Screenprinting: The Invisible Process

Since 1884 when screenprinting was invented, it has been at the forefront of printed methods, yet it remains an anomaly to those outside of the industry. It is time to wake the world up to the screenprinting process.

Bill Hood, ASDPT Fellow, SPTRC Lead Researcher

“Screenprinting is everywhere, yet no one sees it.”

While those of us in the screenprinting technologies are accustomed to seeing screenprinting every day in our shops, many are unaware of the myriad uses of screenprinting outside their particular segment of screenprinting.

During a recent golf tournament in which I was coupled with two textile screenprinters and a manufacturer of textile equipment, I noted the screenprinted nameplate on one of the clubs and stated that I had consulted in China for the USA-based company that screenprints the nameplates for the golf equipment manufacturer.

The individual with the particular club looked closely at the nameplate for some time before he stated that he was not aware the product was screenprinted and had been using the clubs for several years.

The other two textile screenprinters were equally amazed as they looked at the nameplates on their own clubs.

One of the other clubs was a gleaming screenprinted nameplate that was actually a very thin sheet of stainless steel in which the background was screenprinted in two colors, leaving the brand name to appear almost as chrome. This was then covered with a clear epoxy that gave it a raised and rounded surface.

When I was asked if the item could have been printed using a digital ink-jet, I explained that digital has not yet been able to produce an ink that would hold up to the extremes of the UV sunlight or the temperatures that the golf clubs must sustain.

Continuously, during the round and in the clubhouse afterward, I pointed out many items that they were unaware of being screenprinted.

On the exterior of the fiberglass golf carts were wood-effect screenprinted panels. The dashboard was decorated with screenprinting lettering under each switch and light as id markers. The steering wheel center panel was emblazoned with a screenprinted disk with the brand of the golf cart. All there to enhance the cart’s visual appearance, while offering resistance to the scorching UV sun, scratching, and chemicals, as well as the impacts that occur when an inexperienced driver gets too close to a tree or another cart.

Screenprinting is used for tens of thousands of products from tiny microchips all the way up to industrial signs and paneling used in homes, motor homes, mobile homes, and jet interiors.

The process can be used to print photos, geometric shapes, logos, and other motifs on almost any material, such as plastic, metal, glass, wood, rubber, silicone, and other materials.

The screenprinting process is used to print membrane keyboards, some with tactile feedback. Conductive materials are screenprinted onto films to produce electronic effects. It is used in many manufacturing segments from automotive to medical technology.

In the clubhouse, I pointed out an edge-lit Plexiglas panel that was screenprinted with an opaque ink deposit that allowed only the unprinted brand in the center to glow without being back-lit.

I pointed out the bottles that held our Leon Beer we were enjoying were uniquely screenprinted versus being adorned with paper labels as many other brands continue to use.

Screenprinting is often the choice of discriminating manufacturers to decorate their myriad products. It is used to communicate, market, and distinctively brand products for customer loyalty.

The manufacturer was wearing a Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph wristwatch and I pointed out that the faceplate on his $33,000 USD watch was screenprinted, as well as some markings on the inside of the watch. The company, which begin producing some of the most expensive watches in the world in 1755, was one of the first to embrace screenprinting when the process was first introduced in the mid-1880s.

As we were loading our screenprinted clubs and bags into our cars with their hundreds of screenprinted parts, the textile printers decided that they should look closer into the myriad uses of screenprinting outside their own segment of the industry as a way of diversification and to increase their own product lines.

Ubiquitous Yet Invisible

Yes, screenprinting is everywhere, yet no one sees it. The reasoning is simply that people only have knowledge of what they have experienced firsthand. Screenprinting is seldom done in public and other than those who are exposed to screenprinting in an art class in school, it remains a mystery.

The majority of people when looking at the ubiquitous screenprinted T-shirt believe that it was decorated with a transfer, which they have seen applied in a mall or at a kiosk at the beach.


Far too many people do not understand marketing, and they believe that they need to market their company name. Actually, you need to market what you do, as well. If you are a screenprinter and the word screenprinting is not in your company name or byline, you can hardly blame the public for not knowing about what services you offer. And, if you choose Silk Screen Printing in your business name, as we have not used silk for decades and it shows poorly on what you are actually doing. It’s time for an update!

Without marketing, screenprinting will never be at the forefront of people’s thoughts when they need something printed. They may go to the local copy shop or offset printer, who will convince them to go another route, or perhaps take the order and farm it out to an advertising specialty manufacturer in another state. Either way, if you are a screenprinter, you lose the sale.

You need to get the word out to the public about screenprinting if you want to build your customer base and grow your business. Marketing comes in many forms, ranging from straight advertising to public relations and networking. You may be surprised at just how much marketing can be done without any cost to you. In fact, most of the best marketing exposure you can get is free.

Build Relationships

As an ongoing piece of your overall marketing strategy, you should get involved with one or more community and business groups. There are ample opportunities in any sized town to join the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Lions Club, or other groups. The members of each of these and other groups are likely owners or managers of a business.

By joining in and sitting on boards or committees you can build close relationships with potential clients also get involved in a worthwhile group.

Volunteer to speak at meetings of local groups if you are not a joiner. Provide handouts of screenprinted items, such as pens, notepads, caps, or coffee mugs printed with your company information for meetings and events.

When you are called on to provide screenprinted items for the groups, organizations, or members for their own business, provide exceptional customer service, personal delivery, and fair discounts to build a strong base of repeat customers and influential references.

Get in the Newspaper

When your business name appears in a newspaper or magazine article, your credibility increases along with your exposure. Develop press releases that paint you as knowledgeable about screenprinting and local small business issues. Provide the media with information about new products you provide or with a position on the local economy. Find topic ideas to which you can tie your screenprinting business or your standing as a small business owner and let reporters know you are available to comment.

Host an Event

One of the best free marketing plans is to host your own events such as a Fun Run for Breast Cancer or other good cause. Screenprint posters that are placed in storefront windows advertising the event, complete with your company name of course. The entry fee includes the cost of the screenprinted T-shirt which includes advertising for all the sponsors.

In the Hill Country surrounding Austin, Texas there are 148 Fun Runs each year. There are over 200,000 T-Shirts printed for the runners alone, plus tens of thousands more for observers as souvenirs. Four of the events have over 10,000 runners, and another 17 have over 5,000 runners each.

With that kind of participation, the chances are that you’re hosting and advertising in such an event will not only get you noticed but allow you to contribute to a worthwhile cause at the same time.

Take a closer look at the thousands of screenprinted items you see every day, and maybe you too can diversify your own offerings. You already have the business, the equipment, the staff, and the clients in place – why not?

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