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Understanding silk screen printing and inks

We see the evidence of silk screen printing all around us – T-shirts, posters, signage, hats, glass, all decorated with screen inks in a technique hundreds of years old. But how did this method of merging printing and inks into patterns come about, and how has this ancient method remained so popular to this day? Let’s take a closer look...

The history of silk screen printing

Essentially a technique by which ink is applied to a material by way of a stencil, silk screen printing dates back as far as the 15th century. With wood cuts and block prints used in China, and cotton and silk stenciling used in Japan, the early influences of screen printing and screen inks are apparent.

It was not until the 19th century, however, that silk screen printing was popularized in the UK and the USA. Originally introduced for use in industrial technology, artists soon saw the creative possibilities and applications inherent in the process, and began experimenting with inks and techniques to create their works.

From the flags and banners produced in World War 1, to the famous ink prints of Warhol and Lichtenstein in the 60s and 70s, and the stunningly intricate patterns of today, silk screen printing and the development of screen inks has progressed in leaps and bounds since its early origins.

Ink plus screen equals art

Today, while silk screen printing can be found in both commercial and artistic applications, the method of printing remains the same:

  • A screen is made by stretching mesh over a frame.
  • A stencil is then made by blocking off the negative parts of the screen, blocking out the sections not to be covered with ink.
  • A pre-press process takes place, covering the mesh with screen print emulsion and burning away unnecessary parts to leave behind a replica of the stencil.
  • Tape is then used to seal the screen and frame, preventing any ink leakage.
  • The screen is then placed on top of a surface, such as fabric or paper.
  • Ink is then pushed through the holes in the mesh with a floodbar.
  • The type of ink used depends on the surface being printed – the most common of the screen printing inks being UV curable inks, solvent-based inks and plastisol inks.
  • A squeegee is then used to push the mesh down to the printing surface, while pumping and squeezing the screen ink onto the mesh.
  • As the squeegee moves to the end of the screen, the mesh lifts away from the printing surface, leaving the completed ink pattern behind.

Choosing the correct screen printing inks

As previously stated, a crucial part of the screen printing process is selecting the correct ink for the surface to be printed. At New Africa Inks, we specialize in the production of premium quality UV, solvent-based and plastisol inks specifically for the screen printing industry, and have developed a reputation for delivering world-class quality and service to our customers. If you have any questions about screen printing, or the correct type of screen ink to use, please contact us, and our consultants will be happy to assist you with any printing queries you may have.

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