The screen printing process

Put simply, screen printing is the process of pushing a liquid ink through a woven mesh (formerly silk) onto the surface of the material placed under the ‘screen’ – which is where the process’s name originates. The versatility of the process suits items of all shapes and sizes, and has been around in a recognisable form in China since the Song Dynasty 960–1279 AD. The process as we know it today advanced rapidly once a photo-chromatic method of stencil making, which was developed in the early part of the 20th Century. While the fundamentals are similar, things have moved on quite a bit since then!

The screen is a frame of either wood or aluminium, over which a woven mesh is tightly stretched. In years gone by, we used silk for the screen; which is where you will have heard the term ‘Silk Screen Printing’, but this has now been replaced with a more modern, higher performance material. Areas of the screen are then ‘masked off’ – which is effectively a reverse stencil of your design to allow ink to pass through the screen onto the final material in some areas, and not in others.

The screen is then precisely positioned on the item to be printed, and ink is smoothed across the screen, usually with a polyurethane blade called a ‘Squeegee’, similar to a window cleaner’s tool. The ink passes through the areas not masked off to form your final design. Only one colour can be printed at a time, so designs with multiple colours require absolute precision alignment. Finally, the ink is either left to dry or forced dried depending on the inks and materials used.

Why use screen printing?

One of the primary reasons to use screen printing is the ability to print an ink which has been manufactured to perform a specific function. Long term outdoor durability, high reflectivity, even a special silver ink that’s electrically conductive for printing circuit boards – the possibilities are endless. Ultimately, the ability to coat or rather ‘screen print’ onto almost any material or surface with specialised inks is what makes this process so versatile.

Ink manufacturers have developed inks to print onto just about anything whether that be glass, fabrics, wood, plastics, carbon fibre to name just a few. Inks and colours can be made to precisely manufactured to match corporate colours or specific Pantone specifications. They can be made gloss, satin or matt, transparent or highly opaque, and can be formulated to achieve incredibly high levels of adhesion to achieve long lasting print in very challenging environments. When it comes to long-term durability, the high quality screen printing and specialised ink knowledge that KSP Print Group can supply you is hard to match.

Pros and cons of screen printing

With the advent of digital printing over the last 30 years, many things that were screen printed are now digitally printed and with good reason. Digital printing is comparatively quick and cheap to set-up ready for print – and those saving can be passed onto you, whereas screen printing involves more lengthy manufacturing processes.

Although digital is advancing all the time, the inherent nature of the process means the inks are more transparent, and to achieve the overall image it relies on all 4 colours being overprinted onto each other, which means they are much less opaque than an average screen print ink.

As a general rule, screen print is used when excellent ink adhesion, long-term durability, absolute colour accuracy or high ink opacity are important factors for your printed item.

KSP know screen printing – in-fact it’s the area of print we founded our company on back in 1985. We continue to invest and develop in this process, and deliver innovative screen print production and manufacturing from our print works based in Oxfordshire. You can rely on the expertise of our friendly team, so get in-touch and let us help you achieve the very best result for your next screen print task.