Screenprinting

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Italic textThis text is currently a draft of a quick quide for a zine. Eventually it with grow a bit and get pictures ;-)

-- SCREEN PRINTING ON A SHOESTRING - LOW TECH STYLEE --


silk screen printing is a relatively easy way to reproduce designs onto t'shirts and patches etc. many people know enough about screen printing to think it requires expensive chemicals and equipment. While photo emulsions, light boxes etc needn't actually be that expensive, there are even for low tech approaches which allow you to knock out your own screen prints for next to nothing. 

--- You will need: ---

A frame or stuff to make a frame Mesh like fabric Staple gun or drawing pins Wood glue and/or acrylic paint A small fine paint brush A larger paint brush (1-2") and/or squeegee

Obviously you'll want something to print on eg. charity shop t'shirts, hoodies, or scraps of material to make patches. You can also print on paper so could use this technique to do posters etc.

--- The Frame ---

The easiest way I've found to make a frame requires a drill and a jig saw. Take a piece of 3/4inch ply, chip or particle board (easily found in skips). Cut it down to about 3 inchs larger than the screen you desire. Drill holes about 1.5 inches from two of the corners diagonally opposite each other (the hole needs to be larger than your jigsaw blade). Now cut in two directions from each hole, parallel with the edges maintaining about 1.5inch clearance. When done, the bit in the centre should fall out leaving you with a one piece frame.

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  • Of course you can also make the frames in other ways using what you have to hand. You might also like to try using large embroidery hoops which are cheap to get online or in charity shops/car boot sales etc. Being round brings additional challenges but they offer some potential advantages too.

--- The Mesh (Silk) ---

The proper screen printing fabric is fairly expensive but you can buy enough for perhaps six A4 screens for about a tenner off bay. However I've been using what comes to hand and the best stuff has been a material used for net like curtains which I've found on the street three times now. This material is known as Chiffon (a polyester mesh used for bridal veils - also try 'organza'). I assume it would be cheap to buy if you felt inclined to do so.

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  • Apparently you can also use old nylon stockings/tights but due to their elasticity they'd work best with small frames, perhaps the embroidery hoop frames.

Fitting the mesh to the frame is perhaps the hardest part. You want it a taut as possible without tearing it. You also want it to be pretty evenly taut in all directions. Best pin or staple down the centre of one side and then pull tight and do the opposite side. Now work towards the corners, doing the opposite each time. Once you have two sides, repeat the process with the other two. It takes some practice.

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--- Your Design ---

This method doesn't involve printers, light boxes and photo emulsion. You simply create your design directly on the frame. The method lends itself best to fairly simply and bold designs although you can still get pretty intricate if you have patience.

Basically you just draw the design onto the fabric with a pencil. You can do this freehand or trace it from something such as a zine or even direct off a computer screen. Once you have the outline you need to decide whether to create a negative image or not. You are going to paint out the parts of the design where you don't want ink to pass when you print. So, if you were printing a smilie with two eyes and a mouth in a solid circle, you could either paint the eyes, mouth and everything around the outside of the circle, or you'd just paint the inside of the circle while carefully avoiding painting the eyes and mouth. There is no right or wrong, it is a mater of preference for each specific design although it is often much easier to do it one way than the other.

(smaller font note)

  • I've used wood glue (not clear setting) and also acrylic paint to do this bit. Both seem to work fine. Poundshop wood glue does not work, it washes out. Hard-as-nails glue works well but is a little difficult to use when doing fine detail work.

--- The Printing ---

So, your design is on the screen now and when you hold it up to a light you can see where the ink will come through and where it will not. You are now ready to print. You can get special paint for screen printing onto fabric but since this is a low budget guide we'll just use ordinary acrylic which is fairly cheap (you will need to iron it to fix it or it will wash out). For printing on paper for posters etc, you can probably use cheap poster paint.

Lay the frame on the area of the material you want to print on then load the mesh with paint. Most people make a line of it at one end of the design but I've taken to brushing it on all over with a paint brush. See which you prefer. You then push the paint through the mesh by dragging a rubber squeegee across the design. You will probably need two or three passes to get this to work right but avoid doing too many as it forces too much paint through and you loss detail as the paint spreads under your design.

You can get clever and arty by using more than one colour at a time. This is why I like applying the paint with a brush as I can almost choose which part of the design will be which colour.

--- Washing ---

You must not let the paint dry onto your screen! Acrylic paints can dry really fast in warm weather and you might only manage half a dozen print before it starts to go tacky. In winter we've knocked out over 200 prints without needing to wash the frame. Don't take risks, if it dries then your screen is ruined! You must wash the paint off before it dries using cold water, preferable a high pressure jet. Hold a finger over the end of the tap or hose pipe and expect to get wet. When it is clean you need to dry it before continued use. You can use a blow heater or hair dryer to speed up the process.

--- Anything Else? ---

That's kind of it. Remember to heat the final product if you want it to survive a visit to the laundrette. You can do this by ironing for about 5 minutes (place a sheet of paper over the design before you do this or you'll be sorry). You can also use a trowser press, or other heating methods if you are clever and careful (we put dozens of patches in an oven).

--- Useful hints / links: ---

cheap squeegee - google grout spreader http://www.wickes.co.uk/Tile-Grout-Squeegee/invt/166161 https://www.toppstiles.co.uk/tprod1196/section46/greybox/

cheap travel frames - embroidery hoops wooden embroidery hoop to secure the fabric. This is good for making small prints.  http://direct.hobbycraft.co.uk/productdetail.asp?productcatalogue=278262 http://shop.ebay.co.uk/?_from=R40&_trksid=m570&_nkw=embroidery+hoop&_sacat=See-All-Categories



-- Further rambling notes --

(not for the zine)

Here is a tip on how to apply pre-cut silk to the frame with contact cement. You will need to leave around 4 inches from each side of the fabric. Mark the existing frame on the silk with a marker but take into consideration that silkscreen does STRETCH. Apply glue on the screen and frame once (let it dry till when you place your finger it feels dry). When it does dry, repeat the process. And now take a wooden spoon or something similar and place a corner of the silk to the one corner and press it hard with that spoon. Make sure that you DO NOT make contact with other parts (you can place meat paper or anything that will keep things apart). When one corner is done diagonally, do the same with the other corner but try to use force to stretch the silk to the desired hardness.Pull the paper out from the third corner and apply the pressure and try to stretch the screen again. Apply the pressure again so the contact cement (glue) will make a better bond. If you see a light spot, this means that the glue is not holding anything. Apply pressure again and rub down with lots of force. Repeat the same thing with the fourth corner and anything inbetween. Leave a stretched screen for 24 hours to bond together. The next day cut off the extra silk. Be sure that you are applying glue in a well ventilated space. If you are suffering from asthma or any other difficulty, do not get yourself into the silk screen printing.