Tuesday, July 13, 2010

EDU: Screen Printing

I'm not one for Arts and Crafts, but if you want to gain entry into the hipster syndicate, sooner or later you're going to need to try your hand at screen printing. It's kind of a rite of passage like buying a fixed speed bike and trying to grow a greasy mustache. I have no intention of trading in my Tommaso and have already established the limits of my facial hair, so screen printing was the final item on my hipster bucket list.

Thankfully, my friend Jenny B was game to indulge me in this. A few weeks ago we jitterbugged down to Artist and Craftsman in Central Sq. and picked up a screen printing kit. It had everything we would need. I also bought a high powered light bulb (will explain later) and a few t-shirts at AC Moore. On Sunday, she came over and we gave it a whirl.

Note: All photos compliments of Jenny B and her fancy DSLR.

Here is Jenny and her racy design. It is a topless owl. She printed it out and then photocopied it onto 2 transparencies which we taped together to make sure the image was nice and dark (IMPORTANT).

This is me laying down newspaper because I had no idea what sort of mess we would be getting ourselves into. Next to me is the photo emulsion and the squeegee which you use to spread said photo emulsion onto the screen.

This is Jenny spreading photo emulsion. She wanted to do this as a photo op and we ended up using way too much emulsion which made everything else take longer. It's all her fault. I made sure that she wasn't actually doing anything in her subsequent photo ops. You want to spread a thin, even layer of emulsion on the screen, and then place it in a cool, DARK place to dry. I did this in a closet which I had outfitted with a fan. Even with the fan it took nearly an hour to dry. During this hour I watched the World Cup finals and Jenny doodled.

After the emulsion has dried, you take your image and place it on top of the treated screen. You want to either tape the image down (with scotch tape) or put a piece of glass on top of it to hold it tight to the screen so light doesn't get underneath. The reason for this is simple. When the emulsion is exposed to light, it  hardens. Anything that light does not permeate (the dark parts of the image) will not harden and will come off with water. After your image is set where you want it, you need to put it in a dark place again with a light bulb. Depending on the wattage of your light bulb, this will take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. As I said, I bought some sort of super bulb that took 15 minutes. Standard light bulbs take 45 minutes. You can also use straight sunlight but that takes close to 90 minutes, and who has that kind of time!?

Note: If your image includes text, you need to make sure that you are reversing the text when you lay the image on the screen, as you will be flipping the screen over when you actually make your prints.

Once you've given your emulsion time to harden, you need to find somewhere with nice water pressure to wash out your image. What better place for this than the shower? Note: Do not tell John Lamb I did this in the shower. After a few minutes, your image should be completely washed out (see below).

Parts of the screen weren't covered by emulsion and other parts of the emulsion had washed away, so we put duct tape over them so the ink wouldn't bleed through onto the t-shirt.

This is the trickiest part of the whole process, trying to see what the hell you are doing on the t-shirt. Is it straight? Is it in the middle of the shirt? Is the shirt flat against the table? You can't really tell. I'm sure there's a better way to do this, but like I said, we were noobs. Just do it.

The trick to getting the ink through the screen is to first gently bring the ink across the image with the squeegee to flood the image, and then to pull the squeegee across a second time with more force/pressure at a 60 degree angle to actually push the paint through the screen. At least that's what the videos told me.

This is me surveying what just happened. Note all the ink leftover, this can be dumped back into your paint receptacle. It is about this time when you realize where things didn't set properly. Too much emulsion, too little time under the light, too light of an image, these can all rear their ugly head at this point and give you a less than ideal print. Ours turned out pretty well all things considered, and Jenny was able to touch up a couple parts with a paintbrush that didn't get enough ink. Here's the finished product.

Nifty. You want to wash the paint off the screen ASAP once you're done making prints so it doesn't try on your image. I did this in the shower too. Miraculously there wasn't too much clean up. I remarked to Jenny afterwards "I thought there'd be more of a mess. Probably because we did it in the shower." I promptly TWSSed myself and we both had a laugh. A fun experience! Would try again! A++!


  1. 1: At first I thought you you were using a stock photograph with a model (first pic) but then I realized it was Jenny in your livingroom in Luke's chair. You should incorporate more pretty girls and DSLR cameras into your blog.
    2: It's "single speed" or "fixed gear" not "fixed speed"... Does your bike only go 88 mph?
    3: You never saw the limits of your facial hair because you wussed out too soon.

  2. !. Thx Sam, this comment jazzed my day.

    2. fixed gear/ss......duh mike....

    3. I agree

  3. 1. Jenny is lucky she is gentle on the eyes because she is worthless with a squeegee.

    2. Fixed gear/SS bikes are fixed speed bikes and that speed is slow and stupid.

    3. I'm already trying to budget how long it will take to grow a Francois Dillinger 'stache.