What is Serigraph?

A fine art print (like a serigraph) will always have value, in fact, fine quality prints made by leading printmaking artists sell for thousands to millions of dollars. Print collecting is a great way to start an art collection.

In the past, the silk-screen printing process used a stencil to create the print of an image or a design. Stencils were used for centuries in the Orient to make fine art prints as well as craft items, fabrics, robes, scriptures and various decorative goods. In Europe, the stencilling technique was adopted by craftsmen for mostly utilitarian purposes. Stencils were also used to add colour to playing cards and religious pictures printed with wood blocks. By the 17th century, the technique was being used to print ornate wallpapers. And by late 18th century, stencil printing had made its way to the New World but it was not until the early 20th century that screen printing began to be used as an artistic medium.

What is a Serigraph print?

The creation of a serigraph is a very labour-intensive hands-on artistic procedure that requires many weeks to be completed. Before the printing process is started, the artist who created the original image is consulted. Sometimes the artists like to make changes when printing the edition - treating the print as an original rather than a reproduction of an already existing image. At times, even a few changes in the image or the emphasising of certain colours or design elements can create a dynamic new image.

Having made these decisions, the serigraph printing process begins with the breaking down of the image into separate colours that are to be printed one after the other until the print is finished. The process of colour separation involves analysing the original painting, selecting one colour at a time and creating a black ink representation of that colour. Colour separating was initially a process carried out by hand using paint brushes and black India ink on sheets of clear plastic film. Computers have gradually become a part of the process, which has made colour separation less laborious and has increased the accuracy of the image as well. However, the eye and experience of the chromist (person who separates the colours) are as valuable as ever and add to the computer generated separations by bringing in the subtleties of colour and texture.

Serigraphs are created by forcing ink through a series of fine meshed silk-screens. Each silk-screen is stretched tightly over a firm wooden or aluminium frame and is most typically coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion, although adhesive film is also used sometimes to create a mask. The chromist creates a separation by painting an opaque medium onto a clear piece of Mylar or acetate. This film is then transferred to a silk screen coated with photo-emulsion, and is then exposed to intense light. The emulsion exposed to the light becomes "cured" or hardened, and the areas blocked by the opaque separation on the Mylar remain soft and uncured. The uncured areas of the silkscreen are then washed out using a high pressure spray gun.

Serigraph Painting Process

After the screen has been exposed, washed, and dried, it is carefully hand-touched to block out any specks or "pin holes" that may have resulted from stray dirt or over washed areas. The screen is then set up on a press, which is calibrated to move the screen up and down with consistent registration. This allows the printer to feed a print in a set of guides, lay the screen over the print, print the colour, and then lift the screen up again to feed the next print into the guides.

Before printing a run, a colour mixer carefully prepares the ink. The colour mixer and chromist communicate over what is needed to create the desired effect. The opacity / transparency, viscosity, hue, and intensity are considered to receive the maximum mileage on each colour separation or screen.

Transparent or translucent inks, for example, can create a variety of colours and effects when printed over several different fields of colour. Opaque inks can cover unwanted areas or create a physical texture. The chromist considers all of these factors while separating the colours in order to keep the number of separations or screens at a minimum. In the same manner, the printer has a lot to consider as well, one important factor being the mesh of the screen.

Separations that require large fields of colour or heavy texture require screens with a coarse mesh to achieve greater coverage while separations with fine detail require screens with fine mesh. In addition to the screens, the printer can control the print quality with different types of squeegees. Squeegees come in different hardness and materials to adapt to a variety of technical situations. The angle, pressure and stroke also contribute to a number of effects.

The printing is then carried out - one colour at a time, beginning with the base colour and ending with the finishing coat. After each colour run, prints are air-dried on racks before the next screen is set up. All colour runs are completed in this manner over a period of several weeks or months.

Ganesh by M F Husain; Serigraph on paper in 16 colours

Once all of this is done the artist checks and verifies each print minutely and then signs and numbers the prints to be released to the galleries. The notation 1/100 means that this particular print is the first of 100 in the edition. By signing and numbering the serigraph prints, the Serigraph artists guarantee that there will never be more than the originally designated serigraphs of this edition.

Bharat by S H Raza; Serigraph on paper in 39 colours

Difference between Serigraph and Lithograph

If you’ve been asking what is the difference between a serigraph and a lithograph, we’ll help you understand. A lithograph is made on a stone plate, whereas a serigraph is created using a silkscreen printing process. That said, lithographs are typically more expensive than serigraphs.

As a buyer, understanding the distinction between the two is important as you may end up paying more for a piece of art that doesn’t warrant that kind of investment.

A few other points of difference to comprehend what is the difference between a lithograph and a serigraph:

Lithographs are made using a suitable surface, oil-based ink, water, paper, and a printer. An image must first be drawn on the surface provided. The image will be drawn using oil-based ink or grease crayon. Additionally, water will be applied to the surface as water and oil do not mix, so the spot covered by the oil-based ink will repel the water. After this, the expert will use more oil-based ink to cover the surface effectively, allowing itself to stick to the previous spots where the ink was applied earlier. Thereafter, the image that is recreated will be printed on a piece of paper and sold to collectors.

On other hand, serigraphs need a kind of roller or squeegee, a screen, ink, a stencil, and paper. The process starts by pulling the screen tightly, where the piece of paper will be placed underneath the screen. The stencil is placed over the screen, and when everything is placed and checked to be in the right position, the ink is poured over the screen. This ink is squeezed through the squeegee. The product obtained as the end result is called a serigraph.

Serigraphs feature more texture and colour density compared to lithographs because of the manner in which they are made. These significant differences matter to the buyers.

What is a Serigraph in art?

Serigraph art has a long and fascinating history as a printing art more versatile than any traditional printing technique. The use of silkscreen as a modern artist medium began in 1938 when a group of New York artists, under the auspices of the Federal Art Project, experimented with silk-screening. This group coined the term "Serigraphy" and later formed the nucleus of the National Serigraph Society, which actively promoted the graphic form.

As original fine art, serigraphs gained acceptance from both collectors and galleries in the 1960s when artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and Robert Rauschenberg began creating major works in this medium by experimenting with colours and textures that were unavailable in other mediums. At Christie's and Sotheby's art auctions, serigraphs have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars and have been accepted into prestigious art museums of the world as well.

In the earlier years, artists didn't have at their disposal the sources and people who possessed the know-how and expertise that goes behind the serigraphy printing process. But today, after screen printing has gained such wide acceptance, a number of studios specialising in the same are available to the artists. These studios possess the expertise to work in collaboration with the artists and produce prints of higher quality.

Fine Art Print or Reproduction: There is great confusion between Prints and Reproductions. If you were to invest a large sum of money on an Andy Warhol print, you would want it to be the real thing and not something with the value of a mass produced poster. A reproduction print is merely a colour picture of an existing artwork made by photograph and machine methods.

A fine art print (like a serigraph) will always have serigraph value, in fact, fine quality prints made by leading printmaking artists sell for thousands to millions of dollars. Print collecting is a great way to start an art collection.

Women in Gossip | 30 x 40 inches
Limited Edition Serigraph by Thota Vaikuntam printed in 57 colours

There are several ways a fine art print can be produced, but they follow a set procedure of professional artist involvement. The artist conceives the work as a print and is personally involved in its production. The artist signs, titles and numbers each print and then destroys all stencils (therefore limiting the edition absolutely).