Guide to Screen Printing T Shirts and More!

Most people have heard of this method but still wonder-what is screen printing? Screen printing is a simple yet effective way to stencil images onto a blank surface. The process has evolved over the centuries from screens crudely woven out of human hair to those created from aluminum, silk, or mesh fabric. Plant-based ink that was once used by the ancient Chinese has now been replaced by water-based and Plastisol, which are durable, long-lasting inks to use on textile and non-porous surfaces. Screen printing t shirts is one of the most popular printmaking activities done today because it is so simple and can be done in your home relatively inexpensively. Read on to learn more about the process and history behind this printmaking technique.

Screen printing is one of the most common methods of printmaking. It is the process of creating an image by passing ink through a stencil that has been applied to a mesh screen. The earliest form of print making was done in China over 2000 years ago-they formed a screen by stretching human hair over a frame and created stencils from leaves. In 1907, an industrial screen printing process using silk fabric was patented by a man named Samuel Simon from Manchester, England. Not too long after that, San Francisco's John Pilsworth developed what is known as the Selectasine method, which incorporates the use of more than one color in the screen printing process. Although advancements in technology have made the screen printing process much easier, the basic techniques have remained the same throughout the years. Polyester or nylon is the preferred material for screens, since they are durable, easy to clean, and produce very sharp images. First, a stencil is either placed on the screen or created by blocking off certain parts of the frame to create an image from the negative space. It is then prepared by spreading photo emulsion across the entire screen, which hardens in the areas untouched by the stencil. When the emulsion has cured and the stencil removed, only the image will be left behind. Pallet tape is placed on the edges of the frame in order to block unwanted ink from spreading to other areas. The t-shirt is arranged under the frame and ink is placed on top of the screen and pulled through by a floodbar. A squeegee is then used to ensure the ink is distributed evenly and that no excess is left behind.

There are a few basic materials needed for t shirt screen printing. The screen itself is very important and must be held in place by a frame. Wood and aluminum are the most popular frame materials, and wooden frames can easily be homemade. The diameter of the frame needs to be at 3 ½ inches larger than the surface to be printed. Stencils are another piece of t shirt screen printing equipment that can be made at home. About a dozen prints can be made from simple paper stencils, but for something more durable, transparency plastic is the way to go. The type of ink needed for screen printing will depend on the final object. Water-based inks are usually best for non-textile surfaces and Plastisol ink (which is PVC-based) is recommended for screen printing t shirts. Opaque is a good choice for solid designs, whereas multicolored prints will require ink that is more translucent. A squeegee is needed in order to squeeze the ink through the screen, and cleaning materials for cleaning the screen afterwards are also very important. Almost anything can be screen printed! As long as the fabric can be layed flat, it can be printed upon. Tote bags, aprons, sweatshirts, jackets, flags, signs, and fabric for pillows are common items that are good candidates. However, t shirt screen printing is probably the most popular printing activity.

So, any time someone asks "what is screen printing?" remember that it is an ancient printmaking art used to transfer an image onto a surface. Screen printing has come so far over the years that it is now an easy process that can be completed at home using t shirt screen printing equipment purchased from a craft store or found around the house. All that is needed is a frame, screen, stencil, ink, and a few extra materials like a squeegee and cleaning supplies. As long as you have an idea for a stencil and blank items lying around, the possibilities are endless!

Check out these resources to help get started with screen printing t shirts:

Helpful Screen Printing Links

Screen Printing in the Real World

Screen Printing Resources

Printmaking Guides and Directories

Printmaking Links- Suppliers, Presses, Information

Printmaking Links

Screen Printing How-To

Screen Printing on the Cheap

American Screen Printing Association

Screensilk: Top Ten Resources

Silk Screen Biz

Screen Web: Online Screen Printing Website

SGIA: Specialty Graphic Imaging Association

PNEAC: Printers' National Environmental Assistance Center

Printmaking Organizations List

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