#PrintingProcesses: Screen Printing

After we took a closer look at gravure printing, one of the oldest printing processes still in use today, in this edition of #PrintingProcesses we take you into the world of screen printing. Historically, it’s considered the fourth printing process and is also called stencil printing. If you combine screen printing with suitable ink, you can print on almost any flat material, such as textiles, glass, ceramics, paper and even stone.

Printing Processes

Are you a newcomer to the world of printing and don’t know where to start? Or maybe just a devoted print enthusiast who wants to freshen up on the basics? Then you’ve come to the right place! With our series #PrintingProcesses we’re introducing you to all the basic – yet very important – techniques and fundamental knowledge of the print technologies we know and utilize to this day. In this edition we dive into a direct printing process: screen printing.

How does screen printing work?

At the end of the 19th-century screen printing was developed as the fourth printing process and has since been primarily used in sign and textile printing. It used to be the only way to print personalised products, such as T-shirts with a company logo, in large quantities. 

To give their work a retro look, artists, by the way, use screen printing for their art prints. Aside from the field of application of textile printing, a distinction is also made between graphic and industrial screen printing. Graphic screen printing is used for the production of advertising materials and art prints, while industrial screen printing is used to produce surface coatings or self-adhesive articles. But how does screen printing work in general?

In contrast to conventional stencils, screen printing is a stencil printing process that can picture very detailed and detached graphics. The screen that gives the printing process its name is actually a fine mesh fabric and can consist of polyester, nylon and even steel, depending on how the result is to look. This fabric is stretched in a frame and fitted with a stencil that covers parts of the fabrics. After that, the frame is fixed in a printing machine over the to-be-printed textile. With the help of a so-called rubber squeegee, the printing ink is spread through areas that are not covered by the stencil. Concluding the process, the printed textile can be removed from the machine and laid out to dry on contact with UV light. Important to know: Only one colour can be used per screen and stencil. In order to print another layer of ink, the already printed layer must be completely dry or the colours can smear. Moreover, a primer layer is often needed to make the colours really shine when printing on darker textiles. Summing up, the production of individual stencils, the complex printing process and the waiting time between the layers of ink make screen printing only economical in large print runs. However, it’s particularly suitable for large areas in one colour. 

Screen Printing

Screen printing vs. digital printing

You now know exactly how screen printing works, so let’s take a look at the difference between screen printing and digital printing. If you’ve ever tried to print a design on textiles, you’ve probably come across the term “digital print”. This printing process comprises the editing of designs on a computer before printing. Even though screen prints can also be made by machine nowadays, the process itself is not computer-based and therefore not digital. In digital printing, a printer applies ink directly to the T-shirt using inkjet technology. It’s comparable with printing on paper, but the material being printed on is a T-shirt. Digital printing uses special water-based inks that are absorbed by the fibres of the garment. This method is also called digital direct printing or digital textile direct printing. A big advantage of digital printing, particularly for businesses that want to experiment with colour and design, is the extensive colour options that allow detailed designs and photo-realistic images with virtually no colour restrictions. As already mentioned, screen printing is particularly suitable for large areas. In contrast to this, digital printing enables orders to be processed on demand and without upfront costs. Screen and digital printing differ in their methods and generating costs but they deliver comparable, high-quality prints. 

Now you have a first overview of screen printing, how it works, its pros and cons such as its difference from digital printing. To learn more about different printing processes, check out our series #PrintingProcesses