How to screenprint posters at home step-by-step

Screenprinting is one of the best printing methods out there. Not only there is a unique visual style because it is printed by hand but also the colour vibrancy and life expectancy of the prints are higher than digital print technique. The inks used are very durable, the colours are extremely vivid, making this a unique reproduction technique. Additional, to that, it is an artisanal technique!

In short, awesome! Though, the learning curve is quite steep. Even though the internet has a lot of resources to offer on the topic, most of it is about printing textiles. When I started, I struggled to find a quality tutorial which would give me insights on how to print paper, at home, using the essential equipment, and get a quality result. Sadly, all I found was either the tutorial for a craft activity for kids, the ones that use expensive equipment or those which focused on textile print!

I have to say. It got me a bit frustrated.

Now that I figured out how to print at home, posters, with the accessible equipment and get a professional result, I decided to write my own tutorial.

The following tutorial is for anyone who's looking for to screenprint their artwork on a regular basis, at home and get a quality result. If you already know about the process but are still in the middle of the learning curve, this article is for you.

I'll explain roughly the full process with illustrations for a one colour print set-up. I'll mainly focus on tips and tricks I learned by failing maaany prints.

Equipment

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All you need to screenprint in addition to a piece of paper.

Equipment list essentials (can be found in most kits.)

  • A3 screen printing frame
  • Squeegee
  • Coating trough
  • Wooden spatula
  • Pair of screen printing frame clamps (you would want to fix these on a wooden panel.)
  • Yellow-light bulb
  • Exposure lamp
  • Transparent foil sheets for inkjet printers
  • Photo emulsion (good for first trials, see below for more info on this)
  • Screen printing ink
  • Degreaser
  • Screen cleaner
  • Coating/Emulsion Remover

Equipment you want as an extra

  • Garden hose extension to plug on your shower/bathtub
  • Wood panel. Twice an A3 is a good size.
  • A transparent tape of good quality. (Even if the cost of it seems insane for tape, just take the most expensive. eg.The Tesa brand. Using bad quality tape might leave glue on your screen and damage it or it might break all the time.)
  • A proper spatula (You can do without it but, after the 4th time you poured and take the ink back from the screen, you'll want a good spatula.)
  • Emulsion (the one provided isn’t the best one I feel. I had better success with the more advanced one. But it’s in big quantity and last only 6 months. So you have to make a lot of print in 6 months.) 
  • A3 Paper (If you print in A3)
  • A glass sheet (the glass of any A3 frame is working perfectly)

1. Preparing, cleaning, reclaiming your screen

Before any printing, you need to clean your screen with the degreaser, even if your screen is brand new. It is to take out any dust or grease from the screen and prevent pinholes later on.

Another important point and this is where I solved most of my problems, don’t touch the screen with your greasy fingers! Never! Don’t wash your screen with your hands, but with a cloth, and best is to use 2 different cloth, one for the degreasing, and one to take off the emulsion. This will prevent a lot of issues.

This video from The Print Life, Monument Limited is explaining everything.

2. Coat your screen, apply the emulsion

Before getting started with the emulsion, you want to think of where you want to set up because this screen is going to need to dry horizontally in a dark room.

Wherever you are I suggest you clean your floor first, if possible not only the vacuum cleaner but also with a wet cloth to get any dust. It will prevent dirt and hair to settle on your drying coated screen and therefore prevent pinholes.

I feel this video will explain better than I could in writing.

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1. Pour the emulsion into the coating trough. 2. Push the coating trough to the mesh with a slight angle and slide it from the bottom to the top of the mesh. 3. Apply the emulsion on both sides.

3. Let it dry

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Screen supported by 4 ink pots.

Tips to dry your coated screen if you don’t have drying racks

Turn it over. The flat surface on the bottom, and elevate it with 4 equal size item. The best I found was to use the screenprinting ink pots. Works perfectly. Though if you are just starting you might not have that. So think about books, big Ikea glasses...etc. Anything that is has a bit of a heigh and you have 4 of it.

Try not to move around it too much while it's drying to avoid moving dust around.

You can dry it with a hairdryer though it's difficult to know when it is actually perfectly dry. And it needs to be to get a great result. I started with drying my screens with the hairdresser and then switch to just waiting about an hour to let it dry naturally. My fails numbers decreased greatly.

4. Preparing your artwork

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A transparent with an artwork hand-drawn on it showing all parts of the artwork totally blacked-out.

How to print your transparent if you don’t have a printer, or if you don’t have a quality printer?

Your transparent print quality is THE main thing you need to get right with cleaning your screens properly. The darker your drawing is on the transparent the easiest the emulsion will come off from the screen later on. Why? Because if it isn’t dark enough, it means that the light from the exposure is going to pass through, and harden the emulsion under.

If you don’t have a printer, or have one but not of good enough quality for this job, you have two options.

1. Draw your design directly onto the transparent.

2. Go to your local printer and ask for the best quality print they have. Explain that you need it to be very dark. At my local printer, they use a printer call OKI printer which gives great quality for the transparent. I tried a lot of printers for transparent and found that this one is the best.

I find that the cheapest and also most satisfying option is to draw straight on the transparent. Why? Because 1, it gives a very hand-drawn style and very unique kind to your print. 2. It’s cheaper. Of course, that works best for non-photographic artwork.

Check out this video tutorial about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysNKDoSSl-Y&t=135s

Tips to draw on transparent paper.

I found those special transparent for screenprinting which have a kinda sticky side to them. That’s the easiest because any black pen ink would work on it. Best though is acrylic paint marker. The Molotow brand gets you really nice coverage. You’ll be sure no light goes through.

If you are using a normal transparent, you’ll need a permanent black marker that has nice coverage. Think archive pens. Again, Molotow works on that too but will take longer to dry, so careful not to put your palm on it while drawing.

Don't forget, it's a transparent paper. Print out your artwork, tape you're transparent over, and draw over it.

5. Exposing your screen

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Now that your screen in coated, dry and that you have your transparent with your artwork, you have to create the stencil. In order to do that, you need to expose your screen to a UV light that will harden any part of the emulsion on the screen that is not protected by your artwork.

Place your artwork upside down on the flat side of your screen (when printing it's going to be turned over) on your screen, place the glass sheet on the top to flatten your artwork. Lights shouldn't go through any small spaces between the transparent and the screen.

But so, how should you do when you don’t have an exposure table?

Sounds too simple to be right but, you can just hold it to your waist. That would do the job. It doesn't matter if you move. As long as the light spreads evenly onto your artwork, you’re fine. Try not to hold it too high to keep the intensity of the light.


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Exposure time

While you can calculate accurately the exposure time needed, I felt that trial mostly following the package instruction of your emulsion manufacturer is easier.

You will want to check out the power of the light they recommend to use with your emulsion and according to the timing, they show. If your lamp is less powerful, you will want to make the exposure longer.

6. Clean your screen

This part is the moment of truth, if you did it right, you should be able to use the full power of your garden hose to make the stencil appear.

If the exposure time was too long, the emulsion won't come off.

If the exposure time was too short, the emulsion will come off too much and you'll see part of the stencil break.

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7. Let it dry

8. Prepare yourself to print!

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Tape all interior sides of your screen so the ink doesn't go through the sides of your screen where there is no emulsion.

Take your best quality tape and cover any part of your screen on the sides that aren't covered by emulsion.

Place the screen onto the clamps on your wooden panel.

Place your transparent with your artwork on under the screen and try to align the design of your transparent to the stencil of your screen. Use masking tape or a pen to mark the placement of your transparent. It will give you the position to place your paper.

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Pour the ink over the screen. You need a pretty good quantity. Don't hesitate to pour the full 250ml.

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Place your piece of paper in between the tape marks.

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Push the ink through the screen with the squeegee.

Push the ink through the screen with the squeegee. Lift up the slightly the screen and push back the ink to flood the screen with it. This will prevent the ink to dry within the mesh holes and lockout your design. You'd have to clean your screen off the ink and wait for it to dry to start printing again.

And voilà!!! Your first print!

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Once you are done printing, you can scoop all the excess ink from your screen, put it back in your pot. Clean your screen directly after you're done. To let it set dirty, it might stain the mesh and you'd have trouble re-using it after that.

How to troubleshoot your printing?

Take notes of your set-ups!

Especially if you changed spaces. And tried to print in different flats. (Like it might happen if you live in a big city where long term accommodation isn't easy to find. #berlin)

It helped me a lot to take notes of the height, timing of exposure and every detail of my set-up. I could track back my mistakes once a problem occurred and try a slightly different setting.

If you have any questions, please let me know, I would be happy to help you out if I can. 

And if anyone knows about ghost images on screens, please let me know. So far I haven’t quite figured it out. It is apparently because of the angle you give to the squeegee but I believe I do it right.

Bonus. 

If your emulsion is expired. You can still use it, but the older it gets, the harder it is to take it off the screen and the shorter the explore time is. You’ll be experimenting, but 2 months expired would equal about 2-3min less of exposure. At least that is what I experimented with my set-up.

SO WHAT'S NEXT?

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