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Silk Screen Printing

Updated on May 8, 2010

A silk screen print is an image made by rubbing paint on a surface through openings in a stencil or stencil-like film applied to a mesh screen. The silk-screen process, like stenciling, is a kind of surface printing as distinct from relief or intaglio methods. It deposits mat layers of paint on a surface rather than staining it, as in printing. The process as used by artists, generally requiring a silk screen and hand techniques, is called serigra-phy. As used commercially, with different kinds of screen and often photography, it is called screen printing.

In silk screen printing, a screen of fine silk, nylon, cotton, or steel wire is stretched tightly over a rectangular wood or metal frame hinged to a board. The original drawing is placed under it. In the simplest processes the resist (not to be printed) areas of the design are painted on the screen with shellac, lacquer, or glue; or a stencil cut in thin vinyl or other film is applied to the screen. In a more sophisticated procedure, the areas to be printed are painted with tusche (lithographer's ink), the screen is entirely covered with a glue solution and dried, and the tusche is washed off the reverse side with kerosine, carrying along the glue over it. Alternatively, the screen may be covered with glue, the resist areas painted with black lacquer or shellac, and the glue washed off the printing areas. Similar effects can be achieved with photographic methods, and various techniques can be combined.

The surface to be printed is then placed under the frame, which, with the screen on the bottom, forms a shallow box into which a water or, usually, oil paint is poured. It is rubbed over the screen with a squeegee, remaining on top of the resist areas but penetrating the areas of uncovered mesh. Innumerable layers of color, opaque or transparent, may be built up, using a new stencil for each color. The screen can be cleaned and reused many times.

Silk-screen printing is a relatively modern development, and today the process is important industrially to print textiles, posters, signs, labels, bottles and other curved objects, and half-tone illustrations. In the late 1930's and the 1940's, American artists such as Harry Steinberg and Anthony Velonis made, silk screen prints of the American scene. In the 1950's artists such as Glen Alps and Sister Mary Corita turned to more abstract, personal subjects. Multinational artists of the 1960's (Robert Rauschenberg, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Andy Warhol, and others) have taken a Pop art and minimal art approach to silk screen and have combined artists' and industrial techniques.

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