Silk printing, screenprinting, silk screen printing, and serigraph are just a few forms of screen printing known today. There is considerable etymological, taxonomic, and semantic discussion concerning the process and the the techniques used for this type of printing. Most commonly it was referred to as silk printing, but silk was not utilized as popularly after the 1960s. After the 1960s, polyester was actually the cost effective fabric of choice.
Used in conjunction with block printing and painting, screen printing was actually first recognized during the Song Dynasty in China around 960 to 1279 AD. Other Asian countries quickly picked up this technique spreading the idea and techniques of traditional silk screen printing through Asia. It was not until the 1700s that Western Europe got wind of this technique. At the time, silk was too expensive meaning that screen printing was not popular in Western Europe until much later when silk became a more cost effective option for the people.
In 1907, Samuel Simon patented the screen printing technique in England. However, screen printing at that time was used for wallpaper. The designs would be printed on silk or linen allowing it to be easily stuck to a wall for decorative purposes.
Screen printing allowed for a consistent design to be transferred to another medium whether it was silk or linen. In addition, this technique was going to make it easier to actually get garments such as custom t-shirts, hats, CD covers, and DVD covers with a consistent look for one product to the next. Wood, metal, paper, polypropylene, polyethylene, glass, and ceramic are actually perfect candidates for this form of printing today.
So how does screen printing work? Let me see if I can explain...
A frame of aluminum or wood is made. The frame must be large enough to fit the design. Next, a screen of finely woven, porous fabric called a mesh is created. This will have the design you want on the item such as a custom t-shirt. The design itself is going to be a series of small, fine holes.
The mesh is pulled over the frame tightly. Now, you will find that the t-shirt or object is placed under the mesh and frame. The ink or dye is then placed at one end of the frame in a sort of reservoir. A ruler like board is then put at the top of the ink and pulled won over the mesh.
What you then have is a perfect design on the product underneath such as the t-shirt. The board or squeegee allows you to get the perfect amount of ink - the slight distance between the mesh and the surface of the t-shirt or other object allows for a popback effect so that you get a clean, crisp transfer.
Screen printing has gone a long way in advancing custom products as well as assembly lines. While the techniques have been around for considerable years, you will find that it extremely easy to see why you will find further advancement happening faster than ever.