How to do Screen-printing at home
Screen-printing at home the easy way to get great home printing results
There are many ways to produce great effects with screen printing and I will discuss a couple of them here, but I want to focus on a method which, once you have assembled the equipment, is very easy to do at home. This is the stencil method.
First, let me tell you about preparing your screens and how to make the stencils.
I would always advocate buying the biggest screen your budget will allow for. Small screens can be fiddly to work with and restrict the size of prints you can produce. Working with a bigger screen gives you the flexibility to work large or small as it is easy to tape off areas of a large screen when you want to produce smaller works.
The first thing I always do is tape up the edges. Using parcel tape, make sure that there is a strip of tape all around the inside edge of the screen to stop paint from collecting there and in turn to stop it from coming through the other side, which could damage your prints.
Next decide what size print you want to produce. With a small frame like the one pictured, an even smaller print area needs to be selected. In this case I have a screen which is approx. 20×16 inches 50.8×40.6cm and I have opted to have a print area which is approx. A5 (8.27×8.83inche or 21x15cm) approx. in size. The reason for this is that it allows a larger area around the print for the ink to be stored in, stopping it from running through the screen and overloading the print.
Now turn the screen over and using painters’ tape or masking tape, tape off the A5 area your print will be. Put your screen into the clamps, making sure that they are tight, ready for inking.
NB. If you don’t have clamps you can use a series of tape marks to get your screen in the same place each time and have a friend hold the screen still for you when you are pulling the ink through the screen.
I know it seems odd to do it this way around and once you really understand what you are doing, I would do the design first. However, as this is a beginner’s guide, until you have done it once, you could get yourself in a muddle.
As you can see from my photos I have taken a sheet of paper the same size of sheet I will be drawing my design on to and taped it to the underside of the screen so that it is easier to line up for taping off as described below.
The next thing you need to do is your design, making sure that it fits comfortably within the space you have taped off on your screen. Clearly you will have an idea of what you want to produce, but if you get the size wrong it will have to be redone. Having your screen ready in advance means that you can easily see the space you have to work with.
Now flip the screen over and using masking tape or painters tape, cover the screen area where you will not want the ink to go through.
Then flip back over and remove the guide ready for the next stage.
Once you have worked out your design, and simple is best especially when you are just starting out, you will need to use layout paper. Place the layout paper over your drawing and using a dark Biro trace the design onto the layout paper. Next get a sheet of acetate and using a sharpie or permanent marker, trace the design again. I also flip the acetate over and re-trace the lines just in case they get rubbed off from the front side.
Cut out your design using a scalpel blade as it is best to have all the pieces attached when you are first trying this method.
Once done, position your layout paper under the screen so that the entire design can been seen through the screen.
Carefully lift the screen up so that the layout paper stays in position and then using the acetate sheet, line it all up and tape it over the layout paper. This will enable you to register the prints in the same place each time.
Next put the layout paper on top of the acetate sheet and pull through a layer of ink so that the layout paper sticks to the underside of the screen. The ink left on the acetate helps with registration, but you can clean it off and just use the lines. Some people do this but as you have to work fairly quickly it is easier to just leave it. The acetate sheet is your registration marker so place the printing paper under the acetate will help to get it in the right place each time. You can also just use tape to mark off where you need to put the paper each time for the first run, but for subsequent runs you will need to flip the acetate over to register the next layers in the correct place. I find that is I consistently use the same methods I am less likely to make mistakes at a later stage.
It is probably worth pointing out here that you need to get your printing paper ready ahead of time and make sure that all of the sheets are the same size.
Using the acetate sheet and or marking tape guides, position your first sheet of printing paper under the screen. Remember to flip the acetate sheet out of the way before you pull your first layer of ink through. Place the print to one side and pull through a number of prints before cleaning up for the next layer.
It is important that every time you pull through a layer of ink, you flood the screen (which is gently returning the squeegee, from the pull, to the top of the screen pulling back the ink from the first print.). If you don’t do this the ink will dry on the screen and you will not be able to produce any prints until you have cleaned the screen and started again.
This paper layout stencil should produce quite a few prints before it starts to tear or break down due to the moisture in the ink. Once you have pulled the number of prints you want, clean up and repeat the initial process for printing the second layer (if you want a two colour process). Remember that ink which has already been laid down will change colour if your second stencil covers the area already printed on. This can look amazing however so don’t worry too much.
Wash the screen straight after pulling the last print. Using cold water and a sponge carefully remove all the ink and leave the screen to dry before working on the next colour. The masking tape or painters tape should still stay in place although occasionally you may have to add a bit more tape before starting on the next colour.
Once the print run in finished, remove all the tape and make sure the screen is clean ready for next time.
There are a number of different inks/paints which can be used for this process. I personally use System 3 as I can use it in other painting projects, such as the fibreglass animals and hearts I decorated, giving me a lot of product flexibility.
System 3 produces a print medium which increases the translucency of the paint which is particularly useful if you want to produce glaze type effects in your prints.
If you are looking to do this it is important to use yellow first, then oranges, reds, greens, blues and finally black.
The beauty of using System 3 is that you can, if you prefer, use opaque colours like white over the top of any of the print if that is a look you are going for.
When using print medium, do not use a ratio of more than 50:50 as the paint can suffer and always place the medium in a cup first and add the paint to it.
Mix up a good amount of paint for your print project as although not much is really used, you need to apply a good amount to the screen to pull the print in order for it to be successful.
You won’t waste the paint. I use old glass jars, well cleaned of course, to store my unused paint. It lasts for ages, easily a year as long as the cap is secure so that the air doesn’t get to it.
You can also buy fabric medium and some print-makers I know only use fabric medium as you can use it on cloth and paper. If you want to print on fabric you will need to either iron it on the reverse side when it is dry or use a heat gun to dry it from the front so that it won’t wash off.
You may lose a little colour on the first wash if you are printing T-shirts but the heat from the iron will fix it in place if you have done it for long enough. You will also see that when you pull the fabric underneath the print, the ink will move and not crack if you have fixed or cured it properly with the heat.
I will explain other screen-printing methods in later blogs.
Please do share your screen-prints with me when you have a try at this fun printing method, and I will put your work in the new student gallery I will be opening up on my website soon.