Think screen printing is only used for decorating promotional items? You might be surprised!
When you hear “screen printing”, your mind probably goes to decorative applications: t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and signs. If you’re a screen printing professional, you might be concerned about the future of your craft, as other printing methods like direct-to-garment printing have encroached on screen printing’s traditional turf. The good news is that there’s much more to screen printing than apparel and promotional items.
With the advent of new technology, screen printing has found new applications to stay relevant in the digital age. It might come as a surprise that a printing method as old as screen printing has found new life in the age of technology, but what made screen printing a mainstream printing method is just what’s made it successful as a modern manufacturing method: the ability to lay down a precise and measurable deposit of ink on a substrate. Except when it comes to newer screen printing applications, it’s not always ink that’s being deposited; it can be conductive silver and dielectric, as well as industrial lacquers and adhesives.
So just how is screen printing going beyond garments and signs in the modern age?
The days of analog technology – when pathways were forged with wires and controlled by switches – are largely behind us. These days, technology travels along tiny, fragile pathways of high-tech materials. Often, those high-tech materials have been set precisely in place with the use of screen printing. Screen printing is being used to print miniature circuits on ceramics, and to manufacture flexible circuits, membrane switches, touch panels, solar cells, lithium batteris, OLED screens and RFID tags, among other things. Screen printed technology also helps make our beloved smart phones work!
And when it comes to technology, screen printing is finding more and more applications. It’s a popular manufacturing method for flexible electronics. That’s big news for screen printing: the demand for flexible electronics is growing so fast that it’s expected to triple its market by 2026, becoming a $70 billion industry.
There are some more traditional medical applications for screen printing, such as printing measurement lines and indicators on everything from syringes to lab slides to catheters. But screen printing has found even more advanced inroads in medicine. Screen printing is used to manufacture blood glucose test strips, and it’s used to print transdermal patches, which allow people to receive doses of medication such as insulin and birth control, as well as medications to help people stop smoking and treat motion sickness.
The miscellaneous applications for screen printing seem endless. Screen printing is used to print the security features on paper money. It’s used to print rear windshield defrosters, backlit signage, smart clothing fabrics, gift cards, scratch-off tickets and public transportation tickets. It’s even used to print collision safety features for sea-based wind farms!
The Future of Screen Printing
While other technologies have made their way into the commercial printing industry, screen printing is here to stay. The centuries-old technology remains popular in its traditional applications, such as garment and sign printing, and new uses for screen printing in technology, medicine and other fields continue are developed all the time.