The Silk Screen Process

    CRAFTS CLASSES
    TO INSPIRE CREATIVITY
    by Ted Mittler

    About the Author

    Ted Mittler has an Master of Arts degree in science education and a Ph.D in statistics. He has taught chemistry and physics in college preparatory schools, and statistics and research methods at the university level. He has written and edited copy for radio advertising, corporate and organizational newsletters, and technical journals.

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    The silk screen process is one of the most versatile of printing methods. Silk screen printing can be used on fabric, metals, glass and, of course, paper and cardboard. Large commercial screen print operations now use automated equipment, but hobbyists, artists and small shops continue to do silk screening by hand.

    Screen Printing

    The silk screen process is one of the most versatile of printing methods. Silk screen printing can be used on fabric, metals, glass and, of course, paper and cardboard. Large commercial screen print operations now use automated equipment, but hobbyists, artists and small shops continue to do silk screening by hand.

    Equipment

    The screen itself may be made of silk, but organdy is often substituted. It is stretched on a frame usually made from 2-by-2 inch lumber. The silk or organdy is stapled to what will be the bottom of the frame, and sealing tape (the paper kind that needs to be moistened to stick) covers the staples and extends past the frame onto the silk by about an inch. Tape is also put around the inside edges of the frame to cover the joint between the frame and the silk, and also extends about an inch onto the silk. The tape is shellacked, and the frame is hinged to a smooth, flat surface that serves as a base. The only other essential piece of equipment is the squeegee. Silk screen squeegees are manufactured in 6-foot lengths, and graphic arts suppliers cut them to measure.

    Supplies

    Stencils for silk screening can be made from ordinary paper, but special lacquer film stencil material is popular for hand-cutting, and special photo-sensitive films can be used to reproduce more detailed patterns. Silk screen ink is available off-the-shelf in many popular colors, and it can be custom mixed just like house paint. It is about the same consistency as gel toothpaste and, also like house paint, it is available in either water-base or solvent-base.

    The Process

    The stencil is attached to the under side of the screen. The exact procedure depends on the type of stencil used. The material to be printed is placed on the base, and the screen is lowered over it. A generous quantity of ink is put at the top of the pattern, but outside the printing area. The squeegee pulls the ink across the pattern and forces it through the silk onto the material. Most screen printing jobs require more than one color of ink. Each color must thoroughly dry before the next color can be applied. Large screen print operations have a different screen for each color. In a small shop, the same screen is cleaned of the stencil and ink and then reused for the next color.