Silk Screen Printing

1. What is Silk Screen Printing?

Silk screen printing is a screen printing process that transfers a design onto a substrate (i.e. textile fabric, product label, decal, etc.) through a fine screen or mesh. You put a shirt on a pallet, you put a screen over it and you transfer ink through the screen onto the shirt. In this example however, there is no design to begin with.

2. Who invented Silk Screen Printing?

Silk screen printing first began in China 1,100 years ago. It slowly made its way through other Asian countries, eventually ending up in Europe by the end of the 1700s. This was mainly because the main material for the screen, silk, was not readily available until then in European countries. This also explains why screen printing is often referred to as silk screening, silk screen or silk screen printing. In 1941, polyester thread was invented. Since then screens began to be produced using polyester threads as well.

3. What are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Screen Printing?

Advantages of Silk Screen Printing

  • Silk Screen Printing is very economical for large quantities. 
  • Silk screening is very durable and long lasting.
  • Silk screening can be used to print on many different items.

Disadvantages of Silk Screen Printing

  • Silk Screen Printing is expensive in small quantities.
  • Screen Printing is expensive if designs have too many colours.
  • Silk Screen Printing does not work with gradient colours.

4. How do you do Silk Screening? (Brief Steps)

Here is a brief step by step guide on how to do silk screen printing for t-shirts! a) First, create a stencil. 1 Stenciling technique is to paint, draw or print a design onto a transparent overlay, making the areas to be inked not transparent. b) A screen mesh that is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion and dried is exposed to UV light. c) The areas exposed to light remain intact while the areas that did not get exposed to light will wash off. This will leave a negative image on the stencil. d) Affix your stencil on top of your tshirt to block out the areas that will not receive ink. e) Place the screen mesh (mounted on a wooden frame) on top of the stencil. f) You flood the frame with ink. g) Then, press the ink through the screen using a squeegee. This removes any excess ink from the screen allowing only the area that is not blocked by a stencil to come in contact with the ink. h) Finally, remove everything off the tshirt carefully. And leave your screen printed tshirt to dry!

5. How to Screen Print Your Own T-Shirts at Home?

Buy a frame from an art supplies store or make your own screen printing frame. (See the answer to the next question to do this!)

Preparing the Screen at Home

a) In a dimly lit room, prepare a large flat surface with lots of newspaper to work on. As some chemicals you’ll have to work with harden in sunlight, it’s safest to work in a dark room with closed curtains. b) Mix the emulsion and sensitizer as instructed on your emulsion and sensitizer bottles. You can use an old chopstick to do the mixing. c) Push a push pin into the 4 corners of each frame, on the side with the fabric on it. Now the frame can stand on the push pins without the fabric touching the surface. d) Pour a small spoonful of the mixed emulsion onto the inside of the screen. (the opposite of the flat side with the fabric, also known as the ‘well’.) e) Start spreading the emulsion out using your squeegee. Aim to get an even, thin coat of emulsion on each side of the screen. f) Once the ‘well’ is covered with the emulsion, flip the frame over and spread the emulsion on the flat side with the fabric as well. You will need to pour less emulsion this time round. This is because some of the emulsion you poured in the ‘well’ will have seeped through. g) Flip the screen again, and go over the ‘well’ surface once more to ensure the emulsion is spread as even as possible. h) Set the screen to dry in a dark place, while the screen is standing on the pins. For example, you can use a closed dark cupboard to do the drying. Remember to put some newspaper underneath the screen, to catch any drips. i) Leave the screens to dry overnight or use a fan at them to make them dry faster if you’re in a rush. j) Next, have your design printed out in transparency. Most printing shops would do it for you. The design needs to be as black and dark as possible.
k) Place your design back to front on the flat side of the screen with the fabric. This means that the front of the design should be in contact with the fabric. Then, take it outside to the sun to expose it. The sun will harden the emulsion everywhere but your design. This is because your design is in solid black, blocking of the emulsion in the exact areas of your design from being exposed to the sun’s rays. l) Bring your screen back inside and wash away the emulsion. The emulsion you wash away was underneath the exact areas of your design and did not harden. m) Bring your screen back to the sunlight to harden the remaining emulsion completely. When it’s 100% dry, put some thick scotch tape around the edges of the screen so that no ink can leak out when you print later. You now have your Screen ready!
Silk Screen Printing Screens

Screen Printing the T-Shirts at Home

a) Put some newspapers inside the t-shirt, making sure it will cover your design. This step is really crucial, otherwise your design may seep through onto the back of your t-shirt. b) Place the screen you prepared on top of the t-shirt. Make sure you align the design so that it is in line with the t-shirt label at the centre of the t-shirt. Clamp the screen down on all corners of your desk so that it sits flat and cannot move. c) Scoop a bit of screen printing ink into the frame, and spread it across the top of your design. You will probably need less than you think. d) Take a squeegee and ‘flood’ the screen, pulling the screen printing ink across the design. Then swipe the squeezee back up to ensure the design is all covered. The ink will go through the little holes in the fabric of your screen and onto your t-shirt, where your design will appear.
Screen Printing Squeezee
e) Now, very carefully lift your screen off and wash it out using a shower nozzle. This will ensure you can reuse your frame, as the ink doesn’t stick around and clog up your frame. f) As these screens are DIY, you would likely have to touch up parts of your design that got overexposed. g) Next, leave your t-shirts with the screen print untouched until they are completely dry. h) Finally, you need to set the ink using an iron. Place a thin towel in between the iron and your silk screen printed t-shirt design, and press with dry heat for about 5 minutes. Then take the towel off and iron for another 1 to 3 minutes. This will ensure your print doesn’t wear away after wash. And that’s it! You’ve got an awesome silk screen printed t-shirt to wear that you’ve screen printed all by yourself.

6. How to Do Screen Printing Screen Making?

a) Measure the wood(of 2cm thickness) and mark the dimensions you need for the frame on the wood. b) Write on the wood the length of each piece of wood. c) Cut the wood using a skill saw(electric saw) or a hand saw according to the dimensions marked. You need 4 pieces of wood to form the frame.   d) Glue 2 pieces of wood. e) Use a power drill to drill a hole through and secure the 2 wooden pieces with a screw. Drill the hole in the wood, so that the screws can go as close to the centre of the wood as possible. f) Repeat with the other wooden pieces until you have a solid square or rectangular frame without the fabric(fabric-less frame;). Leave the glue to dry for a few hours overnight. g) Get a piece of fabric called the swiss voile(or any other synthetic fabric with a small weave) from a fabric store. It has a medium mesh of little holes in the fabric that will allow the ink to push through. h) Cut your fabric wider than the fabric-less frame you created in step f. i) Place the fabric on the fabric-less frame prepared in step f. Pull down on the sides of the fabric, to get the fabric nice and tight without any bubbles. Now, staple the fabric on to the fabric-less frame using a staple gun. j) Trim the excess fabric from all the edges and your screen is now ready!

7. What are The Materials Used for Silk Screen Printing?

Making The Screens

  • 2cm Thick Wood cut to size you want for each side of your frame.
  • Wood Glue.
  • Screws.
  • Power Drill.
  • Swiss Voile or any synthetic fabric with a small weave.
  • Staple Gun.

Preparing The Screens

  • Emulsion and Sensitiser.
  • Newspaper to Protect The Surfaces.
  • Squeegee.
  • Push Pins.

8. What are the uses for Screen Printing?

Screen Printing can be used to print on both cotton fabrics and polyester fabrics. Specific uses for Screen Printing, just to name a few, include printing on:
  • T-Shirts.
  • Shorts.
  • Skirts.
  • Dresses.
  • Tote Bags
  • Caps.
  • Hoodies.
  • Notebooks.
  • Posters.
  • Mouse Pads.
  • Keychains.
  • And Much More.

9. How Do Automated Silk Screen Printing Machines Work?

10. Pricing for Silk Screen Printing

The pricing of silk screen printing depends on several factors such as

  • Number of Colours
  • Quantity
  • Size of Printing (Within A4 Size, Within A3 Size)


Screen Printing – Glossary of Terms

Planning to get your own silk screen printer? Want to learn all the screen printing terminology? Don’t worry. We have compiled this silk screen printing glossary for you. So that you can become a silk screen printing pro in no time! A Artwork
  • A term often used in the printing industry, this simply refers to the image or text in your design that you want to print.
Automatic Press 
  • An automatic press is a screen printing press that operates using a hydraulic system and an electric motor. Automatic screen printing presses are superior to olden day manual printing machines that require a lot of manual work. They have a higher production rate and produce a better print quality.
Actinic Light
  • Actinic Light is a light range in and near the UV spectrum where most of the photochemical reactions occur. It can be used to expose the emulsion on your screen.
B Bitmap
  • A bitmap is an electronic image which is stored as a series of extremely small dots called pixels. When you zoom in onto a bitmap, you will see the individual pixels that make up an image.
  • Bleeding happens when the ink flows beyond the boundaries of the stencil causing colours to migrate into each other.
  • Blending requires lots of skill and experience. It involves silk screen printing with 2 or more inks simultaneously to produce a gradient effect.
Block Out
  • Blocking Out refers to applying a small patch to cover an open section of a mesh.
  • Burning refers to exposing an emulsion coated screen to a chosen light source to create a stencil.
C Camera-Ready Art
  • Camera-Ready Art simply means print ready art.
Capillary Film
  • Capillary film is an emulsion coated film that can be applied to the mesh, to create a stencil for screen printing. To stick the capillary film to the mesh, you can wet your screen with a little bit of water or coat your screen with a thin layer of emulsion.
Carousel Printer Catalyst
  • A catalyst in silk screen printing is an ink additive that aids in ink bonding to nylon and synthetic fabric.
  • Contamination occurs when there are spots or streak types of emulsion flaws as a result of damage causing particles.
  • CMYK is a popular term used to describe the four ink colours (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) that can be used in different combinations to print almost any color. CMYK needs white ink under bases to produce prints on fabric.
Colour Separation
  • Colour Separation is needed when multi colour images are to be screen printed. Screen printers will have to take a full-color image and separate out the design with each individual colour in the image, for it to be printed.
  • Cured Ink is wash durable. If the ink isn’t properly cured to the fabric, it will not withstand washing.
D Degreasing 
  • Degreasing refers to washing screens with an industrial degreaser to remove contaminants like dirt and oil. When you buy a screen, you have to degrease it so that the emulsion does not separate from the mesh.
Diazo Emulsion 
  • Diazo emulsion is 1 of the 3 types of liquid emulsions available(the other 2 are photopolymer and dual care). Beginners are recommended to use Diazo emulsions even though they take longer to expose, as they produce good-quality stencils.
Direct (liquid) emulsion
  • A direct emulsion is a photo-reactive liquid chemical applied to screens that are used to create stencils.
Discharge Ink
  • Discharge ink is often used to print bright colours onto relatively dark fabric. This type of ink removes the dye from the garment fibers.
  • DPI simply means the number of individual “dots per inch”.
Dual-Cure Emulsion
  • Dual-cure emulsions are another 1 of the 3 types of emulsions. Dual-core emulsions produce finer stencils than diazo emulsions, and is also less expensive than photopolymer.
Durometer (Duro)
  • Durometer is the measure of the hardness or stiffness of the squeegee blade. The higher the durometer of the squeegee blade, the harder the squeegee blade is. Harder squeegee blades leave less ink, allowing to capture more details and fine lines in your design.
Drying Cabinet
  • A drying cabinet is a sealed box like storage that is used to remove moisture from screens quickly.
Dyed Mesh
  • A dyed mesh fabric is a fabric that’s been tinted with colour to allow less light transmission.
E Emulsion
  • An emulsion is a photosensitive chemical that’s applied to a mesh and  subsequently developed by exposing the screen to specific types of light.
Emulsion Remover
  • Emulsion removers help to reclaim screens for them to be reused, by removing emulsions from a screen.
Exposure Unit 
  • An exposure unit is a device that emits UV light to expose screens and make photo stencils.
  • Extenders are chemicals added to plastisol ink to smoothen the texture and increase its volume. It reduces the opacity but not the viscosity.
Extending frames
  • Extending frames are frames used to tighten the mesh before silk screen printing.
F Fish eye
  • A fish eye is a thin circular spot that forms on the print as a result of contamination on a screen.
  • Flashing in silk screen printing terminology, is the act of applying heat to a substrate while it is still on the press. This helps to gel the top layer of ink to the t-shirt and not come off even when washed.
  • Flooding is the act of filling the open stencil areas on a screen and mesh with ink using a squeegee.
  • Just like photo frames support photos, frames in silk screen printing support the mesh fabric.
G Gel Inks
  • Gel Inks are clear plastisol inks that are often used in silk screen printing. They will have a bulbous wet look if you apply them thickly.
Ghost Print
  • Ghost Print refers to a faint but visible image on the screen from earlier designs created using the screen.
Ghost Remover
  • A Ghost Remover is a chemical used to remove ghost prints and ink stains from mesh fabric without damaging the mesh itself.
H Halftone
  • A halftone is a grayscale image made of evenly spaced dots in a design. The dots can vary in size, shape and spacing.
  • A “handfeel” is used to describe the texture/feel of the fabric or the texture/feel of a print on the fabric. Most people like a soft handfeel print when it comes to any type of printing.
Haze Removers
  • Haze removers are chemical removers that are used for cleaning ink stains and ghost prints from the mesh fabric.
I Ink Additive
  • Ink additives are chemical agents added to printing ink to change its adhesion, viscosity, and time to dry.
L Lock-in
  • A lock-in is a condition where the emulsion hardens to a point where it cannot be reclaimed.
  • A low bleed is an ink mixture that prevents colour migration between different coloured inks.
  • LPI refers to “lines per inch”. They are printing lines of dots that form halftone dots for exposure.
M Manual Press
  • A manual press is a silk screen printer that is operated manually by hand.
  • The mesh is the woven fabric that has to be attached to the screen printing frame.
Mesh Count
  • The mesh count is the number of mesh threads that intersect per square inch. A lower mesh count means the threads used are finer and the holes are smaller. A higher mesh count indicates coarser threads and larger holes for a heavy ink deposit. Meshes with higher mesh count are used for block numbers and big letters and words.
Mesh Counter
  • A mesh counter is a devise to gauge the different mesh counts required for different types of inks.
  • A multi-durometer is a squeegee blade that has two soft layers and a harder layer sandwiched in between the softer layers.
O On-Press Wash
  • An on-press wash is a chemical cleaner that is used to remove ink from screens. On-press washes are compatible with the emulsion, so stencils can be used again.
Orange Peel
  • An orange peel is a defect that causes the print to have a rough texture, because of ink sticking from the substrate to the mesh.
  • Over-flood is a condition where too much ink is forced through the mesh and stencil during the process of flooding.
  • Overexposure occurs when a stencil has been exposed to too much light, resulting in a loss of print quality.
P Plastisol Ink
  • Plastisol Ink is a plastic-based ink which makes a long-lasting print on fabric, only when cured with heat properly.
Printable Area
  • A printable area is the area where a screen can print a design without any distortion.
Photopolymer Emulsion
  • Photopolymer Emulsions are 1 of 3 types of emulsions. Photopolymer emulsions are the most light sensitive and expensive. They are only recommended for experienced screen printers with solvent-based inks.
R Reclaiming
  • Reclaiming refers to the process of removing emulsion from the screen for it to be be used repeatedly.
  • Reducers are chemicals that lower the viscosity of inks.
  • Registration means aligning 1 colour of a design with another colour of the same design. Screen printing with more than 1 colour can only be done if each colour is applied separately with its own individual screen.
S Screen/Silkscreen
  • The screen is a wooden frame with a fabric mesh attached to it in the center.
Screen Opener
  • Screen openers are chemicals that can remove dried ink that is clogged from a stencil.
  • Silkscreening is an abbreviation used for the screen printing process.
  • Smearing refers to colours smudging as a result of screens being moved accidentally during printing.
Solvent Ink
  • Solvents Inks are oil-based inks that are used for printing on hard surfaces like plastic, metal and glass.
Specialty Ink
  • Specialty inks are special inks used for different kinds of printing finishes and textures. For example, specialty inks can give metallic or glittery textured prints.
  • A Stencil refers to the portion of the screen that is not covered allowing ink to go through the mesh. Different stencils have to be made for each individual design and each individual colour in a design.
  • A squeegee is a flexible blade attached to a handle. It helps to force ink through the screen by moving the blade over the screen.
Step Test
  • A step test is a test that is used to find the correct exposure time for an emulsion before the actual screen is made with the emulsion.
U Underexposure
  • Underexposure occurs when a stencil has not been exposed to enough light, resulting in the photo emulsion not being hardened.
Ultraviolet Light
  • Ultraviolet Light, also known as UV light, is often used for exposing screens used in screen printing. UV light is present in sunlight.
Under Base
  • Under Base is the first layer of plastisol ink on the t-shirt that when cured acts as the support for other layers of colors. For example, a white under base is required for printing multiple colours on dark t-shirts and garments
V Vector
  • A vector is a print-ready piece of artwork that can be scaled without any loss of quality.
  • Viscosity refers to the thickness of the ink.
W Water-Based Ink
  • A water soluble ink dyes the garment and becomes part of a fabric.
Wet-on-Wet Printing
  • Wet on wet prints refers to printing on top of a previously printed ink that is yet to dry.
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