Screen-printing, also known as silkscreening or serigraphy, is a printmaking technique that traditionally creates a sharp-edged single-color image using a stencil and a porous fabric. A screenprint or serigraph is an image created using this technique. It began as an industrial technology, and was adopted by American graphic artists in the 1930s; the Pop Art movement of the 1960s further popularized the technique. Many of Andy Warhol’s most famous works were created using the technique.
Silk screen printing has its origins in simple stencilling, most notably of the Japanese form (katazome). The modern silk screen process originated from patents taken out by Samuel Simon in the early 1900s in England. This idea was then adopted in San Francisco, California, by John Pilsworth in 1914 who used a silk screen to form multicolor prints in much the same manner as silk screening is done today.
A screen is made of a piece of porous, finely woven fabric (originally silk, but typically made of polyester or nylon since the 1940s) stretched over a wood or aluminum frame. Areas of the screen are blocked off with a non-permeable material—a stencil—which is a negative of the image to be printed; that is, the open spaces are where the ink will appear.
The screen is placed on top of a piece of dry paper or fabric. Ink is placed on top of the screen, and a squeegee (rubber blade) is used to spread the ink evenly across the screen. The ink passes through the open spaces in the screen onto the paper or fabric below; then the screen is lifted away. The screen can be re-used after cleaning. If more than one color is being printed on the same surface, the ink is allowed to dry and then the process is repeated with another screen and different color of ink.
There are several ways to create a stencil for screenprinting. The simplest is to create it by hand in the desired shape, either by cutting a piece of paper (or plastic film) and attaching it to the screen, or by painting a negative image directly on the screen with a filler material which becomes impermeable when it dries. For a more painterly technique, the artist may choose to paint the image with drawing fluid, wait for the image to dry, and then “scoop coat” the entire screen with screen filler. After the filler has dried, a hose can be used to spray out the screen, and only the areas that were painted by the drawing fluid will wash away, leaving a stencil around it. This process enables the artist to incorporate their hand into the process, to stay true to their drawing. Photographic screens can reproduce images with a high level of detail, and can be reused for thousands of copies.
Screen printing is more versatile than traditional printing techniques. The surface does not have to be printed under pressure, unlike etching or lithography, and it does not have to be planar. Screen printing inks can be used to work with a variety of materials, such as textiles, ceramics, metal, wood, paper, glass, and plastic.
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