I’m counting this post as my Funday Monday Post because I did this awesome screen printed fabric over the weekend and I love it! If you made something over the weekend leave a comment!
So. It’s been about two weeks since I started my plan to screen print my own fabric. If you want to screen print your own fabric (NOT TEE SHIRTS!!) this what you need to know.
If all you ever want to do is print on clothing, stop here. If you want to print fabric panels or yardage, continue reading.
DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING:
Are you sensing a theme yet? Do not buy a kit. It will not help you, and you will be wasting your hard-earned start-up cash. For example – I purchased the “deluxe” Speedball screen printing starter kit for $70 (used my credit card points for a discount, it usually sells for $90) and ended up with a mostly useless cardboard press, and four beautiful pots of paper ink that I will never use. Not to mention the squeegees are the worst quality I’ve ever seen and I’ll never use screen filler or drawing fluid. Also the paper-ink they send is too thin for the mesh on the included screens and the screens are loose to begin with. Lots of off-contact needed!
You do not need a screen printing press!!! Those are only good for t-shirts!
Also do not buy wood screens. They’re not as sturdy and don’t last as long.
Also do not buy SpeedBall diazo emulsion fluid. Well, you could, but it costs the same as a bucket twice the size and as far as I can tell is incredibly cheap and actually made for paper inks, not fabric inks. Super nice, SpeedBall. It does come with remover though, so that’s a plus. But it’s already mixed, and so you’re paying for water, basically. Cheap for them, not for you.
Also do not buy squeegees that are the exact same numerical measurement as your screen. It will not fit.
These are all things I have learned the hard way.
High quality aluminum frames, all the exact same size every time. ALWAYS BUY THE SAME SIZE FRAME FROM NOW TO FOREVER. If you always buy the same size frame you always just need one size of squeegee and scoop coater. Get it? I got mine from silkscreenprintingsupplies.com but dickblick.com has them too. Start with 110 mesh, that’s the most common. If you want to use metallic inks you’ll need an 86 mesh screen, if you want to do superfine details you’ll need a 156 mesh screen. I purchased screens 20″ x 24″ because my table is 2′ x 4′. Make sure you consider your working space before you buy your screens.
Good quality paint. Face it. Ink is expensive. Suck it up. I bought Permaset Aqua and it’s been doing great. If you want to buy the cheap stuff before you invest, try out the Speedball or Jacquard brands. I bought mine for about $9/300Ml at Utrecht Art during a great 20% off/free shipping deal yesterday. Dick Blick had a deal running too but it wasn’t as good. And that’s another thing – for some supplies like ink, definitely shop around for a deal, and usually the more you buy at once the better off you are.
[Update: I tried out Enviroline’s water-based ink tonight, I think it’s made by Matsui. It’s crazy thick and difficult to work with. And smells like ammonia. I’m sticking with Permaset. Update 2 – You can add water to water-based ink!!! Now that I’ve figured that out I’m sooooo happy! My ink was getting really thick after a run because it was drying out. Now I just add some water, mix it up and I’m good to go! I’ve also been using a retarder and it’s been FANTASTIC. Definitely go for the retarder if your ink is drying in your screen while you’re printing.]
Clear printable transparencies. It’s getting harder and harder to find these, but my local Office Max not only sells them, they’ll print files and do copies on them for a small fee. It’s probably cheaper if you order the transparencies online though. The industrial printers really do a better job of ink coverage but I still have to double up my transparencies like in the tutorial I linked to above, so now I just print them on a home laserjet myself and they’re fine. You can get larger transparencies just by tile printing, which is especially easy for patterns with lots of empty space. Much more difficult for large patterns with lots of ink. If you really need a large transparency you can outsource it.
Not pictured: Screen de-hazer/degreaser, ink remover, and emulsion disolver. Use your spray bottle(s) to mix/spray these as directed on the packaging. The Speedball diazo kit doesn’t come with dehazer, but you can use dawn dishwashing soap if you’re in a bind. I’ve been using it recently with good results but don’t use it long term. It has moisturizers etc that aren’t good for your screens.
[Edit: I received my Green Stuff dehazer/degreaser and it really does work and smells great too. Another edit: Actually I’m having problems with the Green Stuff not really dehazing, so I’ve ordered a specific ink cleaner. We’ll see how that goes. Update on the Enviroline waterbased ink screen opener and remover- it works GREAT for cleaning your screens after a print run. It’s not super great at dehazing, but so far I haven’t actually found anything that will dehaze completely. I did have a problem where my emulsion didn’t stick to my screen after using it though, so I think for cleaning between emulsion I’ll use the green stuff. For cleaning between print runs I’ll use the Enviroline screen opener.]
One good squeegee, durometer of 70, 3-4 inches shorter than the frame’s declared width. So if you go for the industry standard screen size of 20″ x 24″ you need a 16″ squeegee.
A few cheapo dual-sided sponges.
A big bucket of emulsion. These start at about $25. Totally worth it. The emulsion pictured here is leftover from an uneducated purchase. New emulsion is on the way. My recommended emusion is a hybrid (works for water and plastisol inks) dual cure. It’s safest for multiple types of ink.
Lots of paper towels.
Some sort of paint scooping device. I’ve been using an old credit card but at some point I’m going to have to upgrade to a spatula.
[Update: I’m still using credit cards and plastic spoons. No problems.]
A scoop coater. They’re cheap. Just do it. Get one the same size as your squeegee.
[Edit: I used mine for the first time today. I’m in LOVE. GET A SCOOP COATER.]
Masking tape or blue painter’s tape. You don’t need fancy tape. I happen to prefer the masking tape.
[Update: I hate the blue tape, it doesn’t stick well enough. Use plain masking tape.]
A big roll of postal mailing paper. I got mine at Target. It is awesome.
If your table surface moves at all you’ll need some of this traction stuff. I got mine at Target near the cleaning supplies and drawer lining paper.
Large alligator clamps. Use these to hold your screens in place on one side to make a sort of temporary clamp system. Use a temporary spray adhesive to stick the fabric to your table surface. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Quilt basting spray works ok for me but FastTack 382 is better, cheaper, and you get more in a can. Stinkier though! Don’t stick the fabric to the brown paper, it won’t work. You must stick it directly to a hard surface. I got a sheet of MDF for $11 from home depot. Works perfectly. Just rotate it when it gets gunked up.
Make sure you tape a quarter to each corner of each screen on the print side in order to give you clearance (aka off-contact) for the screen to pull away from the inked fabric. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. Otherwise the ink will stick to your screen instead of your fabric, which is not what you want. Again, I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
At least one empty spray bottle and some latex gloves.
A yellow bug light.
A 500 watt work light from Home Depot for your exposures. (13:30 for a 20″x24″ screen 16 inches below the light.) I’ll be writing a full tutorial for this soon. I promise! Update, this tutorial is located here.
I know, it seems like a lot. My estimated total startup cost for all of the above, assuming just one screen and one pot of paint and the small bucket of emulsion is around $190. Not bad considering initially the deluxe speedball kit sells for $80-$90 and will get you through maybe four screens and 20+ printings each. The difference is this list is all things you will actually NEED and will last for 20-25 screens and 100+ printings each. If I had known all this I would have saved myself probably $200. Hindsight and all that….
NEXT: DO’S AND DON’TS
Do pre-wash your fabric.
When you use your scoop coater to put the emulsion on the screen, it does not need to touch the frame edges. In fact, it shouldn’t touch the edges. You’ll use your masking tape to tape off the gap between emulsion and frame.
Always put more ink on the screen than you think you need. It’s the key to a good print. Then you should only need 2-3 strokes to get a good print. 1) Lightly pull down to “flood” the screen with ink, 2) Press pretty hard, quickly, back upwards to clear the ink from the screen, and also pressing it through the screen to your fabric. You can do this part again if you think you need to, but once you’ve lifted your screen up off the fabric you’re done, there’s no going back, so make sure you got it right the first time! You really shouldn’t need to do a double push unless you’re not pushing hard enough. The ink should sort of “roll up” behind the squeegee.
[Update: I actually do 2-3 pulls (pushes) regularly now, for fabrics that have a visible weave, like linen. It’s just what works for me. For plain quilting cotton I just do one pull.
Only ever wash your screen with the soft side of a sponge. The scrubby side is too harsh on the emulsion.
When you are reclaiming a screen, in other words removing the emulsion, do not let the screen dry in any way. Give it a spray with remover every once in a while as you wait for it to do its job. Then use the scrubby side of your two-sided sponge to scrub away all the emulsion. Do not run water over the screen until all the emulsion is completely dissolved. Once the solvent touches the screen, if it doesn’t completely scrub away it will become permanent and ruin the screen. Once you’ve cleaned the emulsion off, use a dehazer to remove any ink traces.
Don’t wash your screen between uses unless you have to. Instead, clean off as much ink as you can with a squeegee/spatula, then use a very lightly damp soft sponge, then papertowels. You can also get a spray for cleaning ink between printings if you think you need it. In a bind you can use dishwashing soap but you’ll almost certainly have to re-tape if you get your masking tape wet.
[Update: I actually do wash my screens between each run. It just takes too long to do it this way.]
Use your yellow light in whatever room you’re going to be drying your emulsified screens. I’m using our small walk-in closet for a drying rack. Just put tacks in your wood frame, or for the aluminum frames you can tape on thread spools or whatever you have around the house to keep the frame from touching. I put a bit of wax paper on the shelves just in case. I also let the screens dry with a fan for a couple of hours then store them inside the box they came in with a thick blanket over the top, so we can continue to use the closet normally.
Make sure you dry your emulsified screens in total darkness, with the inkwell facing up/mesh facing down! See above, use tacks or spools or something to keep the mesh from touching anything. Do not dry them vertically.
A WORD ABOUT APARTMENT LIVING AND SCREEN PRINTING.
It can be done. You really need to use a hose or some other high-powered water pressure – the sink just doesn’t cut it. I happen to already have a high pressure shower head in my shower so I just use that to clean my screens and wash emulsion, it’s not really all that bad. If you have a super dark space to dry your screens and a high pressure water supply, you’re good to go.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: I rigged up our unused stall shower with a high powered garden hose and some plastic to prevent staining. A tutorial is coming, I promise!)
WHAT KIND OF WORK SURFACE DO I NEED?
You really just need a super-smooth surface. I had a 2′ x 4′ table in my studio already, so I just bought a board of MDF for $11 at Home Depot to cover it. It was the perfect size! Then to keep it from getting wet and swelling, I roll my postal shipping paper over the top and either tape it down or use my big clamps. Then I can use the paper to practice, or set inky tools down on top without worrying about my table. I also spread some paper or a plastic drop cloth over the carpet, just in case I drop ink on the floor.
Coming next week: How to screen print fabric yardage at home, from start to finish. (Not clothing!)
[Update: Obviously this didn’t happen. But it’s going to. After the washout booth and exposure light tutorials.]