Screen & Pad Printing Specialists. Oxfordshire, UK

What is Screen Printing And Why Would You Choose Screen Printing Over Pad Printing?

For the arty among you, you may well associate screen printing with the iconic work of pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichteinstien who used the technique to revolutionise the art world in the 1960s.

Warhol’s huge repeating portraits of Marilyin Monroe and striking renditions of Campbell soup cans still cause wonder today with their boldness and simplicity.

But screen printing has been around for centuries. And, despite traditionally being the domain of artisans and DIY craftspeople for T-shirts, posters and album covers, it’s still alive and well today as a highly effective commercial printing technique, used for a wide range of products.

So how does it compare to other forms of printing, like pad printing? What are its stand-out benefits? And which of your print jobs would benefit most from being screen printed?

 

What is screen printing?

Screen printing is a traditional printing method in which a blade or squeegee is pulled across a stenciled woven mesh (screen), to press ink onto an underlying material or product (substrate). Different ink colours are applied one at a time using a different screen, which allows for subtle and complex layering in the finished print.

Screen printing is a highly versatile printing method, allowing you to print onto a wide range of materials, including paper, fabric, wood, glass, metal and plastic.

 

How does screen printing work?

While its roots may lie in hand-made art, screen printing has been brought bang up-to-date with a range of hi-tech, large capacity machinery. These can perform long print runs onto both flat and curved surfaces – which makes screen printing an interesting print option for a variety of products.

But the principles and process followed by even the most sophisticated modern equipment remain true to their traditional origins:

  • Screen preparation.
    A piece of mesh – typically made out of silk, fabric or polyester – is stretched over a frame. The mesh needs to be taut to work effectively.
  • Stencil design.
    The mesh is covered with a photo-sensitive emulsion. A film with a negative of the image to be printed is placed over the emulsion and exposed to ultraviolet light.
  • Creation of screen image.
    The light passes through the negative spaces on the film, ‘exposing’ the emulsion, which then hardens. The unexposed areas of the emulsion remain soft and are removed (with a water spray or other automated device). What’s left is a negative of the image on the mesh. The ink will be able to pass through the emulsion-free areas to create a positive image on the base material, or substrate.
  • Pre-print checks.
    A number of technical checks are required to ensure the substrate is securely fixed to a base, or pallet, and that there are no rogue blemishes in the emulsion or any risk of ink contamination.
  • Repeating process for multiple colours.
    Identical screens are created, using the same process, depending on how many colours will be required in the print. The ‘carousel’ printer is a multi-pallet machine, which allows the substrate to pass under multiple screens in an automated cycle.
  • Application of ink.
    The screen is placed over the substrate and ink is poured into a reservoir. The printer then pulls a squeegee across the top of the screen taking the ink over the screen and through the tiny holes in the emulsion-free parts of the screen.
  • Et voilá!
    The positive image, in a single colour, is reproduced on the substrate. By repeating the process using different colours through variations of the original stencil, a final multi-layered image can be produced of stunning originality and vibrant colour blend.

 

Screen printing is a print process that has been industrialised and automated over the years, but which still embodies the key elements that make it the unique and popular industrial print solution it is today.

 

What are the advantages of screen printing?

So why would you choose screen printing over pad printing or other printing methods like digital printing?

Versatility

  • Screens are generally soft and flexible, which makes them highly adaptable. So screen printing is widely used commercially for printing onto hard (glass, plastic) and soft (paper, cotton) materials. This makes it ideal for POS, banners, posters, electronics, decals and much more.
  • While screen printing is often associated with printing onto flat surfaces, it’s a popular choice for curved objects too, from glass and plastic bottles to beer pump handles, lip balms and honey stirrers.
  • With so many ink choices available, pretty much any combination of colours is available either through a bespoke mixture or, for the signature screen-print effect, the use of single overlaid colours using multiple screens.


Colour quality.
Screen printing allows you to apply thick coatings of ink – which tends to give you a higher quality finish than other methods. The colours are rich and saturated and have good light resistance, so will stand the test of time.

Size.
Whereas pad printing is limited to smaller objects, the sky’s pretty much the limit with screen printing.

Cost effectiveness.
The materials – frame, screen stencil, ink – are simple and cheap to get hold/produce. So screen printing can be a cheaper alternative to other forms, especially for small print runs.

Durability.
Thanks to the relative thickness of ink application, the end product is durable and long-lasting.

 

What are the disadvantages of screen printing?

Screen printing is a fantastic solution for large designs and big spaces, but it has its limitations.

  • Limited substrates
    It’s not as effective as pad printing for small irregular objects, or for fine detail, like a logo on a microchip or tiny print on electrical components.
  • Time-consuming
    A large screen printing project can be time-consuming to set up, which can add to the cost of a project.
  • Image density
    Screen printing generally applies a thicker coating of ink than a digital or pad printer, causing a more raised design – which may not be the desired effect.
  • Tricky to customise
    It’s striking and beautiful but more difficult to customise than other methods.
  • Speed.
    It’s slower than other processes.

 

Examples of where you might use screen printing

With the evolution of new technology, the days of screen printing being limited to flat surfaces are behind us. Modern automatic and semi-automatic screen printing machines are capable of printing onto a range of flat and round objects.

Here are just some products we’ve printed onto:

  • Square/rectangular glass bottles
  • Plastic bottles
  • Cosmetic bottle caps
  • Tractor switches
  • Ceramic mugs
  • Nylon wheelchair axles
  • ABS lids and caps
  • Plant water spray bottles
  • Water mixing bottles
  • Water spray bottles
  • Lip balms
  • Tea tins.

 

Screen printing or pad printing, which is better?

Pad Printing, which uses a flexible silicone pad to transfer ink from an etched base plate onto the product, is a perfect way to transfer a 2D image onto a 3D object. And it’s a particularly effective method for printing onto irregular, tiny objects like keyrings and jewelry where screen printing may struggle.

But setting up and executing a pad printing job can be slower and more involved that screen printing, and pad printing is limited in its printing area: you can’t really use it to print over a large area, which is where screen printing comes into its own.

So, it’s really horses for courses: it’s about choosing the printing method that suits your particular requirements.

We’ll be more than happy to help you choose the right service for the perfect print job.

Please do get in touch with one of our expert team to find out more about why screen printing might be a best solution for you, other options available, and our range of screen printing machines.