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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Screen Printing

The Craft of Screen Printing

Screen printing craft project from www.walkaboutcrafts.comIntroduction to Screen printing

A sophisticated adaptation of stenciling techniques, screen printing is used by artists and designers to transfer simple and complex images onto paper, fabric and other surfaces. Designs can feature just one or a number of fabrics.

Origins of screen printing

Stenciling uses a design cut out from paper or cardboard. The stencil is then temporarily fixed to the surface or fabric while the design is filled with colour.

Artists found that stencils limited design possibilities because the image can only use blocks of colour while floating parts - such as the centre of an 'o' - cannot be completely cut out. The ancient Chinese, and later, European stencillers, tried to get round this problem by using fine hairs as tabs. The hairs held the floating parts in place, without blocking the ink or paint when it was brushed over the surface.

This idea gradually developed until by the middle of the 19th century stencils were being held in place by silk screens - pieces of silk stretched over a frame. The mesh of the silk was fine enough to allow paint to be pushed through it.

At first the use of silk screens was limited to the production of cheap advertisements and wrapping paper. As the process became more popular it was used to print wallpapers and in 1915, the development of photographic silk screen stencils revolutionized the fabric painting industry.

Nowadays, synthetic materials are much more widely used than the original silk mesh, offering a better range of effects and enlarging the uses of screen printing techniques. In the 1990's artists such as Paolozzi, Rauschenberg and Warhol adopted screen printing with enthusiasm, using it on large scale canvases and photo stencil collage images. Their colourful, bold pictures were an important influence in the modern art world - screen printing is nowadays widely used by artists.

Basic techniques of Screen Printing

The silk screen is a fine meshed fabric stretched over a wooden frame. The mesh can be made of a wide range of materials, including synthetics such as terylene.
The edges of the mesh are masked with tape to prevent ink seeping out.

The squeegee consists of a strip of rubber attached to a piece of wood. It pushes the ink across the screen, forcing it through areas of the mesh not blocked by the stencil. The squeegee must be wider than the print, but narrower than the frame.

Silk screen inks have the consistency of thick cream to prevent them running across the screen and seeping under the stencil. They are fairly slow drying, to prevent the mesh becoming clogged up.
The type of ink used depends on the stencil: for example, oil based rather than water based inks are used to block out glues that dissolve in water. There are also specialized inks for printing on textiles, wood, glass, metal and even ceramics.

The stencil is painted or stuck onto the screen using a number of methods and materials.

Cut paper - the stencil is cut from paper either as a positive or a negative print. The stencil is then placed on the receiving paper with the screen on top. When the squeegee forces ink through the mesh, the stencil sticks to it. The cut out stencil can be used about 50 times before it disintegrates. After printing, the screen is washed with water.

Liquid block out stencil - a substance such as lacquer, shellac or glue is painted onto the screen to prevent the ink passing through. A fine mesh gives the screen print sharp edges, a loose mesh gives fuzzy edges.

Tusche-glue stencil - this technique is based on the principal that oil and water don't mix. The prints must be made with oil based inks. The design is painted on the screen with tusche which resists water. A water based glue is then painted over the whole screen before the tusche is cleaned off with a solvent. The ink is then able to pass through the mesh where the tusche and glue has been removed.

There are two main printing techniques. The simpler method, one colour printing, uses one stencil while multicolour printing uses two or more stencils.
One colour printing - ink is spread along the masked edge and then pulled over the screen using the squeegee. If two or more colours are spread along the masked edge, they will merge sideways into each other as the ink is spread over the screen giving a rainbow effect.
Multicolour printing - enables the printer to use different colours on different parts of the print. A separate stencil is made for each colour. To avoid double images or blurred colours, registration marks are used so that each stencil and print is placed in exactly the same position as the originals.

Some chemicals and solvents used in screen printing are inflammable or give off dangerous vapors. Please take adequate precautions.

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