How To Make A Screen For Printing | Screen Printing Tips

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Let’s just agree that customized garments will never go out of trend! 

Although designing one may seem like a herculean task, the truth is you can design one from the comfort of your home. And one of the best ways to do this is through screen printing. 

Purchasing a good quality screen printing machine will be quite expensive, and it’ll be not alone; you’ll need more accessories with it. But don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to purchase any expensive machinery to make this happen. All you need to do is prepare the frame and size the fabric for the screen using a few easily available tools. 

Dive in to know how you can easily create a screen for printing and print your favorite design or image within hours! 

What Does Screen Printing Involve?

Silk screen printing. Serigraphy. Color paints and fabric. Plastisol paint and squeegee. What does screen printing involve.

Before anything else, let us give you a brief overview of the screen printing process. This technique involves transferring a design or pattern on another surface using a mesh screen. From t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other clothing to bottles and CDs, screen printing can be used on various surfaces to create vibrant designs. 

The primary advantage of screen printing is that it allows you to replicate the design several times without any significant loss in the ink quality or details. Moreover, it helps print bright and vibrant colors on varied surfaces, and users can use different inks according to the opacity of the material.

Interestingly, the history of screen printing dates back to the early 1900s, when it was patented by Samuel Simon of England. It was used to transfer bright colors to wallpapers and fabrics back in the day, but many advertisers adopted it for the fast (and economic) creation of promotional materials, such as posters.

Since the technique then used silk screens, it also came to be known as silk screening. However, modern-day screen printing isn’t limited to silk, which has made it possible to make print screens for DIY screen printing.

How To Make A Print Screen?

Although designing a printing screen may sound like a herculean task, it’s actually a fairly simple job, provided you have all the required materials and follow the right technique. So, let us start with the list of materials. You will need:

  • Flat wooden frame (pre-made canvas frame) at least 1-inch thick
  • A meshy fabric like nylon drape or silk
  • A pair of fabric scissors
  • A sharp knife 
  • Staple gun (light to medium duty)
  • A pencil or marker
  • A measuring tape or cutting mat
  • Hammer
  • Wide painters tape or duct tape

Step 1: Preparing The Frame

Begin the process by preparing the wooden frame. If it’s a canvas frame, simply remove the canvas using the knife. You may also need to remove the stapling pins or small nails that hold the canvas to the frame. The aim is to get the blank frame so that you can attach the fabric to it later.

If you don’t have a canvas frame handy, you can also use any old picture frame by removing the glass and taking out the picture. Otherwise, you can build one using four 1-inch thick wooden bars, a few furniture nails, and a drill or hammer.

Step 2: Sizing The Fabric

Once the wooden frame is prepared, it’s time to move on to the fabric of the screen print. And there are a few points to keep in mind while making a choice.

Fabrics with more thread count help create a narrow screen, which, in turn, results in better precision, especially when you’re printing thin lines or strokes. In this regard, the ideal thread count to go for would be around 460, which is approximately 27 microns thick.

On the other hand, a fabric with a low thread count or more open waves facilitates a thick deposition of ink on the surface, meaning the colors will be more vibrant and bold. 

Use the measuring tape to measure the end-to-end dimensions of the wooden frame and note them down. Now, carefully cut the fabric following the same measurement with the pair of fabric scissors. We’d suggest drawing a box with thick lines to ensure that the borders are absolutely straight or use the cutting mat for the same.

Some people also prefer keeping a few inches extra to make room for any mistakes while installing the screen in the frame. Alternatively, you can place the frame on one end of the fabric and cut out the rest so that there’s enough screen inside it.

A pro tip: wash the fabric with some soap and water and iron it (if required) before use. This will help get rid of any dirt or debris that may interfere with the efficacy of the screen in producing the print.

Step 3: Attach The Screen

Stretch the fabric as tightly as possible and attach it to the frame using the stapler. You can start doing this from the edge of the frame to make the process easier. We’d also suggest getting an extra pair of hands so that the fabric doesn’t become loose anywhere during installation.

Staple each side at least three times to prevent the fabric from coming out during use, and taper the pins lightly with the hammer. This will reinforce the fabric grip and keep you from injuring your hands while holding it during the project. Remember that a snugly fitted frame will result in more precise designs, irrespective of their complexity or the surface.

After all the sides are covered with the fabric, cut the excess strips so that they don’t form any unwanted shadows on the edges. Lastly, use the painter’s tape or duct tape to seal the edges completely and prevent the fabric from fraying later on. Trust us; this small step can go a long way in prolonging the life of the screen.

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat the above steps to create as many frames and print screens as you want. Since different fabrics can render different effects and cleaning them usually takes a lot of effort, we’d recommend preparing a few at a time, especially if you have a lot of printing to do in a short span.

Apart from that, you can cut multiple pieces of the fabric and install them before each application, but store them in a way to avoid forming creases.

How to prepare the screen for printing 

How To Prepare The Screen For Printing

Now that your print screen is ready, you may be thinking it’s time to start printing. However, you can’t just start with it right away, as you first need to prepare it for the process. And we have listed the exact steps for doing so in the following sections.

Step 1: Degrease The Screen

No matter how freshly made the screen is, there’s always a possibility for it to accumulate dirt, debris, and oil. This problem is more commonplace if you have created it well in advance.

Moreover, any foreign material on the fabric can prevent the emulsion from adhering to the surface, which will ultimately affect the final color. The print screen may also develop fisheyes, which usually happens due to oil or grease trapped under the emulsion layer and separating it from the screen. 

These generally appear as small holes and can even transfer your fingerprints to the surface being printed. However, these issues can be easily solved with proper degreasing.

The first step in this process is to thoroughly rinse the whole screen (including the frame) with plain water. While it’s still wet, spray a generous amount of degreaser on the screen and use a clean scrubbing pad (preferably a degreaser one) to thoroughly scrub both sides of the screen. Ensure that you cover all the corners.

Rinse it with plain water (low pressure) once again till there are no more soap bubbles being formed. We’d also suggest going with an eco-friendly and water-based solution for optimum efficiency, which should be available in any nearby craft store.

Pro tip: if you’ve already applied the emulsion before decreasing the screen, hold it against a bright light source to identify any pinholes created by dirt or oil. In case there are any, use some painters tape or blockout solution to cover them.

Step 2: Drying The Screen

While professional screen printers use dedicated screen racks, there are other ways to go about the process. Simply hang the cleaned screen horizontally from a hook or hanger so that it’s only supported by the frame and the screen is exposed properly for air drying. However, ensure that it’s kept in a dry and dark place away from direct sunlight.

You can also speed up the drying time by placing a fan nearby or bringing in a dehumidifier to absorb the excess moisture quickly. Proceed to the next step only after the screen is completely dry, as any remaining moisture can render the emulsion useless.

Step 3: Coating The Screen With Photo Emulsion

Get some photo emulsion formulated exclusively for screen printing, prepare it carefully according to the manufacturer’s instructions and head to a dark room. Since photo emulsions use a light-sensitive formula, you should be extremely cautious during this step.

Now, use a squeegee to coat both sides of the screen with swift and fast strokes in one direction. Many people prefer using a scoop eater for better application, which comes with two edges- round and sharp, and both have their advantages.

While the former applies a thick layer suitable for high-intensity printing, the latter renders a thin layer onto the screen that allows for a softer print. Plus, it helps with the proper application of discharge and water-based inks.

No matter which tool you choose, always ensure that the emulsion coats the entire surface, which will give you a bigger (and better) image area to work with. Don’t drag the tool in random directions, as it will make it difficult for the emulsion to dry properly.

Additionally, there should be no drip marks and the screen should be left to dry in a dark spot for at least 3 to 4 hours.

How To Print Without A Screen Printing Press?

If you aren’t a professional screen printer, then chances are that you won’t have a screen printing press or other equipment for screen printing. You may be trying your hands on the technique and don’t wish to invest in one from the get-go. However, there’s an effective DIY way to get that customized t-shirt done at home.

But before starting with it, get the image or design ready. You can either draw it or print it on  good-quality paper and cut it out carefully so that there’s no excess paper on the sides. Don’t worry too much about the colors, as you will only use it as a stencil.

Step 1: Expose The Screen

An unexposed emulsion is as good as no emulsion! Although professional screen painters use elaborate setups (like an exposure unit) to expose the screens, you can use some basic resources to achieve the required result. All you need is a clean and dry space to begin the process.

Firstly, fit a 150-watt bulb to a lamp with an adjustable head that will help you direct the light on the screen. Then, place a cardstock, Bristol board, or any other flat surface that’s black in color near the lamp and place the screen on it so that it can lay flat. The top side (that has the frame covered with the fabric) should face you. 

Next, place the stencil on the top side and put a sized clear glass on top to hold it in place. The required exposure time and the distance at which the light should be kept will be provided by the emulsion manufacturer. 

Simply turn on the lamp and ‘expose’ the screen for the said time while ensuring that the light is directly on top of it. We’d also recommend setting a timer to prevent over or underexposure. Switch off the light and remove the glass and stencil when the timer goes off, and you should see a faint outline on the screen. 

At the same time, the emulsion surrounding the main image should have cured to become rigid. Wash the screen with lukewarm water, which will help the emulsion rinse for the design. Your print screen is ready to transfer the design to your desired shirt or t-shirt.

Step 2: Transferring The Image

Place the shirt or t-shirt on a flat surface and ensure that there are no wrinkles or creases on it. We’d suggest ironing it before proceeding; otherwise, the wrinkles may interfere with the final print.

Now, keep the screen directly above it so that the image sits on the same spot where you want the design to get printed. Apply an even layer of the desired ink or paint on the side facing you and drag it down with a squeegee to fill the design. Don’t apply any pressure here, as you’re merely filling the design.

Repeat this step by applying a little pressure and focusing on the image. The goal here is to allow the ink to form an impression through the screen on the fabric below. Lift the screen carefully at one go to prevent the ink from smearing all over, and wash it immediately with cool water. If the ink dries on the screen, then it will become impossible to remove it.

As for the t-shirt, let it dry so that the ink sets in and heat press it to seal the design. Voila! Your piece of art is ready to be flaunted.

Serigraphy silk screen print process at clothes factory. Frame, squeegee and plastisol color paints. How to make a screen for printing frequently asked questions.

How To Make A Screen For Printing Frequently Asked Questions ?

Can You Use Acrylic Paint For Screen Printing?

You can use acrylic paints for screen printing by mixing them with screen printing-specific mediums like the Lascaux screen printing paste. Not only does it enhance the vibrancy of the color, but it also slows down the drying process so that the paint gets enough time to set on the fabric.

Can A Separate Screen Prevent The Colors From Mixing?

Yes, separate screens can be effective in preventing the different colors from mixing in the design. However, first-timers are better off creating simple designs with a single color, as mastering the technique of color variation will take time and practice.

In this regard, we’d strongly recommend creating opaque images, as they involve a great deal of complexity and can enhance the look of almost any garment.

Should You Use An Inkjet Or A Laser Printer To Print The Design?

The good thing about screen printing is that you don’t need a specific printer to print the design. That said, many artists prefer using a laser printer since it’s relatively better at reproducing finer details. 

Why Is A Washout Booth Used In Screen Printing?

Commercial screen printers use washout booths to clean the emulsion from the screens. However, DIY screen printing doesn’t require such elaborate setups, as you can wash the emulsion by holding the screen under a low-pressure faucet.

Can You Screen Print With An Embroidery Hoop?

Yes, you can use an embroidery hoop to create a screen print. 

Start by drawing or printing a simple design that will comfortably fit inside the embroidery hoop. Make sure that the outline is sufficiently dark to be visible through the screen. Take a sheer material or any other piece of meshy fabric (the screen) that allows some light to pass through it. This will make the design visible for tracing. 

Place the design directly below this fabric, fix the hoop, and trace it with a pencil. Flip it and use some glue to cover only the area surrounding the design to prevent the color from spreading elsewhere. Let it dry completely. 

Place the shirt or t-shirt under the screen and paint the design using a roller or squeegee. Apply adequate pressure so that you have an even color layer on the t-shirt. The drying time for the final print will depend on the ink you have used, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Close-up of men carefully observing the results of the film on the silkscreen before screen printing. How to make a screen for printing final words.

How To Make A Screen For Printing Final Words

With that, we have come to the end of today’s guide. And hopefully, we have connected with the artist in you!

But before we leave you to it, here’s a final pro tip: practice the technique on a couple of old shirts or t-shirts before working on the actual garment. And always ensure that the screen is securely placed on the fabric to prevent it from moving around. 

We will see you next time. Take care and goodbye!