If you have a complex design that you’d like to have screen printed, you probably want to let the pros handle it. But, if you have a simple design, with only one or two colors, and a flair for creativity, you may enjoy giving screen printing a try at home. The process is actually very simple if you have the right supplies on hand, and you’ll be well satisfied with your work when you’re finished.
Building the Screen
A screen printing screen is basically a swatch of 110 mesh polyester, stretched tight across a frame. You can use a frame that you have on hand, or you can build a simple one to suit your desired dimensions.
- Lay the polyester across the frame, pulling it tight enough to lay flat, but not tight enough to tear the fabric when the staples are in place.
- Staple the polyester to the frame, and cut away the excess edges.
- Place a layer of moisture resistant tape around the raw edge of the fabric to hold it down.
- The side of the frame where the fabric is flush is the “back” of the screen. The side where the fabric is recessed into the frame is the “front.” Run your tape along the inside edge of the front of the frame as well. This will keep your ink and emulsifier from seeping through later on.
Before you can begin working with the emulsifier, you will need to set up your darkroom so you don’t inadvertently expose the screen to too much light. Choose an area of your home where you have room to work, and where you can block out all light from coming in. Stock this area with your newly-made screen, your emulsifier, a squeegee and a small lamp containing a 150 watt bulb.
- Mix up your emulsifier.
- Lay your screen down with the back side up, and apply a thick bead of emulsifier across the top end of it.
- Using your squeegee, drag an even layer of emulsifier across the entire surface of your screen.
- Leave your screen to dry in the dark. This usually takes 1-3 hours.
Applying Your Image
While your screen is drying, you can work on creating the image you want to burn into it. Your image needs to be printed with dark black ink, or colored in with a dark marker. Use two exact copies secured together, or a thicker grade of paper so no light can seep through. Cut your image out and take it with you to the dark room where your screen is being kept.
- In the dark room, lay your image on top of your emulsified screen, flipping it around so it’s backwards facing you on the back of your screen.
- Turn on the lamp directly above your screen, exposing it to the light for the recommended time on the emulsifying instructions. Exposure time is usually around 35 minutes.
- When exposure is finished, immediately rinse off your screen with water that has some good pressure. The emulsifier that was exposed to the light will be hardened onto your screen, while the portion protected by the cutout of your image will rinse away, leaving a negative space in your screen.
- Place your screen over the fabric that you wish to print. Secure the fabric down flat, and protect the back with cardboard to prevent the ink from bleeding through. The back of your screen should be touching the fabric, with the front facing up at you.
- Place a generous glob of paint above your image on the screen.
- Use the squeegee to pull the paint across the open negative of your image. Use no pressure the first time so the paint goes into the image. On your second pass, apply a little pressure for a light image, or more pressure for a darker image.
- Remove the screen to reveal the screen printed image on your material.
- Allow the item to dry for 24 hours, then place a barrier cloth over the garment and iron it to heat-set the image.
Voila! You’ve just done your own custom screen printing at home!
In her former life, Tiecen Anderson worked in sales and marketing for a large insurance company. Before starting a family, she decided to switch gears and pursue a career that would give her a little more time at home. She finished up her degree from California State University in 2008 and started picking up work as a corporate web content writer. She enjoys learning new things every day as she works with clients like Creative Expressions.