PE: Silk Screen Printing Basics

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Astralseed's avatar

Today I will discuss some basic information about Silk Screen printing and hopefully draw more interest to this wonderful and fun art form.  Silk Screen Printing is used in a variety of professional fields these days and produces beautifully vibrant images that often appear digital in nature due to their vibrance.  Silk Screen printing is also often used to print designs and logos onto T-shirts or other apparel - you probably own something that was silk screen printed!  

Let's go ahead and dive right in, shall we?

Generally a digital image is made that is printed as a transparency which is then used to get the image on the screen with some help using emulsion. The 'exposure unit' then burns away the unnecessary emulsion leaving behind a clean area in the mesh with the identical shape as the desired image.  

After printing and cleaning the screen, screens are held up to the light to make sure no small holes are present in areas that are not part of the design.  These holes are generally covered with masking tape to prevent ink leaking through them.  You will also want to tape the edges of your screen as well to prevent ink from leaking through.

Once the screen is ready to be used you can work on getting ready to print with it.  You'll want to set things up so that you can easily realign everything if you are printing multiple colors, otherwise, you can get a dab of the color of ink that you wish to use above the design, grab your squeegee and pull the paint across the design on the screen, pressing the ink onto the T-shirt or poster etc.  

Now that we have an understanding of the process involved, let's take a look at supplies needed.


Plastisol is the most common ink used in commercial garment decoration. Good colour opacity onto dark garments and clear graphic detail with, as the name suggests, a more plasticized texture. This 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. -wikipedia

PVC and Phthalate Free
PVC and Phthalate Free is relatively new breed of ink and printing with the benefits of plastisol but without the two main toxic components. It also has a soft texture. -wikipedia

Suede Ink
Suede ink is a milky coloured additive that is added to plastisol. With suede additive you can make any color of plastisol have a suede feel. It is actually a puff blowing agent that does not bubble as much as regular puff ink. The directions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but generally up to 50% suede can be added to normal Plastisol. -wikipedia

Water-Based inks
these penetrate the fabric more than the plastisol inks and create a much softer feel. Ideal for printing darker inks onto lighter coloured garments. Also useful for larger area prints where texture is important. Some inks require heat or an added catalyst to make the print permanent. -wikipedia

Cracking ink
Cracking ink effect is when the ink produces an intentional cracked surface after drying. -wikipedia

Discharge inks
Discharge ink is used to print lighter colours onto dark background fabrics, they work by removing the dye of the garment – this means they leave a much softer texture. The cons with this process is that they are less graphic in nature than plastisol inks, and exact colours are difficult to control. One of the pros of using this process is they are especially good for distressed prints and under-basing on dark garments that are to be printed with additional layers of plastisol. It adds variety to the design or gives it that natural soft feel. -wikipedia

Expanding ink (puff)
Expanding ink, or puff, is an additive to plastisol inks which raises the print off the garment, creating a 3D feel and look to the design. Mostly used when printing on apparel. -wikipedia

Squeegees come in different sizes and firmness.  You may want to experiment with different ones to decide which ones you prefer and work best for you and your art.  

Pretty much any kind of tape will work, though masking tape does the trick nicely and you can remove it later if you ever needed to with little to no hassle.

Silk Screen
Obviously you will need this also for silk screen printing.  

If you plan on making T-shirts, you may also want to invest in a textile dryer.  These dryers are used to heat the ink to a certain temperature so that it cures it into the fabric.  While there are conveyer belt dryers on the market, I can't imagine that anyone other than a business that mass produces silk screen printed fabric would need one of those.  There are also flash dryers available which are much smaller than conveyor belt driers, and definitely more portable and affordable as well.  

While there is definitely more that can be said about Silk Screen Printing, I hope this basic overview is sufficient enough to answer some of the more basic questions and perhaps get more artists interested in this fun process.


Kid Cloud- Pink Colonies by finkgraphics
Zeus shirt by sirhcsellor
the DODOS - San Francisco, CA @ The GAMH 2013 by Gumballicious
Gig Poster : Kanye West by milestsang
Winter Fox by Kanizo
Viper in the Lilies by robertwilsoniv

Silk Screen Groups:

:iconsilkscreensociety: :iconprintmaking: :iconink-based-media: :iconfingersduke: 

© 2013 - 2021 Astralseed
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ArtByCher's avatar
This is awesome! I learned something I knew absolutely nothing about. Well done, Katy :clap:
~bengjie you may be interested in this article
bengjie's avatar
maytel's avatar
Ohhhhhhhhhhh that's really cool! 
Astralseed's avatar
It's a lot of fun too, you should try it out if you ever have the chance :D
maytel's avatar
I'd love to one day. It's going to go on my list of things I want to try one day.
casca-x's avatar
oh man, i've always wanted to learn to print my own apparel. i've tried those iron-on kits they sell at craft stores but the dark fabric transfers are extremely stiff and get worn-out creases in the design after a few washes.

some of this equipment looks like it might be really expensive and out of the range of a hobby artist who wants to try this at home, like the dryer and that light box! would you describe this as something that could be done at home, or do you need access to a studio with special appliances?
Astralseed's avatar
You can definitely do it at home.  There are kits that you can buy that have everything you need, and you simply use the items given and don't use the dryers or the light box.  
I used to work at a silk screen printing place a few years back and we used the inks for apparel that need to be heated up to cure the ink, and of course we also had the automatic machines and manual ones that we could spin around so it was much faster to produce everything.  Definitely not something in most Hobbyists budget though.  I'm not sure if other inks that don't need to be heated are all too ideal for fabric, in which case you'd not need the dryer since my experience is with commercial use etc. but it's worth looking into if it's something you want to do.  I know the better inks for fabrics are costly as well.. often it's simply cheaper to find a local screen printing store and have them print things for you.  We used to charge 20$ for making the screens and then normal order prices from there.. 

Though I will say that even if you are strictly interested in the apparel side of screen printing, it's really fun and definitely worth a try for posters or such as well.  The vibrancy you get out of the colors is really beautiful and it's just a fun way to spend your time. 
casca-x's avatar
would... would sticking the inked item in the oven to cure it work? 

Astralseed's avatar
I'd do some research on it.. I remember when I'd use the flash dryer that I had to be careful not to leave it over the item too long so it wouldn't burn.. but that may have been more of an issue of the sticky spray stuff having issues or the clothes.. either way, it is worth researching though. 
kori-hibana's avatar
this is really helpful! :D I'm going to try this now...
Astralseed's avatar
It's a lot of fun, I definitely recommend it :)
jane-beata's avatar
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