Textile Screen Printing

Perhaps the best known screen printed item in the United States is the T-shirt.

Sports teams' names and logos...schools from kindergarten through college...musicians and musical groups...special events of all kinds...tourist destinations...familiar - and not so familiar - sayings...all these and more are emblazoned on T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, caps and visors. All thanks to screen printers.

What about that colorful apron hanging in the kitchen? Or the matching kitchen towels? Or, even the flowered tablecloth - and matching napkins? Living room drapes? Carpet? Sheets, blankets and comforters on the beds... and towels in the bathroom?

And let's not forget clothing - from underwear to ties, blouses and shirts to skirts and trousers - as well as flags, pennants and banners.

Chances are these items - and more - are screen printed, too.

The Screenprinting & Graphic imaging Association International (SGIA) proudly states that "the only thing that can't be screen printed is money" - and that's only because the government won't allow it! Just as it's true of other substrates, screen printing on textiles is the most creative and versatile of all textile printing methods.

No matter the origin of the fiber - animal (wool, silk), vegetable (linen, cotton), mineral (Fiberglas), synthetic (nylon, orlon, dacron), or a combination - screen printing is the decorating process of choice for textiles.

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

Coupled with graphic imaging processes, textile designers can create, edit or change production designs with a minimum of effort. The process also enables screen printers to view and manipulate finished layouts before committing them to full production.

The versatility of textile screen printing allows for any pattern in an infinite number of colors to be imprinted. Screen printed designs are bright and durable. Just as important, screen printed textiles will withstand a multitude of washings without losing their brightness. And screen printed window coverings and carpets are resistant to fading from sunlight.

No matter how small the sample - or large the final run - it can be screen printed.

Screen printing is one of the simplest ways of printing words or pictures. It is also one of the most advanced methods for reproducing images.

Artists call it "serigraphy," while some hobbyists still refer to it as "silk screening." No matter the name, the screen printing process can print directly on almost anything: round surfaces, vertical surfaces, soft and hard surfaces.

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 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.

In the past twenty years, the screen printing industry has undergone a technological revolution of staggering proportions.

Semi- and fully-automatic presses (and more permanent inks) have made textile screen printing a fast and economical way to bring designs to life. Ideas for new fabric designs now can be created on the computer, and then translated into actual screen printed samples.