History of Screen Printing

The screen printing technique has been a vehicle for personal expression since the beginning of recorded time. Artists have used screen-printing to protest during times of social unrest. Early artists used screen-printing methods in China as early as 960 AD during the Song Dynasty; however, early forms of stenciling—a printing method required for screen-printing—were found in caves and date back to the prehistoric period. Screen printing requires the use of several tools, materials and techniques to create the varied and interesting visual results. Today, artists, uniformed services, and printing professionals use the screen-printing method to create posters, stencil graffiti, t-shirts and signs.

Screen Printing Early History

The earliest recognizable form of screen-printing appeared roughly 1,050 years ago in China. The Song Dynasty—credited with being the first nation to issue paper money and establish a navy—stands as an era that saw the advancements in painting and other forms of artistic expression. Screen-printing—a technique that uses mesh and ink-blocking methods—developed after its ancestor, stenciling. Roughly 40,800 years ago, early humans created hand stencils using a range of techniques. Stenciling and the screen-printing method have much in common and the earliest form of artistic expression that evolved into the screen-printing technique covers the walls of European caves.

Screen Printing 1960s to Present

In the 1960s, the United States and other countries experienced a number of social activities, including the Civil Rights era, women’s rights and antiwar movements. Sharing the ideas that motivate movements requires media, and silkscreen printing provided a method to create stunning graphics. Students and artists alike learned how screen-printing techniques could help them produce strong, colorful images faster than other techniques, such as painting. Consequently, screen-printed posters, screen printed t-shirts and other media became an important tool used for artistic expression. One of the most iconic silkscreen creations was Andy Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn Diptych—ironically, the image became an icon of an icon. Today, students are experiencing a revival of the screen-printing technique and the Environmental Protection Agency seeks new ways to perform the technique without causing a negative impact on the environment.

Printing technique

The screen-printing technique involves a mesh-covered frame, or screen, and a stencil. The stencil—created from shapes, letters or words—blocks a portion of the screen. The screen sits atop the item that will receive the image, a shirt or poster, for example. The item is usually called substrate. The artist or print person places ink on top of the screen and stencil. He then squeegees the substance to create a sharp image on the substrate.

Stenciling techniques

Multiple forms of stenciling exist and are limited to an artist’s imagination. One popular stenciling technique is direct photographic emulsion, which involves stencils, mesh screens and light sources. Stenciling techniques have evolved substantially throughout history, from red ochre cave prints to aerosol graffiti. Today, artists and printmakers use airbrush, micro-stenciling and photographic emulsion methods to create a wide range of interesting artwork.

Screen-printing materials

The screen-printing process requires a number of supplies, materials and tools. Inks, screens, glues and squeegees represent the basic materials required to create screen-printed images. Multiple inks are available, including water-based, plastisol and discharge inks, and provide a range of effects and color saturation that give different projects a unique twist. In addition to colored inks, artists use glosses and metallic inks to create interesting finishes.

Semiconducting materials

Today, electronic screen-printing—a recent innovation—provides manufacturers and the environment a number of benefits. Electronic screen-printing techniques assist with the removal of particles and solvents, produce lint-free surfaces and are eco-efficient. Electronic screen-printing requires a number of semiconducting materials. Screen-printed solar cells, solar photovoltaics and solar wafers are used to produce electronic screen-printing components.