how-to by The Editors

Discover the secrets of a rich, varied, and effortlessly creative printing method.

reading time 18 minutes

Silkscreen is the world’s favourite printing method. It allows you to print on an almost limitless range of surfaces with an almost limitless range of inks. The visual universe of the silkscreen is incredibly rich, and the diversity of effects and textures make it the perfect vehicle to express yourself and hone your creativity. And as a technique, it is very easy to pick up, requiring very little investment to get started.

All of this is what makes screen printing so varied and absorbing for enthusiasts and professionals alike. Check out our illustrated guide to one-color silkscreening on paper based on the book Silkscreen Masters – Secrets of the World’s Top Screen Printers.

PREPARING THE FILM POSITIVEsilkscreen

The film positive is what you use to get your design onto the screen. You create it using a transparent sheet made of Mylar, acetate or vellum. Now you need to get that idea out of your head and onto the screen. It is possible to do this with a computer program using image editing software. Another possibility is to work directly on the transparency with markers or inks, or create your design on paper and then trace it onto the transparency.

PREPARING THE SCREEN

So your design has been transferred to the film positive, which is now ready to use. The next step is to get your design from the film positive to the screen itself. The screen is one of the most important elements of the screenprinting process. It is a composite of a frame and a mesh.

silkscreen printing

Coat the screen in photo emulsion, and then, with the same basic process that is used to develop photographs, you will ‘expose’ or ‘burn’ it with the film positive.

EXPOSING THE SCREEN

This process uses a simple photochemical reaction to burn your design onto the screen. The area of emulsion where the UV light from your light source hits the coated screen, becomes hard. The part it does not hit – the part covered by your design – remains water soluble. Rinse out the emulsion to create your stencil.

silkscreen printing

RINSE SCREEN AND REVEAL DESIGN

Turn off the lights after the right amount of time has elapsed. The screen is like a cake that carries on cooking after you take it out of the oven, so wash it out at once. First, give both sides a good rinse. Reveal the design with the pressure hose. As the emulsion washes away, you will see the image emerge.

TAPING OFF THE SCREEN

Now tape off the parts of the screen that you do not need – ‘open mesh’. First, place a piece of tape along one edge of the print side of the screen. Then another one on another edge, and so on, moving inwards in a kind of spiral until the whole print side of the screen is taped off, bar a square in the middle with the design in it.

PRINTING

First thing is to attach your screen as firmly as possible to your printing surface. Lightly tape your film positive to a piece of paper exactly where you want the print to be. You are going to line this up with the screen itself.

Cut out two ‘arms’ from long strips of paper and attach them to the back of the paper, so that they extend about 10 cm from the middle of a long side and a short side of the sheet.

Place a piece of paper plus a film positive under the screen. Lower the screen. Now use the arms to line up the film positive with the image on the screen itself. Raise the screen, and place registration tabs. Line up a piece of paper so it fits perfectly with the tabs. Lower the screen.

Pour or scoop the ink into the screen between you and the image, a few centimeters below it. The flood stroke covers the screen with ink. This ink ‘floods’ the screen, and it is this ink that will hit the substrate when you apply the print stroke. Hold the squeegee at about a 45° angle. Slide the ink away from you across the part of the screen to be printed, so you cover it over with a layer of ink.

Now you are going to pull the ink towards you across the screen, this time applying pressure. Using both hands, place the squeegee between you and the ink at about a 45° angle. Apply firm, even pressure as you pull. The screen will make a satisfying whistling noise when you get it right. The pressure will push the flooded ink onto the substrate. There goes your first print. Lean the squeegee against the edge and lift the screen. Remove substrate and leave it to dry.

Replace substrate. Lower screen. Add more ink if necessary. Repeat.

Having done with printing, it is time to leave your prints to dry.

Congratulations, you have made it!

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