Screen Printing

Screen Printing is brilliant. You can get brilliant results from the most DIY of equipment, and you can learn as you go.

The basic idea is that you have a frame, like this one, which has fine mesh stretched over it. Frames are usually made of wood or aluminum. You can buy small frames for printing onto fabric from large art shops. You can also make a DIY frame using an embroidery hoop. Check out this blog  for how to screen print with an embroidery hoop.

If you buy your screen from a shop, there are several types. The one pictured here has a white mesh which is used to print onto fabric. Screens with yellow meshes are finer and are used to print onto paper. A really good place to shop online for screen is Lawrence Art Supplies

Once you’ve sorted out your screen you make a stencil. There are lots of ways of making stencils:

The simplest is to make it out of paper. You just cut out the bits from the paper where you want the ink to print. This works well for high contrast images. Place the thing you are printing on onto a flat surface, place the paper stencil where you want the design to print, place your frame over the top after sealing round the edges of the frame with brown parcel tape so paint doesn’t leak into aread you don’t want to print on. All you do then is use a squeege to drag the colour paint of your choice across the screen. I use either acrylic paint mixed with screen printing medium (that slows down the drying process) or Permaset stuff especially made for screen printing on fabric. I thought that paper stencils would only last for 1 or 2 prints but I used a paper stencil to print my ‘election’ t-shirts and even things as detailed as these charity fundraisers. One stencil was still going strong after printing nearly 20 t-shirts. I’ve since spoken to someone who had a paper stencil last 100’s of prints! Who’d have thought.

Drawing fluid drying

You can also use screen drawing fluid and screen blocker to make your stencil. You paint your design straight onto the screen by hand using the drawing fluid. The drawing fluid should cover the areas where you want the ink to print. I put my design under the screen and trace it through. Once the screen drawing fluid is dry, you then use your squeege to spread screen blocker over the rest of the screen. This blocks up the holes in the mesh in all the areas that you don’t want to print. Let the screen blocker dry (in my experience, this can sometimes take as long as a day). Then, using a cold shower, rinse off the drawing fluid and the screen blocker will be left, creating a perfect stencil (if you use hot water the screen blocker will wash away too). After sealing the edges between the mesh and frame on the inside with parcel tape, you’re ready to print. Making a stencil this way will let you make lots of prints. It lets you be more detailed than you could be with cut paper and means that you don’t have to have those annoying bridging bits in lettering, for example to keep the middle in your ‘O’. It is pretty time-consuming though and allows for only as much detail as you are able to add by hand with a small paint brush.

You can also use photo emulsion to make your stencil. You apply a thin and even layer  to your screen using a scoup coater and let it dry in the dark. You prepare your design either by photocopying it onto acetate or paper. If your design is on paper you then need to brush cooking oil over the whole page so that the white areas of the paper become translucent, or you could also use mark resist sheets that you can draw straight onto such as True Grain.

Once your image is prepared as a transparency you then expose it onto the photo emulsion using a bright light. Shared workshop spaces like East London Printmakers’ and London Print studio provide access to exposure units through their Open Access sessions. There are workspaces like these around the country so get investigating to find out where your local studio is. With the exposure unit you place your prepared transparency onto the glass, right side up and your coated and dried screen onto of that. There are different settings on the exposure unit depending on what type of transparency you are using but each studio will provide you with the details of these. When turned on the exposure unit shines a very strong light onto the screen. The paint that is exposed to the light dries onto the screen. The paint hidden under your design can be washed off with a cold shower.

Lots of people make DIY exposure units. Check out this video for a crash course in how they do it.

Using photo-techniques like these means that you can make REALLY detailed stencils that are perfect copies of the originals. This allows you to easily print multi colour layers. Here’s a print I made using the CMYK colour separation technique where you make seperate cyan (blue), magenta (pinky red), yellow and key (black) into different stencils. You can do this using programes like photoshop and then printing one colour at a time, layering them up.

Screen printing is so versatile. I’m learning the techniques as I go.  I am really enjoying the process. I recommend you give it a go!

If you have any screen printing advise I’d love to hear it and if you want to know how to get started then get in touch!


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