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How Screen Printing Works

Screen printing is a process that goes back thousands of years, but has really exploded in popularity in the last fifty. It is significantly different than your home or office printer, which typically uses a stream of ink from a cartridge directed at a piece of paper to form images or words.

In screen printing, a screen mesh suspended in a frame is placed over the substrate, which is the surface to be printed on. A stencil with the artwork or design is “burned” into it with ultraviolet light and dried photopolymer emulsion. Finally, ink is poured onto the stencil, then moved back and forth with a blade or squeegee. The ink fills the mesh, which transfers the image to the substrate.

The History of Screen Printing

Screen printing was invented by the Chinese during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD). Originally, it was called silkscreen printing because the mesh was made of silk threads. This technology spread into other East Asian countries over the centuries, and was introduced into Western Europe in the late 1700s. However, it remained a niche specialty in Europe because silk was not widely available.

The process made its next leap forward in the early 20th century, when American inventors Roy Beck, Charles Peter, and Edward Owens introduced the idea of photo-imaged stencils. In the 1930s, another name for screen printing was coined: “serigraphy,” based on the Latin word sericum (silk) and Greek word graphein (to write or draw). By this time, screen printing was becoming more durable, with the introduction of aluminum frames and mesh threads made of polyester, nylon, and stainless steel.

Screen printing leapt into the popular consciousness in the 1960s, when artist Andy Warhol introduced its look to the masses. In 1967, American inventor Michael Vasilantone patented a rotatable multicolor screen printing machine that could print large batches of T-shirts with unique designs. Screen printing took off as a means of artistic expression. Because the equipment and ink involved was becoming more readily available, it became a favorite of independent artists.

Benefits of Screen Printing

Screen printing can be done on a variety of materials, most popularly textiles and paper, but also wood, glass, plastic, ceramics, and metal. In its industrial application, it is used to print products as diverse as balloons, medical devices, product labels, graphics on snowboards, pinball machines, and even the circuitry in solar panels.

After Hours Screen Printing is proud to be carrying on the tradition of screen printing as an avenue for free speech and bold, original designs.