What is Screen Printing? Pt 1: Screens

The Screen Department

Film positives are ‘burned’ into the emulsion on the exposure unit, and then washed out with a high pressure water hose in a lighted sink.

Like it says in the name, Screen Printing is mostly about the screens. The quality of your shirts and the prints on them are based largely on the quality of the screens you make. They are probably the most important piece of equipment in any printer’s shop and usually the most likely taken for granted.

In order to get an image onto a shirt, ink is basically pushed through a stencil onto a Tee Shirt. That stencil is made by applying a light sensitive emulsion to one of our screens, exposing it to light, and washing out the non-exposed area. Like magic, the emulsion falls away when wet and we are left with a stencil of our artwork, ready to deposit ink on Tees.

Silkscreen Racks

Shops like ours go through a lot of screens and a lot of jobs in a day. Screens are kept in racks to dry after they are coated with emulsion and after they are washed out with the high pressure hose.

While many shirt designs have only one or two colors, we frequently print designs with a dozen or more screens with very elaborate stencils that overlap, blend colors, and create complex images. These images can be affected by any number of things–screen tension, humidity, ink consistency, as well as the quality of the mesh used to make the screen. Every shop deals with their own variation of these problems, with the best of the best learning how to fix them before they even start.

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