Andy Warhol, silkscreen printing, screenprint

What is Silkscreen Printing? A Beginner's Guide

Silkscreen printing is a versatile and durable printing method that has been used for centuries to transfer ink onto a variety of surfaces.

At Dovehouse Studios a number of the artists we collaborate with work within this medium, and so in this article we will explore the process of silkscreen printing, its benefits and limitations, and why it remains a popular choice for artists and printers around the world.

So whether you're a seasoned collector with a number of silkscreen prints already in your collection, considering buying your first silkscreen print from us here at Dovehouse Studios, or just curious about the world of silkscreen printing, read on to discover everything you need to know about one of the most extensively used printing processes in the contemporary art world.

History

Despite its rapid rise in popularity over the past 75 years, silkscreen printing is by no means a new concept. The first recorded mention of screen printing reportedly dates back as early as 960 AD during the Song Dynasty in China.

China, Screenprinting

An early printing studio, China

The technology was subsequently adopted by Japan and then later on - Europe.

While Europe was introduced to the process in the 18th century, it would take the affordability of silk mesh and the commercial use of the process to make it more available.

In 1907 the Englishman Samuel Simon patented the screen printed form most familiar in the Western world. Simon’s use of his patented process was primarily used for printing expensive wall coverings on silk, linen, paper and other fine fabrics.

Screenprinting

Since its origins, the medium has expanded into various industries and applications, and remains relevant today as an innovative and versatile art form.

The Basics of Silkscreen Printing 

Silkscreen printing (also known today as 'Screen Printing'), involves transferring ink through a stencil that has been applied to a fine mesh screen. The stencil blocks off certain areas of the screen, allowing ink to pass through only the desired areas.

The ink is then pushed through the screen using a 'squeegee', which creates a smooth, even layer of ink on the surface of the material being printed.

Once the ink has been applied, it is allowed to dry and cure, creating a durable and long-lasting print. 

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol and assistant Gérard Malanga blocking a silk screen with glue, 1960.

 

Advantages of Silkscreen Printing

One of the benefits of silkscreen printing is its versatility. It can be used to print on a wide range of materials, including paper, fabric, plastic, metal, and glass. This makes it a popular choice for printing t-shirts, posters, banners, and other promotional materials.

Another benefit of silkscreen printing is its durability. The ink used in silkscreen printing is typically thicker than other forms of printing, which makes it more resistant to fading and wear over time.

  

Benjamin Thomas Taylor, screen printing

Gold ink being applied to the silkscreen in Benjamin Thomas Taylor's print, launched with Dovehouse Studios in May 2023.

Limitations

Whilst silkscreen printing is a widely-used printing method, it does have some limitations. Because each colour in the design requires a separate screen, the process can become time-consuming and expensive, especially for designs that have many colours.

Additionally, silkscreen printing is typically not well-suited for printing photographs or other designs with a high level of detail or intricacies.

Benjamin Thomas Taylor, Screenprint, Silkscreen print

Hand finishing being applied to a gold screenprint in Benjamin Thomas Taylor's print, launched with Dovehouse Studios in May 2023.

Famous Examples of Silkscreen Printing

Silkscreen printing has been used by many famous artists over the years, with recent famous examples including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

“The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.”
- Andy Warhol

Warhol is perhaps the most famous silkscreen artist, known for his colorful, pop art prints that featured celebrities, consumer goods, and other everyday objects.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn (1962). Screenprint on canvas.

 

Roy Lichtenstein was another famous pop artist who used silkscreen printing to create bold, graphic prints.

Roy Litchestein, screenprint

Roy Lichtenstein, Reverie (1965). Screenprint on paper

 

More recently, street artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have extensively used the screenprinting process in their work.

Banksy

A selection of Banksy screenprints
 
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