Screenprinting or Screen Printing

While the screenprinting process, which is part of the printmaking process, is full of problems, the top topic is often the spelling of the process itself. There has been confusion even amongst authors and writers. So let’s clear up the spelling once and for all.

by G. William Hood

As both an author and writer since my university days, correctness has been my number one goal. I almost always spend a considerable amount of time researching a subject before I begin writing. Once I start writing, I find myself referring to my well-worn copy of Merriam-Webster’s Manual for Writers and Editors for clarity.

No doubt you have seen the thousands of familiar words written as one word, separate words, or hyphenated. These are known as compound words. The most common spelling quandary writers face is writing compounds as closed, hyphenated, or open words.


When using two words together to yield a more precise meaning, it is common to use a compound. There are three ways to write compound words:

• Closed compounds (joined to form a single word, e.g., screenprinting)
• Hyphenated compounds (two words joined by a hyphen, e.g., solvent-based)
• Open compounds (spelled as two words, e.g., stencil development)

At times, a compound may be considered with more than two words, e.g., stretch-and-glue frames. The choice amongst the given compound styles represents one of the most common and irritating style issues writers encounter.

And, perhaps you wondered which is correct; closed, open, or hyphenated. The reasoning lies in compound words or word groups that consist of two or more parts that work together to denote a single specific concept. Screenprinting falls under this single specific concept clause.

Screenprinting is also a noun (from Latin “nōmen”, literally name). A noun is any word that functions as the name of a specific object or set of things, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas. In this instance, the screen is the object, and printing is the action.

When used as a noun, the result is a closed compound word – screenprint, screenmaker, screenprint shops, screenprints, screenmaking, and screenprinting. Let’s break down the word to see why this is true.

The common noun of “screen,” as we use it in the industry, consists of mesh tensioned onto a frame. Once the mesh is coated with emulsion and dried, an image can be exposed onto the screen and developed. At this point, the screen becomes part of the printing process.

A manufacturer of SAG frames, e.g., stretch-and-glue (a hyphenated compound word group) frames, may choose to print the size or the mesh count and thread diameter tensioned onto the frame. However, we do not print screens, per se, but use them in the printing process. Screen printing used as two words implies the screen is the printed object, as used in book printing, newspaper printing, or box printing.

Closed Compounds

Using a closed compound word refers to the screen producing printing. It becomes a linking verb that connects the subject (printing) with an adjective or noun (screen) to express the action, i.e., screenprint, screenprinter, screenprinting, screenprints, screenmaking, screenmaker, etc. Yes, all six of these compound words are correct, just as the original term serigraphy is a closed compound word formed from Latin “sericum” (silk) and Greek “graphein” (to write or draw). Of course, the silkscreen process was correct as a closed compound word.

A few of the many other closed compound words used in printmaking (another closed compound word) are:

• Blockout
• Chromolithography
• Durometer
• Monofilament
• Multifilament
• Photocopy
• Photograph
• Photoreactive
• Phototypesetting
• Polyester
• Silkscreen
• Serigraphy
• Tensiometer
• Typesetting
• Ultraviolet
• Woodblock

Dictionary Inclusion

A dictionary will seldom list all permanent compounds (compounds so commonly used to become permanent parts of the language). However, most dictionaries generally will list some compound words. This is only because most compound meanings are self-evident from their component words’ meanings.

Compound-styling Conundrum

When compounds begin to be used widely used, there is significant variation in how writers style them. For some terms, it is completely acceptable to choose freely amongst closed, hyphenated, and open alternatives. For instance, consider the use of, lifestyle, life-style, and life style). However, we must be careful in considering the clarity of the word grouping. Most often it is a compound word only to make the use more clear to the reader.

All languages, especially English, are constantly changing and even though a specific term has been used in English for an extended period, does not mean that it cannot be improved.

While the styling that ultimately takes hold for a compound may be determined by nothing more than editorial preference, one pattern often holds as new compound combinations are created:

• Compound nouns are usually one word
• Compound verbs are generally two words, and
• Compound adjectives are often hyphenated.


Merriam-Webster’s Manual for Writers and Editors


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