Traditional Silk Screen Printing

From armed forces to art form; everything you need to know about the world's most reliable print method.

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What is traditional silk screen printing?

Traditional silk screen printing, or serigraphy, is a method of transferring an image onto a substrate using a mesh stencil. When printing t shirts we use a stencil that’s made from a fine mesh, stretched over a rectangular frame. Parts of this mesh are then blocked out to form a stencil, and that stencil is placed directly onto a t shirt. Next, ink is pressed through the mesh onto a t shirt. The parts that aren’t blocked will seep ink onto the fabric and form the print. 
 

Imagine for a second that the mesh stencil is a flour sifter, and you’ve glued over some of the holes in the sifter, so that flour only comes out of certain holes, this is exactly the same principle for traditional silk screen printing.


Each stencil can typically only hold 1 colour of ink, so if you have a colourful design you'll need a separate stencil for each colour in your design, and this is printed consecutively one after the other. This printing method is currently used commercially to print fabric, garments, glass and also superfine computer components like circuit boards. It can also be used to print artisan ceramics, paper, bottles and many other things too.

So, where does the 'tradition' come from? 

Officially, screen printing began in China around 900AD as a way of transferring art onto fabric, though some sources claim to have evidence of screen printing as far back as 200AD. The name silk screen printing came about because the mesh stencils were originally made of silk or hair. These days the mesh is made from a polymer such as nylon. In the 18th century traditional silk screen printing was introduced to the west and it slowly gained popularity because it made it much easier to recreate images. This peaked as the main form of printing during World War 2 through to the 1960s when all posters were screenprinted from iconic war propaganda to the art style of Andy Warhol. Warhol’s efforts showed the world how versatile it was as an artform and from there it was only a short time until printing onto t shirts became popular worldwide.

 

Tradition in action; some screenprinted outcomes by The Print Bar team

Printing up to 10000 t shirts on any given day, we certainly have a vibrant range of orders that come through The Print Bar. These orders span many different styles, garments and purposes, from complex art for fashion collections to large runs of t shirts or bags for corporate events. To be able to screen print each of these jobs with care and quality is a masterful combination of highly skilled staff, state-of-the-art equipment & software, and an inclusive workplace culture that gets us the award winning results we’re known for.

The Screen Printing process at The Print Bar

Step 1

Customer service guidance

Step 2 - A

Pre-press (setting up)

Step 2 - B

On-press (printing)

Step 3

Quality control

Step 1:  Customer service guidance

Our process starts with the front end team who carefully work with you and suggest the best types of printing and what garments are most suited to your order. To become an account manager at The Print Bar requires extensive training to understand different print methods, ink types, all steps in the print process, and the pros and cons of different garments, fabrics, brands and promotional items. This process is very hands on, so you can trust that your account manager has actually had traditional silk screen printing experience themselves. Once you’ve paid, we order your garments from our suppliers.

 

There are 2 main steps in printing; the time your t shirts are being printed on a screen printing machine (known as a press), and the set up time before printing starts, called ‘pre press’.

Step 2: Pre-press (the set up stage)

Our pre-press team take over once your order is in our system. It’s then scheduled in and assigned to a machine and a print team. Next, the pre-press team start the complex job of turning your designs into stencils to perfectly reproduce your artwork. There are a number of steps for this part starting by splitting the design into separate colours, and deciding on the mesh grade, stencil thickness and mesh tension. Finally, one of our colour matching experts will mix an ink colour by eye for each of the Pantone colours in your order.
 

Step 3: On-press (printing)

By now your garments would have arrived and been through their first quality check, counted and ready to print. For large orders, we have 2 large automatic screenprinting presses. These are big machines that are 6 metres in diameter and weigh close to 1500kgs each.  These big machines use high pressure air to press down a squeegee across the mesh stencil, laying down the ink onto your t shirts. Getting the pressure, speed and temperature just right is the key to getting a high quality t shirt print. Smaller orders and all our intricate work is done manually by hand. This gives our skilled printmakers the most control in getting the results needed for intricate designs. Once the t shirt is printed we then send them through a hot oven which looks very similar to a pizza oven. This bakes the ink into the shirt so that it can withstand years of washing.
 

Step 4: Quality Control

The last step involves another team member who performs quality checks and counts each t shirt from your order to make sure its up to our quality standards perfect before we ship out.

 

Shop some of our most popular screen printed items below!

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* 10.0% GST included in prices.
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What kinds of t shirt orders suit traditional silk screen printing?

Designs with flat colours like logos suit traditional silk screen printing, but in saying that, designs with rich gradients, sketches or photographic elements can still be replicated, but may need additional screens which adds to the cost. The benefits of screen printing are that you can get really vibrant colours and you have many options for ink types which in turn gives you many options for how you want your printed t shirt to look. The best part of traditional silk screen printing is that getting a premium print result is surprisingly affordable too. It’s economical and very cost effective for orders of 20 t shirts or more.

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