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What is Screen Printing?

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Screen printing is one of the most common techniques used to transfer graphics to clothing and other fabrics. The process involves using a mesh screen that is stenciled to create a unique pattern of porous holes. The screen is then placed on the fabric and a roller is used to press paint through the open holes of the mesh. Keep reading to learn more about the history and benefits of screen printing.

History of Screen Printing

The process of screen printing can be traced back to about 1000 AD. During this time, the Chinese developed an early form of the process and passed it along to other Asian countries. Given that silk was initially used to create the screen mesh used in the technique, it should not be all that surprising that Asia was the first to employ screen printing (today, silk has been replaced by steel, nylon and polyester).

It would not be until trade routes to Asia opened in the 19th century that screen printing became commonplace in the Western world. The technique's primary use in Europe through much of the early 20th century was for the production of wallpaper patterns. Eventually, the benefits of screen printing were discovered by artists and graphic designers, who co-opted the commercial benefits of screen printing and began to use the process to create artwork and clothing.

Screen Printing Techniques

Over the years, many techniques have been employed to create stencil designs from mesh. For example, crude stenciling can be achieved by cutting out a pattern from non-porous material and adhering it to the screen directly. The use of drawing fluid was an early technique employed by artists.

Today, most commercial screen printing services use a technique known as photo emulsion. This involves the use of acetate or tracing paper and an emulsion-coated screen. When placed in ultraviolet light, the emulsion hardens in all places except where the acetate or tracing paper is present. In this way, photo emulsion has the ability to create extremely accurate and detailed screens.

Benefits of Screen Printing

When it comes to the mass production of graphics, few techniques can match the precision and speed of screen printing. Once the screen is created, it can be used to fabricate hundreds or thousands of individual prints. This makes is a great technique for mass production. The process is also more versatile than traditional printing. For this reason, it is seen as ideal for printing on non-paper surfaces. Everything from fabric and ceramics to wood and metal can be printed on through screening.

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