What is Silk Screening?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Silk screening is a process which is used to create prints on a wide variety of materials, from fabric to wood. Many commercial printers use silk screening to print, since it is cheap and easy, and when done well, it results in high quality prints. Home crafters and fine artists also use the silk screening technique for projects, and it is relatively easy to learn. People who want to learn how to make high quality screen prints may want to consider taking a class to learn the basics.

Silk screening involves ink being pushed through mesh.
Silk screening involves ink being pushed through mesh.

To silk screen, a very fine mesh is stretched tightly onto a frame. This mesh was made from silk until the mid-twentieth century, although it is usually polyester today. A negative design is created on the screen using a variety of techniques, and ink is rolled or sponged onto the screen, which is pressed onto the object being printed. Most printers use a squeegee or a similar tool to gently press the ink onto the printed product before removing the screen and hanging the print up to dry.

Stencils may be used in the silk screening process.
Stencils may be used in the silk screening process.

Most people use photosensitive screens for screen printing. The screen is covered in a light sensitive emulsion which reacts to UV light. The artist places a stencil of the desired pattern on the screen, exposes it, and washes the screen. The areas exposed to light will harden, creating an impenetrable layer, while the covered areas of the emulsion will wash away, allowing ink to pass through.

Other techniques can be used to make a screen for silk screening, such as applying a paper or plastic stencil, or even painting on glue or resin. As a general rule, the screens are designed to be reusable, to make as many prints as desired. After printing, the screen can be saved for another run or washed and used again with a new design. Most people who practice silk screening also use frames to hold the screens in place while they work.

Multicolored prints can be produced through silk screening with the use of different screens. The CMYK color process can be used to create very complex color designs, which are printed with the lightest color first and the darkest last. Many crafters like silk screening because it is fun, easy, and it can yield work of excellent quality under trained hands. It also requires fairly minimal equipment, and none of the equipment used is very expensive except for the light sensitive emulsion used to make screens.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I've been making greeting cards for several years, using great silk screen supplies I buy online. They're always really popular and it's not very expensive to buy the card and stencils.

If you try it be sure to make a note of the designs, to avoid sending the same one to someone twice!


@yumdelish - I think you would be better off buying a silk screening kit and getting a little familiar with the process before you try it on wood.

If that doesn't appeal to you I think you'd be okay, it will just be a bit harder to grasp at first.

Wood needs to be prepped with several coats of acrylic emulsion, which all need to dry, so allow plenty of time. Afetr you're finished you will need to varnish it, probably twice.

Because it takes so long I usually get an early start and allow an entire day for one piece. It's worth it though, and these days I hardly ever do anything else.


I'm a keen crafter but have never used any silk screen equipment. I would like to try this technique on wood. Is that a good place for a novice to start?

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