I'm having a hard time translating a passage about screen printing.

For screen prints, mesh (originally silk) is stretched tautly across a frame. An image is glued or otherwise affixed onto the mesh to mask out compositional areas... Areas masked out by compositional shapes are nonporous and obstruct the ink through the mesh.

I looked up the dictionary and it says the phrase to mask out means "to conceal or cover part of something from view." So do the verb "mask" and the phrase "mask out" mean the same? I searched every website related to screen printing to figure out the basic concept of screen printing, but I don't still get it. And a friend of mine told me that since the particle out is after mask, mask out means "to cover except the compositional area." Is he correct?

For example, if I want to get a star print on my t-shirt using screen printing, how can I get the star-shaped print by masking out the compositional area(=a star shape)? Maybe in here "the compositional area" does not indicate the image(the star) itself, but the background area except the star shape? I'm getting confused.. Or mask out means "to mask except the star shape"? I want to understand the meaning of mask out and compositional areas (Are they shapes or backgrounds?) more clearly. Thanks...

  • Yes. More on masks: kuroda-electric.eu/screen-mask
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 7:29
  • A mask covers (overlays) a pattern on the select area. It does not cover the whole of the "star" completely, in the OP's example, but small discrete areas spread across the area under the star.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 7:31
  • @Kris Thanks Kris. I'd already checked out the website that you provided me, but it was quite difficult to understand the process. So here mask out means not just covering, but overlaying? I'm not sure what your yes in your post answers for. Thanks again. :)
    – cellardoor
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 8:18
  • Your quote uses mask out in two different ways. Technically, you mask out everything but the compositional areas, which are the areas that you want to get printed. Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


Conventional silk screening is done by somehow placing a pattern on a piece of silk (or silk-like synthetic cloth) in a rectangular frame, laying the frame over the surface to be printed, and forcing paint through the silk (with a sort of squeegee). The pattern is achieved by making portions of the silk non-porous, so the paint does not pass through.

"Masking" is the process of making the silk non-porous in spots. It may be done using a photographic process, the mask may be painted on by hand (often using liquid wax), or (simplest) pieces of paper may be stuck to the back of the silk to serve as the mask. If you want to print, eg, a single star, you would mask everywhere except where the star appears -- ie, the mask might be a large sheet of paper with a star-shaped hole in the middle.

An area that has been rendered non-porous by the masking process has been "masked off" or "masked out" -- there is no difference between the two terms.


The purpose of masking out is explained in the passage, so I presume your query is about which part is masked out—the shape attached, or the remainder.

Again, the passage explains that the attached piece "obstucts" the ink; that is, it cannot pass through in that area.

This is similar to masking off areas you DON'T want to paint on, e.g., a car or a house.

  • So for example, If I want to pain the door, not a doorknob, I have to mask off the doorknob that so that it remains clean, right? But I guess the proecess of screen printing in the passage is opposite to masking out since the areas or prints that you want to get are pressed onto your t-shirt with color. So you mask off not to get it colored, but according to the passge, the compositional areas should not be masked off because the ink needs to pass through them...I don't know...
    – cellardoor
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 9:24
  • You are correct about painting. I am not as familiar with silkscreen, but this video should clarify. m.youtube.com/watch?v=4GYNYcTJWlA Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 10:02

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