Screen printing is the process that involved transferring a stenciled design on a flat surface with ink, a mesh screen, and a squeegee.
The most basic screen printing method will involve making a stencil on a mesh screen. Then, pushing paint or ink through that stencil to create the imprint of your design onto the surface of the chosen material.
One of the most interchangeable factors involved in this process is the various stenciling techniques that can be used. So, while the actual process of printing remains largely the same, there are many ways to create the stencil.
Any designs that are created with the screen printing method can use multiple shades of ink. However, with a multi-colored design, it is necessary to apply each individual color with a separate stencil.
There are many reasons why screen printing is a popular technique, but the most compelling of these comes from the extensive choice of colors that can be used. Screen printing is effective on darker fabrics too.
Aside from this, the printer can quickly reproduce a design many times. Because a stencil can also be used to replicate a design repeatedly, it is ideal for creating bulk garments and accessories. Compared to digital printing alone, a professional printing company will be able to achieve a far more intense coloring. However, due to the complexity of the process overall, there are limitations to the number of colors that can be used in a design.
Heat transfer printing is the name given to any kind of printing that uses heat to bind a design to a fabric. The design is printed out onto a material coated with heat-reactive adhesive, called transfer or sublimation paper. When a heat press is applied to the transfer paper, the adhesive reacts to the heat and sticks to the surface of the fabric beneath, creating a printed textile.
Heat transfer printing is easy and cost effective, so it's great for smaller batches of personalized printing. It can also be used to transfer detailed photographic designs, which screen printing can't do. Digital transfer printing can also be used to get great results on items like bags, hats and footwear, which can be tricky to screen print owing to their awkward shape.
It’s also possible to combine the heat transfer process with digital techniques, to get the best of both worlds. With digital heat transfer printing, a design is created using computer software and printed onto white transfer paper. The design is then cut out using a machine called a plotter, which follows a digital outline to get accurate results. The finished transfer is placed on the desired spot on the garment or accessory, and is then heat-treated to bind it to the fabric.
If there’s a downside to heat transfer printing, it’s that the quality can vary drastically depending on the materials used, and certain printers using low-quality materials and shoddy techniques have given it something of a poor reputation in recent years. But, as long a good transfer material is used and the design is applied with care, the resulting garment will be a high-quality, long-lasting piece.
When an item is professionally screen printed by a company, using the correct washable heat-treated ink, then it shouldn’t wash out. If all elements of the process are done correctly, including the drying temperature and the correct timings, you should get a long-lasting product that should not wash out.
There are many different screen printing methods, but they all use a similar basic technique.
Here’s a quick overview of the steps involved in screen printing.
#1 Create the design – the design is printed onto a transparent acetate film, which is then used to create the stencil.
#2 The screen is prepared – the printer will need to select the right type of mesh screen to suit the stylistics of the design and the texture of the fabrics being used. This mesh screen is then coated with light-reactive emulsion, which will eventually harden as it’s developed beneath the bright light.
#3 The emulsion is exposed – the acetate sheet with the design is then placed onto the emulsion coated mesh, and it is exposed to a bright light. This light will harden the emulsion so that any parts of the screen that are covered by the design will remain in a liquid-state. If there is more than a single color being used in the design, then a new screen will need to be used for each color. Each screen will need to be aligned with precision by hand.
#4 The emulsion is washed off, and the stencil is created – once the correct time period has elapsed, all of the areas of the screen that are not covered by the design will go hard. Any emulsion that has not hardened will need to be rinsed away. This will result in a clear imprint of the design on the screen in order for the ink to pass through.
#5 The screen is dried, and touch-ups made – once step 4 is complete, the screen will be fully dried, and the printer will need to make any corrections or touch-ups. The stencil is now fully prepped and ready to be used.
#6 Item prepped for printing – the screen will then be placed onto the printing press. The item is then placed onto the printing board, below the screen.
#7 Inking and Squeegee – the screen is then lowered onto the printing board, with ink being added to the top. A squeegee is used to pull the ink across the full length of the screen. This process pushes the ink through any open areas in the stencil, which results in the design being imprinted onto the product.
If the order is for multiple items, this process is repeated. Once complete, the emulsion is removed using a washing fluid. The mesh can then be reused in order to create a new stencil.
#8 Dry, Check, and Finish – The final stage will see the printed garment or product passed through a dryer. This will cure the ink and ensure a smooth finish. The final product is quality checked and washed in order to remove any remaining residues.
For those looking to print onto darker-colored fabrics, screen printing is ideal.
For more information and quotes, click below.