Yesterday, we heard from Heather Wylie about her Bohemian Bop venture, her love of printmaking, and how she got into screen printing t-shirts. Today, Heather shares with us a recipe for screen printing at home, based on her own self-taught experience and by following You Tube videos and a few books on the subject, including Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin, which we wrote about here a few years ago.
As Heather mentioned yesterday, printmaking requires many steps and each step demands careful attention in order to get the desired outcome. Anyone can print at home, but it is a lengthy process.
2 Paint Brushes
The screen is the main tool in screen printing – it houses your design and allows you to transfer ink onto your material. Printing on paper requires a screen with a higher mesh count. I personally use a 280 mesh count for paper and a 110 mesh count screen for fabric. If you are using a heavier weight fabric such as burlap, you might want to look into purchasing a 60 mesh count screen. The higher the mesh count, the more detail you will have in the transferred image.
Choosing a squeegee depends on the size screen you are using. I recommend choosing a squeegee 2’’ smaller than your printable area (measuring the mesh area, not the frame). The squeegee is used to pull the ink through the mesh of the screen, transferring your image from the screen to your material.
DRAWING FLUID + SCREEN FILLER
Drawing fluid and screen filler are used to create the design on your screen.
If you want to reclaim your screen, or use it again with a different image, purchasing emulsion remover is a good idea.
I recommend using two paint brushes, one smaller for fine detail and line work and a larger brush if your image has a larger print area.
I use water-based ink with the binding agent already mixed in. If you choose to buy the pigment only, make sure you also purchase binder, or your ink will not bind to your material.
TAPE & SCISSORS
After you have rinsed your screen of the drawing fluid and it has dried, tape your screen on all four sides, where the mesh meets the frame. Masking tape works best. This keeps your ink from getting in the creases of the frame and onto your material. Use scissors to cut the tape instead of tearing it to give it a flat edge so it can adhere to the mesh of the screen. You can also use tape to tape off areas you don’t want to print.
The drawing fluid can be painted on freehand or by using a stencil. Using a stencil will give you cleaner lines and a more screen printed aesthetic. Using both a stencil and freehand painting your image onto the screen can give a nice organic and clean line look to your design. Don’t be scared to play around here; the drawing fluid can be rinsed out easily with water so if you put down marks you don’t like, rinse and start again!
Most medium and lightweight fabrics are good to print on, with cotton and polyester blends working the best. Heavier textured fabrics, like burlap, will absorb less ink, which results in a less detailed, rougher print.
Palette knives are handy for putting ink on the screen and scraping the ink back into the container after you print. You always want to save the left over ink. Water-based ink can go down the drain, but gobbing ink in the sink is never a good idea.
Begin by wiping the screen free of any filaments or particles. If you are using a stencil, place the stencil on the back of the screen. The front of the screen will sit inside the frame, where the back of the screen will be slightly raised from the frame. Remember to flip your image so that it is mirrored from how you want it to print.
Use a paintbrush to draw directly onto the back of the screen with drawing fluid. You can freehand draw or use a stencil, filling in the area where you want ink to go through. Keep in mind that the area you fill in with drawing fluid is the area that will print onto your material.
Once the drawing fluid has dried completely, pour a small, even line of screen filler where the mesh meets the frame on the backside of the screen. Using your squeegee, evenly pull the screen filler down the backside of the screen, creating an even coat.
When the screen filler is completely dried, you will have both the filler and drawing fluid on the screen. Rinse your screen with lukewarm tap water. The blue drawing fluid will rinse out whereas the red screen filler will stay on your mesh. Once you have rinsed out the drawing fluid, let your screen dry and begin taping off each of the four sides of the screen. Tape over where the mesh meets the frame. This keeps ink from leaking into the frame and through the screen onto your material.
Lay your material on a hard, flat surface. Place your screen on top of the material to be printed, wherever you want your image to be placed. Tape the top of the frame to the table or surface area you’re working on to keep it in place while you print. Using your palette knife, scoop ink and place on the top of the mesh of the screen in an even line, on the inside front of the screen. Be careful not to use too much ink or the image will not make a clean print.
FLOOD THE SCREEN + PRINT
If you are printing on a wearable, like a t-shirt, slip a smooth piece of cardboard inside the garment. This will prevent the ink from bleeding through to the back of the t-shirt. Before you print onto your material, lift the opposite side of the screen slightly so it is not making contact with your material. Using your squeegee, pull half of the ink through the screen. This is called ‘flooding your screen’. This process pushes the ink through the little holes of the mesh so your image will transfer better onto your material. After you flood the screen with half of the ink you placed inside the screen, lay the screen flat (still taped to your work surface), hold it in place with one hand and pull the rest of the ink through onto your material.
NOTE: Instead of using tape, you can purchase clamps to hold your screen perfectly in place if you plan on printing more than one of something.
After printing, you need to heat cure your inked material. Let the ink dry completely on the material before heat curing. It usually takes high temperature to heat cure but you can use a laundry dryer or the sun. If you live in a warm, sunny area, lay your material flat under direct sunlight for about three hours. If you are using a home dryer, put it on the highest temperature setting. You can feel the ink change properties slightly after drying. It will be a little bit more raised and textured. After you wash the material, the ink will become more seamless with the material. If you do not heat cure the inked material, the image will most likely wash out when you put it in the washer. If you are not planning on washing your material, for example, if it is for a wall hanging instead of a wearable, heat curing is not necessary.
If you are not getting the results you desire, check the ink consistency. If the ink is too thick, add water and mix it in until you get the consistency you want.
If the image is blurry, and you’re using clamps, try padding your material by raising it off the work surface with stacked paper taped down. When using clamps instead of tape to hold the screen in place, there will be a little extra space between the screen and the work surface. You will need to be sure the screen comes as close to the material to be printed as possible, and that you add a little more pressure when pulling the ink through.
The needed supplies can easily be found at most craft stores, as well as specialized art stores. Now you’re ready to start screen printing at home. Check out these books as well for further tips and techniques:
The Printmaking Bible: The Complete Guide to Materials and Techniques by Ann d’Archy Hughes
Print Workshop: Hand-printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects by Christine Schmidt