Description | Applications
| Screen Fabrics | Stencil Types
| Ink | Press Types
Screen printing has been used for centuries and although there
have been many improvements with the technology, the process still consists
of forcing ink through a stencil covered fabric or wire mesh which has been
mounted in a sturdy frame. The ink goes through only the open areas of the stencil
and is deposited onto a printing surface positioned below the frame. Screen
printing is very versatile and it is often the only printing process capable
of handling certain applications.
The equipment costs for screen printing are lower than other
printing processes, but the rate of production is usually slower. Manual screen
printing can be accomplished with only a few simple items: a sturdy frame, screen
fabric, stencils, squeegees, and ink. Automatic press equipment is available
which greatly speeds up the process, but it is no match for the output delivered
by press equipment used for other print processes.
Screen printing can be performed on almost any type of material
including paper, glass, fabric, plastic, wood, and metal. Products as varied
as signs, posters, circuit boards, mugs, clothing, and soft drink bottles can
be printed using the process. Screen printing is very useful when an image needs
to be wrapped around an object or when images need to be printed onto oddly
shaped manufactured objects.
Fabrics for screen printing are selected because
of several properties. One type of fabric may be suitable for one
application and not another. Fabrics are classified according to the
- Filament refers to the type of thread that makes up the
fabric. The thread can be multifilament or monofilament of which
monofilament provides the best quality. The multifilament threads
produce images with more jagged edges than the monofilament thread,
but they are not as expensive as monofilament.
- Mesh Count is the number of threads per linear inch. A
higher mesh count produces finer details and higher quality in the
- Strength is determined by the diameter of the thread. A
larger thread diameter will provide greater strength to the fabrics,
but the print quality will decrease.
- Weave Patterns for screen printing fabrics are based on
three types: plain, which can be used for most applications, gauze,
which is selected for long runs because of its strength, and twill,
which is chosen for its low cost and when quality is not an issue.
Most fabrics used for screens are made from one
of the following materials:
- Silk used to be the most common fabric because of its durability,
but it is not used as much today because other fabrics, especially
synthetics, have proven to be as good or better and are less expensive.
- Organdy is inexpensive and is good for short and medium
- Nylon is the most durable fabric (synthetic or natural).
It is a good choice for print applications involving convex or concave
- Polyester is widely used for its durability and versatility.
- Metal Mesh is made of stainless steel, copper, bronze,
or brass and is used when plastic substrates are printed with heated
Knife cut stencils are created with manual cutting
and can be paper, water soluble, or lacquer soluble.
- Paper: Stencils cut from paper are used for basic designs
and short runs.
- Water Soluble: Water soluble gelatin is cut away from the
plastic base of the stencil. The cut away portions of the gelatin
represent the image areas. The plastic base and remaining gelatin
are placed on the screen material and water is used to adhere the
gelatin layer to the screen. The plastic base can then be peeled
off from the gelatin layer which remains adhered to the screen fabric.
- Lacquer Soluble: A lacquer soluble stencil is used much
the same way as the water soluble stencil except that the stencil
is adhered to the screen material with lacquer solvents.
Photographic stencils are made of photosensitive
materials and require the use of film positives for exposure. There
are three types of photographic stencils: indirect, direct, and direct/indirect.
- Indirect: An indirect stencil is a photographic stencil
which is produced independent of the screen fabric and is applied
to the screen after exposure.
- Direct: A direct stencil is one in which the photosensitive
material is applied to the screening fabric so that after exposure,
the stencil becomes part of the fabric. It is very durable and is
useful for long runs.
- Direct/Indirect: A direct/indirect stencil is a combination
of the two stencil types. It lasts longer than an indirect stencil,
but it cannot match its quality.
There is a wide variety of inks available for use with screen
printing. The ink for some applications may need to be resistant to ultra-violet
light or they may need to be scratch, fade, or chemical resistant for other
applications. Most of the inks for screen printing are applied with a heavy
coverage so the ink layer takes a long time to dry. The printed products can
be air dried on racks if the number of printed pieces is small, but most often
a heat source is used to speed up the drying, especially if the screen printing
is performed with higher speed, automatic equipment.
Most large volume screen printing is performed on automatic
printing equipment which makes the process much more efficient and cost effective.
Manual screen printing is still used for many of the smaller runs or for specialized
applications. The basic press types are listed below:
- Flatbed: A flatbed press is used for printing on flat substrates.
- Flatbed Cylinder: A flatbed cylinder press is much like a letterpress
flatbed cylinder press and is used for longer runs of flat applications.
- Cylinder: A cylinder press is used for printing on round or oval
- Textile: T-shirts and other clothing items are printed on a textile
- Precision Flatbed: One of the major uses for the precision flatbed
press is circuit board printing.
- Rotary: Higher production rates are a benefit of the rotary presses.
The ink is pumped into the printing cylinder and a squeegee on the inside
of the cylinder controls the flow of the ink.
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