Screenprinting: Attempt #1

So my project this week is my first shot at screen printing.  Actually, I’ve had the supplies ready to go for about 2 months but have been procrastinating the process of actually making the screen because I kept reading that first attempts often fail.  I was a bit preemptively discouraged.  But everything worked!

I followed the instructions from The Art of Doing Stuff which were excellent (and included pictures, which are always helpful for me.)  I changed a few things based on what materials I had available that I will note below.  If you’re looking to screen print for your first time, I would head over there and check out Karen’s instructions BEFORE reading the few alterations I make below.


Original artwork for my screen printing experiment based on literary quotations.

Making the Artwork

Alteration 1: I knew from the get-go that I would hand-draw my screen printing artwork rather than print it out because 1) I don’t have Illustrator or Photoshop on my laptop anymore and 2) I don’t have a printer, so this was just more convenient.  So instead of printing digital art, I drew these bad boys on thick-ish watercolor paper with my Copic Multiliner pens.  Since the drawings need to be completely opaque, I scribbled over the pen a bunch of times with a black Sharpie to make the drawing even darker.

I went with the piece in the upper right-hand corner for my first foray into screen printing.  It’s part of a quotation by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: “I took a breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” For an unrelated-to-printing but interesting discussion on whether the quotation is “brag” (as I’ve written here) or “bray” (as Google suggests), see this post by wordsandotherthings.  In any case, I cut the image out using my trusty old x acto knife and got to work on the screen itself.

Prepping the Screen

I bought a screen printing starter kit from my local Michael’s craft store because I happened to be there buying other stuff, but I think in the future I will make my own screens.  I plan on trying to make them from thrifted picture frames, so stay tuned for a future update on how that works.  This part was easy, because my screen was already built and ready to go.

Photo Emulsion and Exposure

Okay, this was the part I was SURE I was going to mess up, and then SURE I did mess up as it was happening.  But I didn’t!  Hallelujah!

Alteration 2: This isn’t so much an alteration as it is a “janky way Maddie did things that ended up not ruining everything” (henceforth referred to as JWMDT…catchy.)   I didn’t have a fancy dark room or a red/yellow photo-safe lightbulb, so I prepped the emulsion in our dim back office around 6pm when the sun was mostly down.  I then put it in my boyfriend’s closet to dry propped up on our ironing board and instructed him not to open the closet until I gave the okay.  Whatever, it all worked out.  The instructions say to let it dry for 3 hours but I let it dry overnight because that’s how long it took me to feel emotionally prepared to test out the exposure process.

Alteration 3: Exposing!  A bit terrifying.  Okay, this is the definition of JWMDT.  Here’s a picture of my exposure setup.

Setup for exposing the screen, Maddie version.

Setup for exposing the screen, Maddie version.

List of things I was supposed to have compared to what I actually ended up using:

– Supposed to use: Duct tape to seal the edges of the frame.  What I used: The last few pieces of my leopard-print duct tape on the top and bottom of the frame, and some packing tape on the edges.  Duct tape sections DEFINITELY worked better at providing a water-and-emulsion-proof-seal.

Supposed to use: Focus-able light with 150-watt clear lightbulb.  What I used: our living room lamp, laying sideways on a desk chair, fitted with a questionably stylish aluminum foil hat and a 150-watt “soft white” bulb.

– Supposed to use: Matte black surface to place screen on during exposure.  What I used: Black kitchen trash bag.

– Supposed to use: Piece of glass to hold artwork close to screen.  What I used: Ginormous piece of clear acrylic leftover from building our office desk.

Ultimately…it all worked out!  So for those of you as scared to conquer this section of the screen printing process, it seems that there IS a bit of leeway in regards to materials as long as the basic instructions are followed correctly.  My photo emulsion instructed me to expose the screen for 1 hour 14 minutes with the bulb 15″ away from the screen.  I suggest not messing around with timing, especially if you’re not using 100% the correct materials otherwise.  Set a timer on your phone.  Go eat some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Let it happen.

Rinsing the Screen and Squealing in Delight

I rinsed this as instructed, because the instructions basically said “rinse it.”  Simple enough.  Used the kitchen sink, giggling excitedly about every 5 seconds as I realized that it seemed to actually be working!

Mid-rinse: you can see the design is pretty much clear, and the greenish emulsion is kinda dripping off.  By the end of the rinse the leftover greenish part was even all over as it is in the top left corner of this photo.

Mid-rinse: you can see the design is pretty much clear, and the greenish emulsion is kinda dripping off. By the end of the rinse the leftover greenish part was even all over as it is in the top left corner of this photo.

Conclusion: Screen Printing is Cool

Despite my initial fears, this all went well.  For some reason I was sure that if it didn’t work I was going to get really frustrated and give up.  The good news is that the time commitment for the emulsion drying/exposing process is very minimal (most of the time investment is the waiting around,) meaning that even if something goes awry you haven’t lost much time.  If it fails, the photo emulsion solution comes with photo emulsion remover so that you can just clean the screen right up and try again.

I am planning on making my first print with this screen this weekend, so I will make an update with how that goes.  I’m thinking of picking up some interesting floral-print shirts from the thrift store to print on, plus probably a few $0.50 test shirts and maybe some pretty scrap fabric to frame if I can find it.

I also want to get a new screen so that I can make another printstencileything.  I’m not ready to part with my first printing baby to try a new design, and I feel like I won’t be til I make quite a few prints.  So for now, the Sylvia Plath screen will live on.