and Dry the End Garment/Garments
The final step involves passing the printed paper/fabric through a dryer to colorfast it for a smooth finish. Finally, wash the garment thoroughly to get rid of any ink residues, and your printed product is now ready to go to its end-user.
The Must-Have Equipment for Screen Printing: The Complete Guide
Like with any other skill, you’ll need the right work tools if you want to get excellent results. But, as someone who is only beginning screen printing, choosing the best options can be mind wracking — there are so many options available.
That’s why we come in with this guide on the essential equipment for screen printing. We’ll walk you through each tool, giving you a brief of what it entails and its purpose in screen printing.
1) Screen Printing Press
Although you can screen print using a squeegee and mesh screen alone, a printing press helps boost your speed and efficiency, especially if you’re printing several items. The purpose of a printing press is to hold the screen in its right place, making it easier for you to remove the fabric or paper you’re printing on quickly.
Screen printing presses are classifiable into three main types, including automatic, semi-automatic, and manual. Manual screen printing presses require you to operate them yourself. That’s not only tiring but also time-consuming.
Semi-automatic screen printing presses are slightly automated to reduce the amount of work you’ll do. But automatic presses are fully automated. They’ll perform all their functions without requiring your input.
If you’re a large business that prints products in bulk, then a semi-automatic or automatic press is most ideal. They are quicker, accurate, and more efficient. Below is what we recommend as the best screen printing press for individual and small screen printing businesses.
The SPM Screen Printing Press is ideal for small businesses and individuals alike. You can use it for printing plastic, wood, leather, copybook, paper, woven fabric, and other bare surfaces. However, it is best for four colors T-shirt overprinting. However, note that the press doesn’t come with screen frames. You’ll need to buy these separately.
The ink or paint transfers the design on the stencil to the product you’re printing, and these inks come in different types and colors. Some inks are glittery, others are texturized, while some can even expand to create a unique raised effect.
Also, note that some inks are will only work with some types of fabrics and not with others. And you’ll require special inks when printing on woods, metals, plastics, and other surfaces.
After printing a design on garments, the clothing is passed through a dryer, which treats and sets the ink to ensure a colorfast item. You can wash the garments and the color doesn’t come off.
A great option of inks for paper, fabric, and cardboard is the Speedball Fabric Screen Ink Starter Set. It is available in packs of 6 color sets, including red, green, blue, white, yellow, black, and green. And you can use it on a wide range of fabrics, including polyester, cotton, linen, and more.
The ink also produces long-lasting impressive results on fabric. Simply ensure the ink is set and cured correctly after application. And to achieve the best results, use the ink on light-colored clothing.
The silk screen refers to a wooden or metal frame fitted with a polyester fabric on top. Polyester fabrics are preferred to traditional silk thread since they are cheaper and work precisely as the silk thread.
However, the thread count and thickness of the screen differ depending on the texture of the fabric or surface and the required level of detail. If you are looking to have finer details in your print, choose a screen with smaller spaces.
Screens are washable, either using special washing fluids or water. And you can reuse them for future projects. Below is an excellent printing screen kit ideal for beginners.
A squeegee in screen printing refers to a rubber blade usually attached to a metal, wooden, or plastic handle. The handles are generally long to ensure comfortable use. A squeegee is used to push (or pull) ink through the screen onto the garment, paper, or item you’re printing.
To achieve the best coverage, ensure the squeegee you’re using is the same size as the screen printing screen. Plus, if you are printing an intricate design with many details, choose a firm rubber blade. It’ll ensure even distribution of ink to the entire stencil. Softer rubber blades are ideal for printing designs that are less detailed or printing on clothing.
5) Washing Station
After each project, you must wash the screens to get rid of all emulsions. Once clean, the screens are ready for use for the next projects.
If you are a small or individual screen printer, you can wash your screens in a sink using enough water. On the other hand, large businesses often invest in particular cleaning acids to remove the emulsion much faster.
This screen printing starter kit comprises three screen printing frames of varying sizes, three squeegees, masking tape, ten wood sticks, and one ink knife.
The frames measure 10 x 14 inches, 8 x 12 inches, and 6 x 10 inches. Plus, the squeegees are of different kinds to suit each of your printing jobs. An A4 transparency film aids in transferring your design or image. What’s more, the wood sticks and ink knife comes in handy when mixing and transferring your inks and emulsions.
And the masking tape helps to protect your image and prevent any interference, especially with paint jobs. The tape is easy to use, peel, tear, and leaves unnoticeable marks.
That’s all about screen printing. And as you have seen, the process is no rocket science. It is relatively straightforward, and with the right tools of work, you can print any of your designs on paper, fabric, plastic, metal, wood, and more.
Remember that you’ll need to create each color pattern on a separate screen if you are printing a design with two or more colors. And always wash your screen after use, either with water or special washing fluids, to ensure they are clean and ready for use during the next project.
Printing T-shirts is great. If you want to learn how you can earn money from it check How to grow your Ecommerce T-shirt Store and boost sales
I hope we answered all the questions you had about screen printing. Do you have any questions, or do you need clarification? Please feel free to engage us in the comment section below.