Silk screen printing, also known as serigraphy or silkscreening, has a long history, originating as far back as 1000 years ago in China. Made popular in the twentieth century by pop artist Andy Warhol and his famous Marilyn Monroe prints. Silkscreen printing is a tedious stenciling method and this printing art sometimes takes years to truly master.
We're all used to printing our designs and documents on white paper with printer ink and toner cartridges, but we're also aware that we can print on other materials than just these if we want to. That's where silk screen printers and serigraphy comes in.
Silkscreening is the method used to print designs on anything from T shirts, fabric and even wood, glass, plastic, etc.
But, How Silk Screen Printing Works?
While silkscreening is a type of printing, the silk printing press machine used is not quite like the printer you're thinking of. As you might guess, screens are key to the silk screen printing method. Much like an art canvas, the screen or mesh is stretched very tightly over a frame. Traditionally screen printing was done with screens made out of silk (hence the name) but today polyester screens are more common since they often cost less.
Screen printing begins with mounting multiple silkscreens over whatever material you want to print your design on, one screen for each color. Once you have the screens or stencils arranged in the design you want, you roll, press, sponge or squeegee your ink over the silkscreen stencils to leave a negative design. When you're all done, you remove your silkscreens to see your custom design left on the material beneath.
You may be surprised at how similar the screen printing process is to those stencils you used to draw and color with as a kid. While the process is simple—it did originate more than a 1000 years ago—it can take years of practice to master the art of lining up each ink stencil properly (“registration”) and evenly apply the ink substrate with adequate pressure. The more skilled and experienced you become in silkscreening, the more advanced and intricate your designs will be. Serigraph printing takes skill and experience, so it's usually done in a commercial or business setting.
Rotary and Commercial Level Screen Printing
Since 1960, Andy Warhol, and the invention of the rotary silk screen press, the silkscreening printing process has become more automated. In commercial settings, manual silkscreen stencil and drying process has been replaced by fully automated “inkjet-to-garment” printing and drying machines. Graphic T-shirts are one of the most popular items made with a silkscreen printer, so rotary silk screen presses speed up the process. Tourist gift shops have never been the same, but don't mistake T shirts made on a silkscreen printer for airbrushed ones.
Silkscreening offers a much more professional and long lasting print than airbrushing.