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What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is a method of duplicating an image or design by passing ink through a mesh onto a surface like fabric, paper, metal, wood, or plastic.

Stencils create a barrier, ensuring that ink is applied in the correct place based on the design, logo, or custom art.

Today’s most commonly used screen printing method is the lithography technique that combines a light-sensitive emulsion with a stencil on clear acetate film.

With the lithography screen printing technique, UV light creates a chemical reaction that blocks the ink from going through the screen mesh in places the light touches. The stencil blocks sections from UV exposure, and that’s where the ink passes, transferring the design from the mesh to the surface.

History of Screen Printing

Screen printing has a rich history starting in China around 960 AD. Then, the concept of screen printing spread to Japan and European countries, where each place made tweaks to the techniques and transformed it into what it is today.
Invention in China
Artifacts of silk screen printing from the Song Dynasty show that screen printing has been an art form from as far back as 960 AD. The Chinese used silk, paper stencils, and mesh screens made from human hair. Images and designs appeared on the silk by pushing ink through the mesh screen and over the stencils with hard bristled brushes.

Use in Japan

China inspired Japan to experiment with silk screen printing techniques. Instead of using human hair as a mesh screen, the Japanese used another layer of silk as a mesh screen to push ink through to create a design.

Europe in 18th and 19th Century

Silk was a rare commodity in the western parts of the globe, so silkscreen printing wasn’t much seen in Europe. That is until France began making silkscreen prints in the 17th century once silk was more widely available. By the 18th century, screen printing was popular across western Europe.

The 19th century saw a change in the screen printing technique with methods called Cyclostyle in the UK and Mimeograph in the US.

America in the 20th Century

The 20th century made screen printing an everyday occurrence. In 1907, Charles Peter, Roy Beck, and Edward Owens introduced photo-image stenciling. However, the chemicals used for early lithography screen printing were highly toxic. Scientists have since tweaked the technique with healthier materials, but the steps remain the same.

By the 1950s, modern artists like Peter Blake and Andy Warhol used screen printing as a common medium in the pop art movement.

Michael Vasilantone further changed the printing industry in 1969 by inventing, developing, and selling a dual-rotary, multi-color, garment screen printing machine. This machine revolutionized the efficiency and process of mass-producing screen-printed T-shirts.

Types of Screen Printing
There are six types of screen printing techniques.

  1. Spot color screen printing
  2. Halftone printing
  3. Grayscale printing
  4. Duotone printing
  5. CMYK printing
  6. Simulated printing process
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