I’m in Love!…with Screen Printing

Sunday, I took a Screen Printing Intensive at 3rd Ward in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a six-hour workshop, which allowed plenty of time for explanation and hands on experimentation. Although it is a very involved process, I have fallen in love with the medium!

After much indecisiveness, I finally settled on my elephant with a balloon drawing. I was unsure what type of screen printing we were going to be doing (there are 3 kinds, which I will explain after) so I wanted something simple just in case a more detailed illustration would be difficult to achieve. Here is an image of the file I went into class with:


With screen printing, what you see is what you get, which means that it is a positive process, not a negative process. So basically, the black elephant is what is going to be printed.

Let me give you a brief overview of the three most common screen printing techniques (as I learned in my book Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils, and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin)

1. Paper Stencil Method: With this method, you cut out a paper stencil and then tape it to your screen so that it looks like this:

Then when you pass ink over the screen, it will only go through the areas you cut out. Here is a more detailed guide: http://celestinacarmen.blogspot.com/2008/07/paper-stencil-screenprinting.html

2. Screen Filler & Drawing Fluid: In this method, you paint your design onto your screen with drawing fluid and a brush and then you cover the entire screen with screen filler, so your screen will look like this:

The screen filler fills the areas of the screen that do not have drawing fluid, so when you go to print your design, the ink will only pass through the areas that had drawing fluid. With this method you can get a more detailed print than the paper stencil technique. Here are more detailed step by step instructions: http://kate-7ws.blogspot.com/2012/01/screen-printing-made-easy.html

3. Photo Emulsion: The third technique is called Photo Emulsion and this is the one we learned in class. The first step is to coat your screen in photo emulsion. This should be done in very low light (in class we used a red light, kind of like in a dark room) because the photo emulsion is light sensitive. Once your screen is coated, you let it sit in the dark so that the emulsion will dry. While you are waiting for your screen to dry, you can prep your image. Your design needs to be completely black and should be printed or drawn on transparency paper.

My design printed on a transparency

My design printed on a transparency

When you have your image ready and your screen is dry, you can move to the next step, which is exposure. In a low light room (again, just the red light, which you can get at a dollar store), you position your transparency on top of your screen and set a halogen light over it (preferably 500 watts). Once your screen and design are positioned the way you want, you expose it to light. Exposure times vary depending on your wattage, size of screen, and distance of light. We used a 150 W bulb that was about 18” over our screens and exposed them for 25 minutes. Basically, what’s happening during this stage is the light is passing through the transparency onto the emulsion-covered screen, but the black area, which is your design, does not allow light to pass through it. So everywhere the light hits, the emulsion will harden. Once your screen has been exposed, you hose it down and, everywhere there was black, the emulsion will wash off the screen:

Back of the screen, which is the side that was exposed

Back of the screen, which is the side that was exposed

Front of screen, which is the side you pass ink through

Front of screen, which is the side you pass ink through

Now, when you go to print, the ink will pass through the areas that had black on them, and not pass through the areas where the emulsion hardened. Here is a tutorial with images for each step: http://www.lilblueboo.com/2009/12/screen-printing-101-photo-emulsion.html

This method is definitely the most involved and probably takes the longest, but what’s really great about it is that it allows you to get very detailed designs. As I said before, I chose a simple design because I had no idea what method we would be using. I’m really excited to try this again at home though, because it will allow me to create very different illustrations than what I’ve been able to do with stamping. I can even turn some of my photos into silk screens and print them!

There are so many different possibilities with screen printing and what’s awesome is once you have your screen set up with ink, you can just print, print, print! So even though it may take awhile to prep a screen, production is so quick and easy.

Here are some photos of what I printed:

Test print on paper

Test print on paper

Printed on canvas totes

Printed on canvas totes

Close up of the tote

Close up of the tote

Also printed on T-Shirts

Also printed on T-Shirts

Yay for a new t-shirt!

Yay for a new t-shirt!

I’m really pleased with the way everything turned out! I think I’ll buy some more t-shirts and totes and maybe turn this design into an Etsy project for the day when I finally open a shop !

Stay Curious! xo…Alane


6 thoughts on “I’m in Love!…with Screen Printing

    1. agianetti Post author

      Thank you! I thought the gold would be fun and I really love the way it turned out!

      We didn’t get to choose which process we wanted to try. The class was set up for the photo emulsion technique so that’s the one we learned. It is definitely a time consuming process, but it produces very precise and detailed designs.

      Thanks so much for checking out my blog! 🙂

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