How Silkscreen Printing Works April 15 2014

In it's simplest terms, the silkscreen printing process can also be refereed to as stenciling or serigraphy. Stenciling dates back thousands of years ago, some of the earliest examples can be found in the caves of France and Spain. Later on it was perfected to use silk for various designs in Japan and China. More recently it's been used to make Hawaiian shirts, and even playing cars in USA!

The first patent for a screen printing process was awarded to Samuel Simon of England, in 1907. Later, John Pilsworth of San Francisco perfect the multicolored screen printing. Throughout WWII, screen printing was used to make the famous "Uncle Sam" posters, and "U.S. Army Property" on soldiers' shirts. Marilyn Diptych (1962) by Andy Warhol, is arguably one of the most famous silkscreen paintings.

Compare different printing methods

Digital printing is basically done by any laser or an inkjet printer. It's a quick way to get your design made, whereas silkscreen printing takes longer because it uses actual buckets of paint to apply it to screens. Digitally printed stickers are not considered to be outdoor proof.

Lamination can also be added to digitally printed materials, this is meant to prolong the longevity. However, even so, the longevity of laminated digital stickers may only be measured in months.

Silkscreen printing process is the best way to make high grade, best possible quality stickers.

Digital Print
Laminated Digital Print
Resolution High High Moderate
Setup time Quick Quick Slow
Finish Thin print Thin print Thick ink print
Outdoor life Weeks Months 5+ years
Rain Resistance Very Poor Good Best
UV Resistance Poor Poor Best

Tailribbons use

no no yes

How silkscreen printing works

silkscreen printing: blank canvasSay for example you want to make a white tailribbon car sticker with a circle on it, and let's say this circle is half red, half blue.

You start with a blank piece of a white vinyl with a sticky backing. By the way, you can also silkscreen print on fabrics like a t-shirt, glass, plastics, ceramics, even metal, wood, and of course paper.


silkscreen printing: screen, frame, screen mesh"Screens" are then created for each color in the sticker. Let's make a screen for the red color.

A screen is a piece of fabric (traditionally silk, but now polyester is used) with thousands of tiny holes (polyester mesh).

The idea is to get ink through the holes and unto the vinyl, but only in such a way that it creates your design. In other words, we don't need to utilize all of the thousands of tiny holes of the fabric (otherwise we end up with a red rectangle), but only the ones that make up our design. This can be done in several ways:

    1. One way, is to print your design on acetate paper (like making and overhead transparency), that only has a black half-circle. Remember, half-circle for now because we are making only the red part of your entire circle design. Then, an "emulsion" is used to coat your entire screen, and dried. In a dark room, or using a special machine, the transparency (with your half-circle design) is placed on top of the emulsion coated screen and all of this is exposed to light. After the exposure, the screen is washed with water. This washes off the emulsion that makes up your half-circle design, exposing the tiny holes of the screen, call this screen "A".
      2. Another way to only utilize the holes we need for our half-circle design is to use a thin sheet of plastic. Blatantly, with scissors, cut out a half-circle design in the sheet of plastic and place it unto our screen. This brute and quick method exposes only the holes we need. Unfortunately, many designs that need to be printed are very complicated, so cutting them out with scissors would not be possible or would take a long time.
        3. To improve on the above, instead of the sheet of plastic use a roll of vinyl with a sticky backing (like a big white vinyl sticker). Then feed it through a vinyl cutter machine, which takes data input from your computer, and cuts out your design. Remove the excess vinyl, and stick the remained unto the screen. This too, exposes only the holes we need.

          silkscreen printing: apply red inkPlace this screen "A" we made in the step above onto the blank white vinyl.

          Get a small bucket of red paint, and apply a layer of red ink by hand (with a squeegee) on the screen.

          silkscreen printing: first resultThe ink is squeezed through the tiny holes in the screen and unto the vinyl.

          This creates the red half of the circle.

          silkscreen printing: apply blue inkRepeat likewise for the blue color, but with a different screen, "B".

          Force blue ink through the mesh of the screen "B", remove the screen, and so this creates the other blue half.

          silkscreen printing: final resultWhat you end up with is thick, quality raised ink (you can literally feel it) on your sticker.

          In terms of quality, there's no comparison between digitally printed stickers and silkscreen printed ones.

          Always insist on silkscreen printing.

          1. Gordon Roberts. (May 04, 2006). History's Influence on Screen Printing's Future. In ScreenWeb. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from
          2. Screen printing - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from
          Posted by: Eli