What is the screen printing process? Step-by-step how & how it works

The screen printing process is a popular technique of pressing ink through a mesh screen to create a preferred design. Screen-printed products are very popular nowadays. More than likely, you own one yourself. 

advanced screen printing press

This technique is effective for creating posters and artwork. It can also be used to print on fabrics and textiles. It gives artists the freedom to create custom clothing and products. 

If you are still confused about the screen printing process, we will show you how it works and a step-by-step process in this article. 

What is screen printing?

screen printer

The process consists of transferring a preferred design onto a flat surface. It is done using ink on fabric and paper, the most commonly printed surfaces. Workshops with specialized equipment can also print directly onto wood, metal, or plastic

The method involves pushing the ink through a stencil on a mesh screen, which is created in advance. This way, the imprint of the preferred design is created on the surface underneath. 

This process has many names and can often be called silk screening or silk screen printing. Although the printing method is always the same, the way this stencil is created can vary depending on the materials used. 

pieces of a screen printing press

One shade of ink can be used for the created designs, or several can be applied for a pronounced aspect. While some designs feature a single color, others can consist of multiple ones. Each color has to be applied in individual layers with different stencils for each ink. 

What do I need to screen print?

Caydo 46 Pieces Kit with 4 Color Ink

If you plan to start screen printing yourself, you need many tools and pieces of equipment for such an endeavor. Luckily, Caydo offers all 46 pieces necessary for screen printing into a single kit which you can purchase from the link above.

4 cans containing 3.4 fl. oz of fabric screen printing ink are included, which can be applied to many synthetics such as cotton or polyester. These 4 cans feature different colors. Two are blue and red while the others are classic black and white. It gives you a wide range of color combinations.

An LED UV lamp exposes images and helps shorten photo emulsion curing time. This 110v 20w lamp is powerful, and the PVC light stand is highly durable. 

With this tool, you get the opportunity to conduct screen printing for multiple uses. You can print many patterns on tank tops, T-Shirts, or even bags and accessories. It is ideal for beginners, and it can represent a fun activity to do with your friends or family. 

The objects and tools included in this kit are:

  • Two printing frames
  • 4 cans of ink
  • 1 set of exposure lamp kit
  • 1 measuring plastic cup
  • 10 small plastic cups
  • 1 ink knife
  • 6 gloves
  • 1 squeegee
  • 2 plastic scrapers
  • 1 roll of masking tape
  • 5 A4-sized inkjet transparency films 
  • 10 wood mixing sticks
  • Instruction manual

How do screen prints work: Covering the basics

printing press

One of the most basic screen printing methods consists of applying a stencil to a mesh screen. Afterward, ink or paint will be pushed through that stencil to create the design onto the surface of the chosen material. 

There are multiple stenciling techniques that you can use, making this process very flexible and changeable. While the process remains the same, there are multiple ways to create the design. 

An important reason why screen printing is so popular is its versatility. You can use multiple shades of ink for the same design. However, multi-colored ones will need individual colors with separate stencils. These techniques produce vivid colors, even on dark fabrics. 

The ink is applied to the paper’s surface, giving a pleasing sense of tactile texture. The printer can easily produce multiple times with the same stencil. It is ideal for printing the same design on multiple items without changing the stencil. 

It is highly efficient for creating large batches of clothing and is ideal for a sports team or work uniforms. You can also create a complex design featuring various colors with professional equipment.

Screen printing history

Screen printing is a popular technique nowadays, and highly specialized equipment is used for this process. However, this method can be considered an ancient form of art. The earliest mention of this technique dates back to the year 950 AD. It’s when it was used as a method of printing patterns in China.

Several hundred years later, Japanese artists used this practice to transfer their designs onto fabric. They did it by using brushes to push the ink through a mesh screen. In Europe, this technique appeared in the 18th century. 

It was not popular or efficient since the cost was relatively high, as silk was available only on the Silk Road. After the first world war, contemporary artists started experimenting with screen printing and expressed their art on fabrics. 

Nowadays, this method can be used in both artistic and commercial ways. You can produce hundreds of designs with the same stencil. The rapid growth of technology allows for an easier operation of this process. 

Advantages of screen printing

Screen printing has numerous advantages, and you will find many benefits if you employ this process. One of the most important advantages is the ability to do bulk work, making it very cost-efficient. Compared to digital printing, screen printing will yield a higher quality output. It produces more durable work that will last the test of time.

You can use this method for various materials, which are not limited to paper and fabrics. Using specialized and high-performance machinery, screen printing can be applied on wood, glass, or even electronics.

For large orders and special requests, screen printing is the ideal solution where designs can be used in bulk. Costs are therefore reduced, and the entire process can be less expensive this way. 

You can print in a greater thickness of ink than other techniques. It opens up more possibilities and allows your creativity to invent new designs that can also be three-dimensional. 

Because the ink has a special composition and greater thickness, these designs are highly durable and can last for a long time. Exposure to water or scratches won’t fade the design away. 

Different types of screen printing

screen printing press

There are various types. They are all unique and can be used on multiple materials. These methods can produce remarkable results, so learning about each of them and what they can create is important.

Spot Color

This method is the most common one for screen printing. It uses the color of the ink and prints it through the stencil of the screen mesh. Vibrant, solid spots of colors are produced, and a thick layer of ink is created on the material. 

This method is ideal for darker designs and formats with less than 4 colors. If you have more colors in your design, other methods are more suitable. 

Halftone

With halftone printing, you can use multiple colors in a gradient for your design. These tones will range from halftones of the same color all the way to various solid spots. This method is excellent for achieving a multi-color look without using multiple colors.

When you want to get an orange radiant color on a black t-shirt, you can print with a 50% gradient. The gradient will consist of a combination of colors, resulting in an orange tone when combined with the original ink. This method improves the quality of your design and also feels softer to touch.

Grayscale

Grayscale is ideal for printing a full-color image as a one-color grayscale. Instead of using all the necessary colors for creating the final image, only one will be used to achieve a filtered outlook. 

Most of the time, grayscale is done in black color on a light background. However, you can also use any color you want. It is a cost-effective method, especially when you want to print black and white photographs. 

CMYK

It is one of the most complex methods and should only be done on an automatic press. You can also do it manually, but the results will be less satisfactory. A full-color photograph is broken down into four main colors. They are cyan, magenta, yellow and black, hence the name of this method.

The process combines these colors to recreate the original image and all of its color range. This expensive process is usually done on dark fabrics and backgrounds.

Simulated Printing Process

This process combines the above four-color process with the first and most common spot color method. When they are combined, the original message is obtained.

The spots will accentuate the overall design of the printed material. But this method can be expensive and requires special equipment and skilled workers. 

How to screen print at home

As presented above, there are many methods of screen printing. However, they all involve the same basic process. This process requires a special emulsion that is reactive to light, being the most common one in commercial printing. 

Below we will show you a step-by-step tutorial on how to do the process. Anyone can follow these steps, from beginners to experts, as they will get the same desired results.

The step-by-step screen printing process

  1. Create the design.

    Before you start, you need a design. It can be a simple logo or shapes resembling something important to you. If you want to get more specific and complex, you can also use photographs and images. This design will be used to create the stencil. 

  2. Prepare the screen.

    Prepare the mesh screen that suits the complexity of your design, and consider the texture of the fabric you want to work on. This screen is coated with a special emulsion that reacts to light. This emulsion will start to harden once exposed to bright light. 

  3. Expose the emulsion to bright light.

    Continue by laying the sheet onto the screen that has been coated with this special emulsion. After that, expose it to a highly intensive and bright light. Because of this exposure, the emulsion should harden quickly.

  4. Wash off the emulsion to create the stencil.

    After a certain period of time spent under light exposure, the areas of the screen that are not covered by your design should harden. Any emulsion left over can be slowly rinsed away, and the clear imprint of your design starts being visible.

  5. Prepare your item for printing. 

    Place the screen on the press and lay the item flat on the board underneath this screen. You can use manual and automatic presses, as they will get the same results. Automatic ones are ideal for commercial use and bulk orders. 

  6. Press the ink through the screen and onto the item.

    You will lower the screen to the printing board and add ink to the top end of this screen. Use a squeegee to pull the ink on the full length of the screen and press it through the open areas of the stencil.

  7. The finishing step

    After the ink is applied, the item will pass through a dryer to create a smooth finish. The final product has to be washed properly to remove any residue. 

Is screen printing hard?

Screen printing is not difficult, especially if done in just a single color. However, it is a process that requires lots of techniques and dexterity. 

Beginners might have difficulties when they start their screen printing journey. As their experience increases, so do their results. Once you figure out how things work in this industry, you will be able to improve with more and more practice. 

FAQ

What are the 5 basic materials used in screen printing?

For screen printing, you will need some basic materials. These are essential for every design you want to make and apply to your items. The 5 basic materials are:

– A design for an item you want to work on
– A silkscreen
– Registration marks that will be exposed to the screen
– A squeegee
– Ink matches the color preferred for the design.

While these are the basic materials, you will need many additional ones to complete the process. Take a look here at the product we recommended in this article. It contains 46 tools necessary to get started. 

What are the disadvantages of screen printing?

There are a few disadvantages of screen printing, but one of them is represented by the initial setup cost. This cost is much higher than the one necessary for digital printing. It also takes more time to set up and finish this process. 

Are screen printing screens reusable?

After you finish the process, the ink can be easily washed away from the screen. Make sure the contact paper still stays in place afterward, and you can use it for multiple runs in the future.

What shirt material is best for screen printing?

Cotton is often referred to as one of the best materials for the purpose. The outside is smooth, and this material is lightweight. T-shirts made of cotton are durable and will last a long time, so applying a special design to them is worth it.