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Fine Art Screen Printing

In recent years, original "prints" by contemporary artists have been created, collected, traded, and shown in public art galleries and museums to an extent never before seen.

Usually less costly than an artist's one-of-a-kind works, original but limited edition "prints" are within financial reach of many more people.

Although some prints are comparatively inexpensive, many can be excellent investments. Some prints (by major artists) have increased in value by as much as 1000 percent in the past decade!

Art galleries and museums may feature serigraphs by such artists as Thomas McKnight, Erte, Andy Warhol, Agam, or Yankel Ginzburg. Whatever style you prefer - landscapes, still lifes, abstracts, portraits, wildlife, etc. - is often available as a valuable serigraph.

Most fine art prints are made by pressing an inked matrix - a printing surface made of metal, wood, stone or other material - against sheets of paper. There are four basic "artistic" printmaking methods, each requiring a different type of matrix: lithography; intaglio; relief printing; and screen printing, also known as serigraphy.

Serigraphy literally means "printing through silk." The word was coined by artist Anthony Velonis and art critic Carl Zirgosser to distinguish a fine art screen print from a purely commercial one. The technique evolved from early Chinese and Japanese stencil printing methods.

Although early serigraphic screens were made of silk, the natural fabric is not dimensionally stable. It changes size in temperature and humidity and, therefore, is unsuitable for jobs requiring critical registration. Serigraphic screens are more likely to be made from polyester or nylon today.

Serigraphs are produced by an artist who designs the image, prepares the required stencil or stencils, and often actually makes the prints. Normally, a serigraph is produced by the artist in a limited quantity...with each print signed and numbered to help insure both the value and limited nature of each print in the edition.

Other prints, such as art posters announcing gallery shows and reproductions of fine art, are also produced by screen printing and graphic imaging but, technically, are not considered serigraphs.

Multi-colored prints require the artist - or his chromist (colorist) - to prepare a separate screen for each color. To make a full-color print, it is not unusual for an artist to use 20, 30 or more different screens.

Innovative artist/screen printers and graphic imagers have incorporated new technical advances into their stencil-making, enabling them to achieve a much broader range of effects.

In the case of serigraphy, it is not unusual to have five or more layers of ink... with 40 or more different colors per print!

As a fine arts medium, serigraphic screen printing offers many advantages over other printmaking methods:

-- It is versatile.

-- The finished product is more durable.

-- The artist can work in large or small sizes with equal ease.

-- The image can be developed spontaneously or deliberately.

-- The artist can exploit opaque or transparent colors in a vast range of textural and linear configurations.

-- The image does not reverse, left to right, when printed.

Screen printing is one of the oldest of all printing production processes. Yet it is thoroughly progressive, fast, cost-effective and astonishingly precise.

With today's technology, screen printing and graphic imaging can be one of the best ways of designing and printing words and pictures.

The basic principle of screen printing is not hard to understand:

Fabric is stretched tightly on a frame to form a screen. Part of the screen is then blocked with a stencil, leaving open mesh areas which will print the image. When ink is deposited into the screen and frame assembly, applied pressure pushes the ink through those areas of the screen that are not blocked by the stencil. This is accomplished by the use of a flexible plastic or rubber blade supported by a holder, called a squeegee. When ink passes through to the surface below, that surface - the substrate - is printed with the image defined by the stencil.

Graphic imaging allows designers to create, edit or change production designs easily. The process also allows screen printers to view and manipulate a finished layout or design before it is committed to full production.

Coupled with today's revolutionary graphic imaging technology, sophisticated, fully automated equipment has helped make screen printing the "print anything" process.

Its only limits are one's imagination and budget.