The Many Faces of Screenprinting

Screenprinting offers dimension, accurate color, uniformity, tight registration and brilliant effects which are often easier to achieve with this process than by other methods.

Many people associate screenprinting with T-shirts. But screenprinting on textiles is only one of many aspects of screenprinting. Every day we come in contact with screenprinted items — the drapes in your living room, a suntan lotion tube, your fishing registration, the rear window defogger on your car — but most of us aren’t aware of how they are printed.

The advantages of screenprinted items are durability, chemical and moisture resistance, vibrant hues, fade resistance, and protection against touching and abrasion. In addition, the size and the shape of the item — from a stadium banner to a tiny stick-on thermometer — are not barriers to the process.

What is screenprinting?
Refer to your Pocket Pal, and you’ll get a basic sketch of the process, one that hasn’t changed much since early Chinese and Egyptian artisans achieved the same effects with silk screens.

Today, the process is done by machine (automatic or semi-automatic) or by hand. Fabric or wire (usually a man-made material to minimize screen distortion) is stretched over a frame. Part of the screen is blocked with a stencil, and an emulsion is photo-processed over the rest of the screen, leaving an open area through which the ink will pass. On the press, the screen is brought down over the substrate. The substrate may be paper, glass, cloth, plastic, wood . . . or any of a thousand possibilities. A squeegee draws the ink across the screen. The design is formed where ink is pushed through the screen.

Screenprinters often specialize in one or a few categories which may include decals, point of purchase displays, advertising and promotion materials, industrial or electronic applications, containers, or outdoor advertising including banner and fleet signs.

Signs and banners
From a single counter card to a series of giant banners, screenprinting is not limited by materials of varying rigidity or size. A giant sheet of metal which could not contort through the rollers of an offset printing press can be screenprinted easily.

Screenprinters who specialize in signs and banners often offer complementary services such as steel rule die cutting, laminating, mounting, punching, drilling, collating and packaging.

Advertising specialties
Novelty items given to customers as a promotional aid are often screenprinted with aggressive chemical and abrasion resistant inks. Fingernails, watches and rings — as well as the natural oils on people’s hands — can damage conventional inks. Screenprinting enhances the durability of items which are subjected to constant handling, scuffing or extremes in temperature or moisture.

Decals
Produced in a variety of styles in any combination of colors, decals can be applied to most surfaces. Application defines the type: from slide-off to varnish-on to dry-release or pressure sensitive. Large or small, screenprinted decals — with their heavy deposits of ink for durability and vibrancy — can reproduce very fine detail.

Bottles and containers
Remember those milk bottles on your front porch, way back when? Even today, fired-on decals are practical, as they eliminate the need for relabeling and can withstand the container being reused. The container retains the desired glossy or matte appearance of the decal, even after washing, sterilization and exposure to acids and alkalis.

Fine arts and serigraphy
Serigraphs are screenprints produced by the artist, usually in a limited quantity with each print signed and numbered. Multicolored prints require the artist or his chromist to prepare separate screens for each color — using often up to 30 different screens.

Industrial and high tech
When tight quality controls are combined with flexibility and durability, screenprinting meets the demands of computers, circuitry and electronics.

Textiles
Any pattern with a variety of colors can be screenprinted, from your carpet to your pajamas and underwear. Screenprinted designs are bright and durable and can withstand many washings without losing brightness.

Outdoor advertising & transit graphics
Screenprinted billboards not only offer vivid colors (visible from a distance), they also provide durability against weather and sunshine, and can incorporate special effects such as backlighting. Transit graphics include interior and exterior signs on buses, subways and taxicabs.

Summary
Screenprinting is a sensible alternative to other imaging processes for many applications. Today’s screenprinting is an up-to-date, competitive and sensitive graphic arts process, oriented equally to mass production as it is to limited runs.

Copyright 2010, Printer’s NW Trader, Sandy Hubbard, Publisher, 1-800-426-2416. No portion of this article may be re-printed or re-used without crediting Printer’s NW Trader. Special thanks to Jim Wakefield at Cascade Graphics, a trade screenprinting firm in Bend, Oregon, for assistance in preparing this overview.

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