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1.0 Can A Silkscreen Print Be Made On Any Surfaces? A Comprehensive Guide to Silkscreen Printing

1.1 Introduction

Screen printing, or silkscreen, silkscreen printing, dates back at least 100 years. It is said to have first started in China during the Song Dynasty, then adapted by other Asian countries such as Japan, and then introduced to western Europe in the late 18th century. Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Arthur Okamura and many others have used this method of printing to express their creativity.

silkscreen print
Silkscreen Printing
(Source: Million Advertising & Silk Screen Pte Ltd)

Also known as serigraphy or serigraph printing, this method of print refers to the process of creating a stencil or a separate screen, and then using it to apply additional layers of ink onto the printing surface. Each colour needs to be applied using a different stencil. To get a multi-coloured image, the printer will apply one colour at a time, and use repeated screens to achieve the final image.

1.2 The Silkscreen Printing Process

The industrial screen printing process, which is automated, uses advanced inks and materials together with computer technology to conduct mass print. For large volumes of products, it is critical to ensure that the applied layers work perfectly. The commercial screen printing industry uses a wide range of inks for this silkscreen printing method, such as solvent-based inks, water-based inks, plastisol inks, UV-curing inks and special varnishes.

The first step of the screen printing process is creating the design. After that, the design will be printed on a transparent acetate film. The next step is to use the design to create the screen and select the screen mesh count, which is the total number of fibres in one square inch. The mesh count you need will depend on the design. A higher mesh count means that you can print a design in finer details.

After the screen mesh has been selected, the silkscreen printer will coat it with a light-reactive emulsion layer such as diazo or dual-cure emulsions. He will then place the transparent acetate film with the design on the screen mesh under a bright ultraviolet UV light, and the emulsion will harden and develop after some time. It is important to use separate screens for multiple different colours.

After the screen has been exposed for some time, the areas that are not covered will harden, and the areas that are not hardened will be rinsed away to reveal a clear imprint. The screen will be dried at this stage, and the screen printer will do touch-ups to it to match the original design.

The next step involves the preparation for print, where the material to be printed is placed below the screen. The silkscreen printer will now pour the desired colour ink to the top of the screen, spreading it across with a squeegee or rubber blade evenly to force the ink past the threads of the silk mesh. If any specific areas are left empty, the ink will set there and transfers onto the material, hence printing the design on the product, which will be heat-cured by passing it through a dryer to ensure that it is fade-proof. The mesh can also be washed and then used to create new stencils or screens.

Industrial screen printers normally use different kinds of screen printing machines, but these are the most common types – flat-bed, cylinder and rotary. Most modern commercial printers will use an automatic rotary carousel printer as this allows them to use many different screens at the same time.  

1.3 Types of Silkscreen Printing

There are six main types of screen printing processes, which will produce vastly different results so it is important for you to understand them.

  • Spot Colour Screen Printing

Spot colour screen printing is the most common silkscreen printing process which uses the ink’s stock colour by printing it through the screen of the mesh. Advantages of this method is that it produces a vibrant spot colour and is a simpler technique as compared to other silkscreen printing methods. This method is often used for printing on garments such as t-shirts and jackets.

  • Halftone Screen Printing

Single colours in gradients are printed in halftone screen printing, which uses a single ink colour that becomes half-toned – a different shade when viewed from a distance. This is a cost-effective method because only one colour is used. This process is most often used to obtain a multicolour printing look without actually printing them.

  • Grayscale Screen Printing

One of the most cost-effective screen printing methods, grayscale printing involves printing full-colour images as one colour grayscales or halftones, and is often used to print black and white designs onto fabrics.

  • Duotone Screen Printing

Similar to the sepia-toned printing technique in photography, duotone screen printing combines two halftones to print the same image with two colours. A black halftone is first printed with black ink, and then a second halftone is printed with colour ink. The final output is sophisticated and refined.

  • CMYK Screen Printing

Considered as the most complicated screen printing methods out there, CMYK silkscreen printing uses the four basic colours – cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K) to produce the necessary colour tones.

  • Simulated Screen Printing

A versatile silkscreen printing method as it can be used for both lighter and darker shades of materials, the simulated silkscreen printing process combines the CMYK silkscreen printing technique with the spot colour silkscreen printing process. Businesses love to use this process, as it can be used to produce photorealistic print details.

1.4 Can You Use Silkscreen Printing on Any Surfaces?

A silkscreen print is most commonly used for paper and fabric printing, such as for custom t-shirts like polo t-shirts and hoodies. However, silkscreen printing can also be used for custom designs on other materials and surfaces such as plastic, wood, metal and even glass and ceramics.

Some of the industries that use silkscreen printing method include industrial manufacturing, panel builders and system integrators, and engineering, procurement and construction. These industries often use silkscreen print on identification products and labelling needs such as plastic products, scaffold tags, fire equipment location signs, traffic signs, facility signs, and graphic overlays like control panels.

Other examples of products where silkscreen printing are used include decals, labels and signs, as well as corporate gifts such as clocks and watch faces, plaques and shields, balloons, pens and so on. 

1.5 Advantages of Using Silkscreen Printing

Silkscreen printing is a popular method of printing in industrial printing as there are many benefits.

1.5.1 Cost-Effective

Silkscreen printing is a fairly simple process and large runs of the same graphics can often be printed together economically, as compared to digital processes. It allows the printer to create a stencil, and then easily reproduce a design from the original image multiple times, as the same stencil can be used. The set-up time only applies in the initial creation of the stencil, and repeated designs can be run quickly and efficiently.

The parts used in the silkscreen method of printing are also easy to replace, and they can withstand wear and tear. Hence, the costs saved can be passed on to the customers.

1.5.2 Durability

Most industrial customers also choose the silkscreen printing method because the final products are more durable and long-lasting, and will not fade or become dull overtime. A silkscreen print lasts longer because of the ink adhesion, where different types of specialty inks are specially formulated to work with individual substrates. Such silkscreen printed inks adhere much more permanently than digital inks to uncoated surfaces. They can withstand more wear and tear too, without losing printed quality.

1.5.3 Excellent Print Quality 

A silkscreen print works very well with small text and fine-line illustrations, producing excellent colour prints, especially on colour logo printing and complex designs. Gone are the days when you view sharp and vibrant graphic designs on your computer, only to find them lacking in quality when they are actually manufactured. Such incidents will not happen with silkscreen printing.

Silkscreen printing is also the only printing method that can achieve a texturised, three-dimensional look and feel in your finished design.

1.5.4 Ability to Use Bolder Colours and Designs

The silkscreen printing method allows you to use thicker inks, and hence, your design team can play with bolder colours and designs, which will produce fantastic finishes with far more intense and vibrant colours and sharpness than the CMYK-style dots of solid colours used in digital printing.

Customers looking to increase their brand awareness in signages and other outdoor communications materials can opt for the silk screen printing method, because it will greatly increase your brand visibility.

1.5.5 Versatility

Silkscreen printing is more versatile than other traditional printing techniques because the surface does not have to be printed under pressure such as etching, nor does it have to be flat or planar. Also, you can use different inks to work on a variety of materials such as wood, metal, glass and plastic, as we have mentioned above.  

The screen method of printing also works well with unusual shapes like specialty parts with large and/or high-profile objects in industrial manufacturing sectors. 

1.6 Disadvantages of Using Silkscreen Printing

The silkscreen printing technique has more advantages, but there are also some disadvantages. Under certain circumstances, silkscreen printing can be costly. For example, if your quantity is small, it can be costly. The cost can also increase if your designs are very colourful, or need gradients.

To find out more about silkscreen printing or for our different types of silkscreen printing services, contact us for a chat!

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