How To Do Screen Printing At Home
Screen printing offers an affordable and enjoyable means of printing your own designs on items like clothing, bed linen, promotional goods, and more. Despite being quite a manual process, it is also relatively simple, especially once you get the hang of it.
When starting out, you can begin with a basic process and basic materials, before expanding to include more advanced screen printing machines. Below, we have detailed a straightforward but effective method to start screen printing.
What You Need
At the very least, you will need a screen, which consists of a frame and mesh; a stencil, which will incorporate your design; a squeegee, to push the ink through the mesh; and ink and emulsion.
You can also create lightboxes and dark rooms, which will provide a more effective and efficient alternative to using airing cupboards, but aren’t strictly necessary, especially on your first effort.
The First Steps
- Build The Frame – You can use a wooden canvas stretcher frame. Alternatively, you can create your own wooden frame. A typical frame will measure at least 12” x 18”. It needs to be securely built to ensure it doesn’t fall apart when being used, and the joints need to be secure to prevent ink from leaking through when printing your design.
Choose mesh according to the mesh size you want to use. Tighter mesh, from around 130 to 165, enables you to create highly detailed designs, while loose mesh gives a more relaxed and worn look. The mesh should be cut perfectly to size and stapled into place on the frame. Pull the mesh as tight as possible. A loose mesh can lead to bleeding of the ink.
Screenstretch Ltd sells blank frames, in a variety of sizes, and we also stock frames that come complete with a selection of mesh sizes already stretched and attached. This means that you can ensure that your frame is tight, properly secured, and will offer the best results possible.
- Make The Stencil – Ideally, you will create a stencil by printing your chosen design on transparent paper. Use thick black ink. The black ink blocks light from getting to the light-sensitive emulsion, ultimately allowing the ink to pass through the inked area on your stencil. Therefore, the black ink should represent the area that you want to pass paint through.
- Set Up A Dark Room – You can use any darkened environment as a dark room. You will use this area once the emulsion has been applied to the screen, and it will require that you leave the screen to dry in darkness.
If you’re printing at home, you can use a wardrobe or airing cupboard, if you have the room. Even a spare room will suffice, as long as you can darken the environment. Alternatively, you can create a dark “room” that is slightly larger than the screen you will be using. This negates the need to use space like home wardrobes.
- Set Up An Exposure Area – Once emulsion is applied to the screen, you will need to expose the screen to bright light. This sets the emulsion, preventing paint from getting through the areas with emulsion. The exposure area that you use can be as simple as a table top with a strong lamp, approximately 1 to 2 foot above the lamp. The exact strength of the light and distance it should be placed from the printed object will vary according to the ink that you use.
Once you have the basics set up, you can start to prepare your design. You can start with pre-mixed inks and basic equipment, enhancing and improving your equipment as you move forward.
Coat The Screen With Emulsion
Whether you buy a readymade screen from Screenstretch or make your own, the first step is to coat the screen with emulsion. Apply a line of emulsion to the flat side of the screen, not the side with the wooden lip. Use your squeegee to spread a thin layer of the emulsion across all of the mesh.
It is best to do this in a darkened room; the darker the better. The emulsion reacts to light, so it can harden before you’re ready if you apply it in too light a room.
Leave The Screen To Dry
Once the emulsion is applied, place the screen in your dark room, or in any darkened room of the house. This lets the emulsion dry, without it reacting too early. The amount of time it takes to dry will depend on the thickness of the layer of emulsion, as well as the ambient conditions in the dark room. 2 hours should usually be long enough for the emulsion to dry but do check before you continue.
Expose The Image
Lay the screen with the emulsion side down, onto a dry cloth or towel. Lay the transparency on the screen and tape it down securely. Place the screen and stencil under your light, which should be the appropriate wattage according to the instructions on the emulsion bottle. Place the light about 2 feet above the screen; this ensures that all of the screen is bathed in light. The light will not permeate through the ink on the transparency but will react with the emulsion on the rest of the screen.
Clean The Screen
Once the image is burned into the screen, remove the transparency and wash the whole screen down using a cold water spray. The emulsion that was underneath the transparency ink should wash away, leaving a blank section. When you apply the ink, it will only get through the blank section, leaving you with a perfect print on your chosen medium.
Print Your Design
Lay the t shirt or item on a flat surface. Place a piece of card or other rigid object under the section that you want to print on. Lay the screen on top of the shirt and line the design up to the section where you want it printed. Place a thin line of paint at the top of the screen, apply strong pressure to keep the screen in place, and then use your squeegee to push the ink up and down across the design, and then from left to right. This helps ensure even coverage across the whole template. Lift the screen, remove the cardboard, and you’re done.
Screen printing ink dries very quickly. If you intend to use the screen again in the future, you should clean it down immediately to prevent the ink drying on the mesh and ruining future prints. Even if you intend to change design for future prints, wash the ink away from the screen and then use an emulsion remover and ensure that you have removed all of the emulsion from the screen mesh.
Screenstretch Ltd supplies a wide range of screen printing materials and equipment. We can supply affordable, high quality screens, separate mesh if required, and squeegees. We also have a great selection of inks and emulsions that help you to achieve the best looking results. Don’t be afraid to experiment by printing your first designs on paper. This will help you determine how much pressure to apply, how much emulsion and paint to use, and how best to set up your screen printing area. Call us on 01942 888747 or email [email protected] with any questions about the screen printing process or the products that we sell.