What Is Screen Printing: Step-by-Step Guide to Screen Printing
One of the best ways to create unique and stylish pieces you love, while still reducing your environmental impact, is through the process of screen printing. Screen printing has been around at least since the 1200s and has been used as a method of creating everything from clock faces to wall decals to individualized garments.
Today, screen printing is becoming popular within the sustainability movement. It allows individuals and small businesses to create small-run prints of unique designs and styles, which means little left-over inventory going to landfills and waste centers. Artists can try new and different designs at low cost, and more styles and icons are available on the clothes you like best.
Here at Kotn Supply, you’ll find just such shirts. We work with small farmers and communities to create low-impact pieces that reduce environmental impact and contribute to the slow fashion movement. Learn more about screen printing with the support of our team and begin creating pieces designed to last right from the comfort of home.
What Is Screen Printing?
Screen printing was first introduced in Asia more than a millennium ago. It made its way to Europe in the 18th century and began to take root only after the required materials, like silk mesh, became more available across the continent.
As advances in chemistry took place, so did the use of screen printing, and an underground network of DIYers and guerilla marketers began using it to promote bands, revolutions, and ideas. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Pop Art movement brought screen printing into the mainstream. It has remained a staple of low-impact sustainable fashion, counterculture movements, and modern art ever since.
Essentially, screen printing relies on the transfer of ink and the setting of ink using a chemical process. Stencils can be used to block ink transfer in certain locations, and multiple colors can be layered over one another for a more complex or comprehensive style.
While silk mesh was the first material used in the screen, many modern screen printers now rely on synthetic materials, like polyester and nylon, to create screen print designs. The size and function of screen print material can also influence and alter the final design.
One of the benefits of screen printing is that it can be done at home or at work with relatively few materials. It’s easy to put your ideas and designs out in the world, and you can get started today with the following steps.
1. Create Design and Collect Materials
You’ll need a few specific materials in order to begin the screen printing process, including the design you’ll be putting onto the shirt or tote. Additionally, you’ll want to collect up the frame for the printing process, your silk or synthetic mesh or meshes, depending on how detailed your design is, and the emulsion solution.
It’s important to note that there are different types of screen printing, especially when it comes to tones and color combinations, and the method you follow may vary depending on the preferred outcome of the design.
2. Prepare the Screen
Once you have your materials, you will move on to the screen preparation practice. You’ll want to select what kind of mesh screen you will be using, depending on how detailed the design is, and your preferred emulsion solution. There are three main types of emulsion solutions to pick between, and they will vary in cure time, quality, and use on larger versus more detailed designs.
To move forward, simply coat the mesh in your preferred emulsion layer.
3. Expose the Solution
The emulsion layer is developed only after exposure to ultraviolet light. This is done through a strip of acetate. For more complex designs, specifically ones involving more than one color, you will need a different screen for each of the different colors.
4. Let the Screen Dry
Once the emulsion process is complete, you will want to leave the screen to complete the drying process. Any remaining emulsion solution will be washed away, and the screen will be left to dry, after which, the stencil will be prepared for use.
5. Prepare the Board
There are many different types of screen-printing boards, but the most important thing to consider is tension. It is only through properly applied tension that the stenciled design will appear in full on the shirt or tote bag. Begin by placing the material down on the board, whether you have a simple frame or an industrial screen printing machine, and then lay the stencil atop it.
6. Begin the Printed Process
Lower the mesh down onto the material and then add the ink on top of the screen. You will use a squeegee or metal palette knife to move the ink along the design, evenly distributing ink across the stencil for complete coverage. Essentially, the ink moves through the stenciled negative design to create a positive imprint on the material below, which is how the final design develops.
If your design has more than one ink color or is more complex, you may have to overlay more than one stencil to achieve the complete design. This may be more time-consuming, as the ink has to be allowed to dry, unless the final look is a blend or ombre design, but the effect can be quite unique and striking when the process is complete.
You’ll be able to use the stencil as many times as needed to create the right size inventory, and then a cleaning solution can be used to remove the emulsion blend from the stencil.
7. Finish Your Design
Of course, you want your screen print design to last. To achieve the proper finish, the product is cured in a dryer, which helps to smooth out the final product and ensure that the design doesn’t fade when exposed to sun or water.
Different Screen Printing Types
It’s important to note that there are several different methods for screen printing styles and effects, and the process you follow will affect how your final product looks. These different processes can be used for a variety of simple, complex, and colorful options.
To start, the simplest method of screen printing is spot color screen printing, which requires just one color of ink and a simpler design. Halftone printing also uses just one color, but allows the fading of that color to create an ombre effect, and grayscale printing is a cost-effective way to create shades of gray in your final design.
Duotone and four-color printing, which is also called CMYK printing, are best for colorful designs and styles. Duotone combines the use of black half-tone and color half-tone for a faded, shadowy style that often resonates with underground art movements.
Finally, CMYK printing relies on the use of all four colors of ink, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, for a fully comprehensive color design. While it is possible to achieve a screen print look with CMYK by hand, many artists use a printer or automated process to ensure the style is as clean as possible. The more colors, the more complex the process.
If you really want to take your screen printing design to the next level, you may want to consider a simulated printing process, which uses both four-color and spot-color printing. This is the best method for achieving hyper-realistic detail or ensuring that very detailed designs are fully expressed on the material.
Screen printing can be used for a wide range of needs and materials, from cotton shirts and tote bags to decals, signs, and merchandise. It is a way to create unique and small-run projects that don’t generate a lot of waste and allow new and upcoming artists to try out their favorite styles or techniques. And because the process is relatively easy to try at home with just a few simple materials, anyone can give screen printing a go with a design or style they really like.
One of the top benefits of screen printing is sustainability. There’s no left-over inventory and every one of the products gets used since they’re created on demand or in small runs. And here at Kotn, we’re all about sustainability.
We work with small cotton farmers to ensure that our materials are ethically and sustainably sourced, and we believe in transparency at every stage of the supply chain process. We’re excited to work with artisans around the world, and guarantee fair and living wage compensation for work that we really value.
Learn more about how our team at Kotn is dedicated to bringing high-quality and long-lasting products to your home, and about how the screen printing process can work for all your fashion and style needs with the support of our team today.