How to Become a Screen Printer

By TACP Staff on July 23, 2019

Screen printing is a creative field that allows an artist to work on a variety of projects with diverse materials, making it an excellent career path for those who may want to dabble in commercial art but enjoy a bit of variety in their day-to-day work.

1. Learn the Basics of Screen Printing

The art of screen printing was first used by the Chinese over 2,000 years ago. Although technology and techniques have changed since then, screen printing is still used today in a variety of artistic and commercial applications. Though typically related to the apparel industry, screen printing is incredibly versatile. In addition to t-shirts, hats, and clothing, screen printers also work to create designs on everything from coffee cups and diverse types of merchandise like posters, banners, and other large displays.

The screen printer’s main task is to create unique items with vibrant and customized printed designs. Aspiring screen printers should be creative individuals with an eye for design and color. Screen printers will often have to create their own unique and eye-catching designs, so some experience with or interest in design work is also helpful for those who are interested in this career. Most of the work that screen printers accomplish requires them to work one-on-one with individual clients, businesses, and organizations. This makes it important for aspiring screen printers to also develop customer service skills.

There are three types of environments where screen printers typically work. Some screen printers work independently. While this option allows for the most creativity and flexibility, it also requires the individual to have the determination and self-discipline to both work as a screen printer and business owner. Screen printers can also work for a small screen printing company that offers services to individuals and businesses in the immediate area. Yet another option is to work for a large apparel or merchandise factory. This requires knowledge and experience with industrial screen printers.

Whether you are working on a simple project that requires only one color logo printing or a more complex project with intricate designs and multiple colors, it is important for screen printers to be able to take the client’s idea and bring it to life on the chosen canvas. This requires attention to detail and knowledge of what is and isn’t possible when it comes to printing on different materials.

2. Advance Your Skills & Technique

At its core, screen printing is a simple process that involves pushing paint or ink through a mesh screen onto a substrate or canvas. The screen printer uses a stencil to create the images, logos, letters, and any other designs that will later be printed onto the canvas. Though anyone can learn how to screen print, skilled screen printers work to perfect their technique and effectively manage the screen printing process in order to create more intricate designs on a variety of different materials.

Professional screen printers may perform any or all aspects of the screen printing process. This can include coming up with the design concept, drafting the design, developing the stencils, mixing and loading inks, cleaning and maintaining machines, and storing the finished products. Screen printers who work independently or run a small screen printing business will also need to learn basic skills that come along with running a business such as managing employees, maintaining a budget, marketing the company’s services, and other administrative tasks.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of the screen printing process, professional screen printers also need to be able to handle repetitive tasks with careful precision. Mixing the chemicals used in the screen printing process and creating accurate stencils for design requires patience, organization, attention to detail and dexterity. Screen printers working independently or for smaller screen printing businesses will also need to become familiar with screen printing equipment in order to learn to identify and troubleshoot any technological and mechanical issues that may arise.

A formal education is not a requirement to become a professional screen printer. However, a degree or career experience in a related art career can help aspiring screen printers gain the skills they need to become professionals. Some schools offer courses in screen printing that can help you learn printing techniques and gain hands-on experience with the process. Other courses in fine art such as illustration or graphic design can also help aspiring screen printers learn the basics of color and design, which will lend well to the screen printing profession. It may also be helpful for aspiring screen printers to work as an apprentice in a screen printing shop. This role will not only allow you to gain hands-on experience as a screen printer, but you can also learn the ins and outs of how the business operates.

3. Develop Your Personal Style

The screen printing industry is rather large, and it can be hard to stand out among your peers. Whether you are planning on starting your own small screen printing business or looking for a position with an established screen printing company, it is important that you can differentiate yourself from others in the field. The best way to do this is to find what type of screen printing you excel at and market yourself as a specialist. This is where a portfolio can come in handy. By having a portfolio or samples of your work, you can show perspective customers or employers your strengths when it comes to screen printing.

As with nearly every type of artist, screen printers can benefit from professional networking. Whether you want to work independently or with a screen printing company, it is vital to gain hands-on experience and training with a seasoned professional. One of the best ways to do this is by learning from or working under a screen printing professional in your community. Network with local screen printing business owners and ask about opportunities to watch the artists at work or even become an apprentice at the shop. This is a great way to learn more about the business and gain hands-on experience with the screen printing process.

In addition to networking with local screen printing business owners and others in the field, it can also be helpful to expand your network to learn from others outside of your local community by joining relevant organizations and attending tradeshows. The American Screen Printing Association is a global organization of screen printers that provides guidance and networking opportunities as well as training and certification for aspiring screen printers. The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association also provides networking opportunities and educational resources for professionals in the industrial, garment, graphic, textile, electronics, packaging and commercial printing fields. This organization can provide great opportunities for screen printers to make connections in complementary fields.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Screen Printing

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