“This isn’t just a job. It’s a passion.” Niko Schäfer of Berlin-based ink supplier Siebdruck-Corner is one of the dozens of international experts who feature in the book, Silkscreen Masters, a project by Vetro Editions in partnership with Moleskine. Packed with priceless insights, rich imagery and illustrated instructions, it is an essential guide for anyone who wants to learn more about the art and craft of the world’s favourite printing technique.
Arguably the most versatile printing method out there, silkscreening allows you to print on virtually any surface with an almost limitless range of inks. The book reveals an entire universe of textures and effects that can be created pretty easily, and it is relatively inexpensive to start out. Simultaneously mental and physical, analogue and digital, methodical and unconstrained, silkscreening has enjoyed popularity across a wide spectrum of applications.
Examples of silkscreened posters, adverts, t-shirts, stockings, packaging, comic books and installations show how the medium’s immediacy can be harnessed in many different ways. But as its pages unfold, the book becomes a gallery of gorgeous prints that shows off its potential as an art form: swoops of vivid inks; mesmerising gradients that bleed together; heightened textures inviting you to reach out and feel their bumps and ridges. It may be the go-to medium for commercial applications, but silkscreen printing is an art form in itself that makes Instagram look dull as dishwater.
Creatives praise its tactility and unpredictability for the endless experimentation and freedom it offers. But as every good student knows, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. The book starts off by giving an incredibly helpful breakdown of things you need to consider before you begin, sourced from leading artists from around the world, including Kid Icarus, Icinori, Arrache-toi un oeil!, Jealous Print Studio and Viadukt.
Whether you’re printing from home or leasing a massive unit, you’ll need to create zones for the different stages in the silkscreening process. The print zone has to be the most organised area of the space, as this is where you’ll dry your prints and store materials. The ink-free zone is dedicated to design work. This is where you’ll work on your preliminary concepts and drawings before hitting the print station. The dark zone is where you’ll coat and dry screens, and can be as basic as a cupboard or some thick black fabric pinned up to stop any light getting in. Finally, the wash zone is where you’ll clean and reclaim screens.
The amount of gear available takes a while to bend your head around, and it can be an overwhelming experience knowing what to look for to achieve certain effects. The book explains the difference between wooden and aluminium frames, squeegee types, inks, emulsions and mesh varieties, and suggests uses for individual mesh counts. This is your shopping list.
3. Preparing the film positive
This is the point at which your design starts to make its way towards the screen via the transparency. The versatility of the medium gives you lots of options here. Play around with hand drawing directly onto the transparency, or export from your preferred image editing software. The book offers illustrated step by step instructions for preparing the image to reproduce gradients and multiple colours. Expect to spend longer here than at the printing stage to get it right.
4. Preparing the screen
Time to transfer your design to the screen. We start by coating and exposing. Lots of variables here but the book breaks everything down for you so you can follow the steps that best suit your set-up.
The moment you’ve been waiting for! But be patient. First master printing with one colour, and then scale up to two or more. Whether you want to print on paper or textile, both approaches are broken down in this chapter.
What you do right after printing is just as important as everything that got you to this point. Dry the prints carefully, find out how to properly clean your screen to prolong its use, and learn about ‘reclaiming’ it so it’s ready to go again when you are.
And so we end where the book begins, with an important question. What can you print?
Five Expert Tips For Avoiding Newbie Mistakes
— Under artificial light, or even on a cloudy day, a printed colour could seem dark red or smooth yellow, and the day after it’s an explosive orange. Fluorescent inks in particular need to be chosen in sunlight. Having bad light is like being colour blind. – Icinori
— Textile is easier than paper to start out with, because the results are immediate: you don’t have to make fifty prints of one colour, only to find out that the second colour won’t align. – Matze, Siebdruck-Corner
— Mix your inks three times longer than you think you should. – Michelle Miller
— Consistent humidity is important – always keep your windows closed (industrial printers even dust the air with water sprinklers). Between 40 and 70 humidity is optimum. – Hansiebdruckerei Kreuzberg
The book Silkscreen Masters is available here.