For many of us, “screen printing” is a mysterious process that involves a shadowy corner of the facilities in 6th form industrial arts class. Later, the term comes attached to a lot of fun, unique and colourful T-shirts that make their way into our regular wardrobe. But what is screen printing, exactly?
Screen printing is the process by which many artisans press T-shirts and other pieces of clothing or fabric with a painted design. There are several steps involved in the process, each of which must be performed carefully and exactly to avoid making a mess of the project. The screen itself is made of silk or nylon fabric, which is tightly stretched across a wooden frame.
This is how it happens:
- Choose the artwork: Screen printers begin the process with a well-defined piece of graphic art, usually digitized with computer software. This makes it possible to correct any errant lines or colour bleeds before imprinting the fabric.
- Print a film: There are two types of films you can work with. Both are plastic, but the traditional process is to cut out holes on the film where you want the ink to penetrate the screen. Modern screening films, on the other hand, are light-sensitive so you can cut out the holes with ultraviolet light. This is an important part of the process since only one colour can be printed at a time. You will need one film for each colour.
- Press the Ink: Place the T-shirt on a flat, solid surface, and press the framed silk or nylon screen on top of it. Next, press ink through the screen using a sponge to permeate the holes on the film and paint the shirt.
If the pattern calls for multiple colours, you must apply each of them separately, waiting for the first layer of ink to dry. There are many types of professional dryers that may be used, since air-drying and hand-drying with a hair dryer don’t work. Printers work their way up from the lightest colours to the darkest, to avoid any awkward overlapping. Once all the layers of ink have dried, you’re left with a shirt that matches the original artwork!