Screen-printing has been around for thousands of years. The concept has remained the same but the available materials today as well as types of inks have evolved.
To start, screen-printing is a printing technique particularly suited for flat or relatively flat surfaces. The heart of the process involves a fine mesh or screen that is tightly stretched around a rigid frame. The areas that are not to be printed are masked out on the screen. There are several ways to create a stencil for screen-printing. An early method was to create it by hand in the desired shape, either by cutting the design from a non-porous material and attaching it to the bottom of the screen, or by painting a negative image directly on the screen with a filler material which became impermeable when it dried. For a more painterly technique, the artist would choose to paint the image with drawing fluid, wait for the image to dry, and then coat the entire screen with screen filler. After the filler had dried, water was used to spray out the screen, and only the areas that were painted by the drawing fluid would wash away, leaving a stencil around it. This process enabled the artist to incorporate their hand into the process, to stay true to their drawing.
So what types of materials are used in today’s screen-printing world? Let’s look at them:
1. Plastisol – Plastisol is an ink and one of the most commonly used, especially in the commercial garment industry. It has Good color opacity onto dark garments and clear graphic detail with, as the name suggests, a more plasticized texture. Using plastisol, a print can be made softer with special additives or heavier by adding extra layers of ink. Plastisol inks require heat (approx. 150°C (300°F) for many inks) to cure the print.
2. Water-Based inks – Water based inks are known to penetrate the fabric more than the plastisol inks. With this penetration comes a much softer feel to the print. Water-based inks are ideal for printing darker inks onto lighter colored garments. They are also useful for larger area prints where texture is important. With water-based inks, sometimes they require heat or an added catalyst to make the print permanent.
3. PVC/ Phthalate Free – This ink is relatively new to printing and has the benefits of plastisol but without the environmentally toxic phtalate.
4. Discharge inks – These inks are used to print lighter colors onto dark background fabrics. They work by removing the dye in the garment – this means they leave a much softer texture. They are less graphic in nature than plastisol inks, and exact colors are difficult to control. If you are looking for distressed look, these inks are excellent. They are also wonderful for dark garments that are to be printed with additional layers of plastisol.
5. Flocking – This is a technique and material that consists of a glue printed onto the fabric and then foil (or other special effect) material is applied for a mirror finish.
6. Glitter/Shimmer – Using metallic flakes that are suspended in the ink base, a glitter shimmer or sparkle effect can be created on the print. These flakes are usually available in gold or silver but can be mixed to make most colors.
7. Metallic – Metallic is similar to glitter, but smaller particles are suspended in the ink. To apply, a glue is printed onto the fabric then nanoscale fibers are applied on it.
8. Expanding ink (puff) – To create a raised effect or puff, inks with a plasistol additive helps raise the print off a garment giving a 3D feel.
9. Caviar beads – These beads are applied with a glue printed into the shape of the design. These beads work well with solid block areas creating an interesting tactile surface.
10. Four color process – You may have heard of this in printing, it also works with screen-printing. The artwork is created and then separated into four colors (CMYK),which combine to create the full spectrum of colors needed for photographic prints. This means a large number of colors can be simulated using only 4 screens, reducing costs, time, and set-up. The inks are required to blend and are more translucent, meaning a compromise with vibrancy of color.
11. Gloss – This is simple a clear base laid over previously printed inks to create a shiny finish.
12. Nylobond - A special ink additive for printing onto technical or waterproof fabrics.
13. Mirrored silver - Another solvent based ink, but you can almost see your face in it.
14. Suede Ink - Suede is a milky colored additive that is added to plastisol making any color you print have a suede feel.
While the technique of screen-printing is ancient, the new inks and additives are new and always changing, which gives the artist more license to create an array of designs for you.