Roto Screenprinting

Have you ever wondered what the difference between hand screen printed fabric and commercially produced fabric is? Both say “Screen printed” but they’re not the same! What is roto printing?

300px-Hoe's_six-cylinder_press
Hoe’s six-cylinder rotary press from the 1860s. The printing plates are located on the large cylinder in the middle. N. Orr – History of the Processes of Manufacture 1864
Goss_quadruple_straightline_printing_press,_1905_drawing
Goss quadruple straightline printing press, 1905 Unknown (Life time: Unknown.) – Original publication: Probably a company illustration that was reprinted in the daily Los Angeles Herald. Immediate source: Library of Congress Drawing of a Goss quadruple straightline printing press

The history of screen printing, or silk screen printing actually dates back to the Song Dynasty in China (960-1270 AD) when silk was used prior to the invention of polymer mesh. Skip forward 700 years or so, and the industrialized machinery you see above was invented for mass production of textiles and wallpapers (as well as newspapers, books, and other types of printed materials.)

Rotary printing serves as a way to produce a maximum amount of yardage at one time. It’s set up time is lengthy, and the machinery required is costly. That is why most handmade papers are not of the same caliber. Check out some of the images here:

Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Rotary-Screen-Printing-v2-web Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Rotary-Screen-Printing-web

These are images of fabric being “screen” printed with round screens that rotate continuously, being inked from a well of ink (seen at the side, those blue boxes) automatically. 6 colors are printing at the same time! WOW!

Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-Craig-describing-the-process-web Steakfast-and-Barracks-July-2014-flat-bed-screen-printing-run-final-print-web

As you can see, this yields a massive roll of material and is operated by the machine and not the human being. This is how fabric for mass market is made! This is how wallpaper is made too. Anything you find at Target, etc. was made this way, and most likely it was done overseas.

So, there is something wonderful to this: It’s perfect. Nearly perfect. The prints line up and are made fast and easy. I can respect that or even envy the job of the guy who pushes the button and watches the machine do it’s work. But, our process is so different.

As you saw in my last post, there are people hand registering every single print on one tiny little table, one color at a time. It can take a week to create 100 rolls of a 5 color print. This guy just made 1,000 rolls in a blink of an eye.

So, while we are also screen printing wall coverings, you can see that this is a totally different ball game. Write with your questions so I can expand this article. And enjoy this awesome video of one of our hero’s to see another way to screen print textiles on a larger scale:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY8QoWl_SdI

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Roto Screenprinting

How It’s Made: Screen Printed Wallpaper

Many of you have probably found our blog via the Artisan Handprints website. We want to let you know our process and show a little about what we do. Here are some photos of our warehouse and print production and a short explanation of how your wallpaper is made.

A hand drawn image that began it all
Kilim A hand drawn image that began it all

Relativity Textiles is a designer that is just starting out and came to us to produce her first ever wallpaper. We received the art in the form of a scanned artwork. Although we usually prefer to have print-ready artwork, there are times when we will be able to accomodate requests to take a hand drawn image or painting and make it into a vector file.

Kilim in Illustrator
Digitized and color separated, this design is almost ready to go. We just have to heal up the joins in this pattern– crucial for making a paper that will hang easily on the wall.

The image is now ready to send off for film positives to be made. We outsource our films to make sure that the quality and registration is consistent with industry standard. They actually use a camera to shoot the films in a darkroom and they come back like large (inverse) negatives for making our images on the screen.

Meanwhile, we’re stretching screens.

Screen Stretcher with perfect tension makes for the perfect print.
Screen Stretcher with perfect tension makes for the perfect print.

The designer has ordered her paper to arrive to our warehouse and our colorist has mixed her colors, according to her spec sheet.

We use the Benjamin Moore colorants, so choosing from these fan decks is best, though we can accurately miz most other colors (Behr, Pantone, etc.)
We use the Benjamin Moore colorants, so choosing from these fan decks is best, though we can accurately mix most other colors (Behr, Pantone, etc.)

IMG_1212

The screen is coated with light sensitive emulsion.

We have to coat the screens in the dark because the emulsion is light sensitive.
We have to coat the screens in the dark because the emulsion is light sensitive.

Once the emulsion is dry, we turn on our exposure unit, register the image on the table to the screen and “burn” the image.

Kilim negative
Film negative, which is about 8″ x 10″
Film positive
Film positive, which is to scale for the wallpaper, about 27″ x 36″

The magic happens when you wash the screen out. Anywhere the light has hit the emulsion and the film was clear has hardened and created a stencil. Anywhere the opaque black lines were, the light could not penetrate, leaving the emulsion viscous and thus, it will be removed from the screen mesh with warm water.

Wash out time
Wash out time

You can hardly tell, but the screen now has an opening similar to these patterns, another designer’s screens. These are dry and taped and ready to go to print production.

Screens drying in the darkroom.
Screens drying in the darkroom.

The screen is attached to our automated table with clamps. The printer uses a dust print as his initial marks and prints several prints onto the “leader”. This is scrap paper that helps pull the good paper into the oven.

Ziggy setting up his press.
Ziggy setting up his press.

Our ovens dry the ink so that the paper can roll up onto itself without stamping the back side of the paper. In the olden days, we used to print on long tables. It took as much time to tape the paper down to get ready to print 100 rolls as it does for Ziggy or Chester to print 50 rolls of paper on the automated press!

A step back in time: in the 1970's this is what our shop looked like! Long tables facilitated printing in repeat, but had to be air dried and took triple the amount of time to produce papers.
A step back in time: in the 1970’s this is what our shop looked like! Long tables facilitated printing in repeat, but had to be air dried and took triple the amount of time to produce papers.

The paper is often skip printed (which I promise to explain in another post with a diagram!) so that the wet prints don’t touch one another. This method is used for patterns that “puzzle piece” or fit together with tight joins in motifs.

Skip Printing
You can see that every other print is being printed, and then space left to fill in the pattern in between.
Skip printing
Ziggy hand registers and advances the paper 29″ for the repeat.

This pattern, Kilim, is skip printed. It takes double the time and labor to skip print a design. It’s almost as easy to print a two color print as it is to print one color, skipped.

Chester's Press
While he prints and I photograph his registration, Chester and I talked about the meaning of the word Kilim. In Arabic, it means “tapestry” or “textile” which he wrote, Arras. I had to look that up: ar·ras (ăr′əs) n. pl. arras A tapestry, wall hanging, or curtain, especially one of Flemish origin.

Once the paper is dry and finished printing, it is trimmed and re-wound to the beginning. An inspector, like Richard, will look for imperfections in the print, anything missing or marks, dust, etc. He trims off waste and also measures tight 10 yard rolls.

Inspector Gadget
Rich inspecting a different pattern, looking for that perfect print.
Inspected Rolls
Rolls that are ready to be shrink wrapped.

He then wraps each individual designer’s label on the roll and shrink wraps them. Some of our designers inventory their papers in our warehouse and some have them shipped on huge palates to a fulfillment center.

The finished product is always completely transformed once it’s installed in a space. Wallpaper gives an amazing warmth, character and life to any room. It’s a wonder why we don’t have more wallpaper in our own homes!

Here we see the wallpaper come to life in it's own natural habitat.
Here we see the wallpaper come to life in it’s own natural habitat.
How It’s Made: Screen Printed Wallpaper

Artisan Handprints Announces a New Blog!

No matter if you’re an aspiring artist or a seasoned designer, this blog is for you! We are going to be sharing the latest and greatest of screen printed wallpaper news right here. All of our newest developments will be released on this site! We are hoping you’ll follow us to see lots of great articles about our designers’ process, the manufacturing modes used to make their papers and how to market your wallpaper & fabric designs.

Living Pattern is experimenting with new colorways. This designer is on fire in West Palm Beach, FL. Check out her beautiful work: http://www.livingpattern.net
Living Pattern is experimenting with new colorways. This designer is on fire in West Palm Beach, FL. Check out her beautiful work: http://www.livingpattern.net

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Artisan Handprints

Artisan Handprints Announces a New Blog!