Know your squeegees from your coating troughs? Discover the magic behind the screen print.
A History of Screen Printing
The origins of the screen printing process stretch back to the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) and spread across Asia as an art form. It wasn’t until the 18th Century that it came to Western Europe, where it was used as a method for decorating shoes and clothing. It was an expensive process, the privilege of an elite who could afford to import costly silks from the East.
Indeed it wasn’t until the 1960s that screen printing really took off as an art form in the West, with Andy Warhol and other Pop artists (including Liechtenstein and Gottlieb) popularising it. Around the same time, screen printing technologies began to be developed, further broadening the popularity and reach of the process both in art and in fashion.
Today, artists continue to use the traditional method of stretching fabrics over a wooden frame. Because of the method used, bold clean lines can be achieved which make it a popular method for making graphic prints.
How a Screen Print is Made
To begin, the artist stretches a fine meshed fabric over a wooden frame, taping the edges to prevent any ink from leaking.
In a darkened room a thin coat of photosensitive emulsion is applied to the screen using a coating trough. The artist draws their design onto a transparent sheet and then places it onto this coated screen. Because the emulsion is light sensitive, when the screen is exposed to a bright light, all areas not hidden by the design become hard. When the screen is then washed with water the remaining emulsion is washed off leaving the design exposed.
This stencil screen is then used by the artist to make the print! The screen is fixed in place with a clamp and a sheet of paper is placed underneath it. Using a squeegee, the artist pulls ink across the surface of the screen in one smooth movement. Ink passes through the mesh stencil onto the paper, except from those areas made impermeable to the ink by the hardened emulsion. Et violà! Multiple colours can be added to the print using multiple stencils.
Screen printers from the Artfinder Community
Susan Vera Clarke
Hero image courtesy Lene Bladbjerg