How to screenprint

How to screenprint

By Nick Scott 26/04/12

Ever wanted to print your own posters? Make your own t-shirts? Produce your own flyers? Make a bit of art? Then you, my friends, need to wake up to screenprinting. Graphic designer and printing whizz kid, Nick Scott, gives us a step-by-step guide to making a screenprint…

1. Design artwork and turn into positives

The first thing you have to do is design the thing you want to print. It can be drawn, photographed or collaged. The important thing to consider is that the printing process involves pressing ink through a screen, so each colour is a layer that requires a screen and a pull of the squeegee. So, you need to separate your image into layers and print each layer as black on white. These are your positives.


2. Screen coat and expose

Once you have your artwork positives you need to transfer them onto a screen. First we spread a thin layer of light sensitive emulsion onto the screen and allow it to dry in a warm dark place. Then we lay this over the positives and expose them to UV light for a specific period of time (preferably in a vacuum-sealed unit). The UV light reacts with the emulsion, setting hard on the screen. The black sections of the artwork block the UV and those areas of emulsion are washed out of the screen with a gentle spray of water.


3. Preparation – paper, inks, tools

While your screen is drying, it is wise to prepare the other elements of the process. Once you start printing, the less distraction you encounter the better, as distraction inevitably leads to mistakes.

Colours should be mixed, paper organised and any tools you need should be collected. I recommend keeping a spatula, a damp sponge, and a clean rag to hand. These will help you keep your screen inked but your hands clean. If you do get ink on your fingers, you can blot them on the sponge and dry them on your cloth. Also, get a squeegee to pull the ink through the screen.


4. Prepare your screen

Once the screen has dried you can place it on your vacuum bed. These print beds come in many shapes and sizes, but they tend to share common features. The top is filled with holes to suck your paper to the table: this creates a crisp snap between screen and paper, which ensures a clear print. You should tape the inside edges of the screen frame with brown waterproof parcel tap to block any areas that could leak ink (this will also keep your screen in fine condition), and then you can register your artwork to your paper.


5. Register screen to paper, then print

My preferred method for registration is to print directly onto a sheet of transparency that is taped to the edge to the table. Then, using this impression, I align my paper beneath the transparency. Once in place I put masking tape at right angles (they look like the letter L) on both lower corners of that piece of paper. I can then immediately begin printing.

To print, ink is placed onto the screen (along one edge), then pulled across the image with the squeegee. Once you have done this, you then raise the screen off of the print, and pull the ink back across the artwork as a flood coat in the screen. This helps keep the ink from drying into the mesh of the screen and blocking the image.


6. Clean up and repeat!

This process is repeated for each print you make and for each colour on each print: Position paper > pull ink > lift screen > flood coat.

Once you have printed all the sheets of paper of a colour, you need to wash the ink out of the screen (again, to avoid ink drying into the mesh) and wash the emulsion out too. The image is removed from the screen by using another chemical that dissolves the artwork.


Photography by Narcsville.

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